Scientists discovered a coral reef taller than the Empire State Building

It is the "first to be discovered in more than 120 years" in the waters off North Queensland.


While on an expedition aboard a research vessel Falkor, scientists from the Schmidt Ocean Institute have discovered a massive detached coral reef in the Great Barrier Reef that is almost 500m high. Found on Oct. 20, 2020, this coral reef measures more than 500m high–taller than the Empire State Building, the Sydney Tower, and the Petronas Twin Towers.

Scientists discovered this coral reef while conducting underwater mapping of the northern Great Barrier Reef seafloor. Then, using the underwater robot SuBastian, scientists conducted a dive to explore the new reef.

This newly discovered coral reef has a blade-like reef that is 1.5km-wide, then rises 500m to its shallowest depth of only 40m below the sea surface. 

Wendy Schmidt, the co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute, said, “This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our Ocean. The state of our knowledge about what’s in the ocean has long been so limited. Thanks to new technologies that work as our eyes, ears, and hands in the deep Ocean, we can explore like never before. New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.”

Dr. Robin Beaman from James Cook University said, “We are surprised and elated by what we have found. To not only 3D map the reef in detail but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible. This has only been made possible by the commitment of Schmidt Ocean Institute to grant ship time to Australia’s scientists.”

Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute, said“To find a new half-a-kilometer tall reef in the offshore Cape York area of the well-recognized Great Barrier Reef shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline. This powerful combination of mapping data and underwater imagery will be used to understand this new reef and its role within the incredible Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”

The Great Barrier Reef voyage’s Northern depths will continue until Nov. 17 as part of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s broader year-long Australia campaign. The maps created will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and contribute to the Nippon Foundation GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

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