Deep-sea coral reef, the largest in the world, mapped by scientists
Scientists mapped the largest deep-sea coral reef, which extends over millions of acres off the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to South Carolina, and is larger than the state of Vermont, according to the press release.
“It’s basically the largest deep-sea coral ridge area in the world that has been documented to date,” Derek Sawyers, director of mapping operations at the Ocean Exploration Fund and lead author of the study, told USA Today. “It’s just this amazing, huge ecosystem, extending across an area about three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.”
Research published in the scientific journal, Geomaticsdetails a multi-year campaign by NOAA and partners to explore the Blake Plateau.
The ridge zone consists of cold-water coral ridges, which are reefs “shaped like ridges or pinnacles on the seafloor and can range from about ten feet to hundreds of feet in height, but average about 65 feet in length on the Blake Plateau,” Sawyers said. In an email. “They form over long periods of time from the skeletal material of cold-water stony corals as well as sediments trapped by coral rubble material.”
Where live coral is present, he says it can be found at ridges and ridge tops, but the sides are “covered by the dead skeletal framework of the rocky coral.”
The reef extends from Miami to Charleston, South Carolina. It is approximately 310.69 miles long and 68.35 miles wide.
Scientists have known about the existence of some coral reefs in that area off the Atlantic Ocean since the 1960s, but they did not know their size. It was impossible for researchers to know the actual size of the area until recently.
New technology has changed that and researchers are now able to create 3D images of the ocean floor.
“About 75% of the world’s oceans remain poorly mapped, and about 50% of U.S. waters are currently unmapped,” Sawyers said.
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The largest deep-sea coral reefs: how were they discovered?
The reef is too deep to be explored by diving, which is why the mapping was done using 31 multi-beam sonar, according to the press release.
“Multibeam sonar is installed on research vessels,” Sawyers said. “This is how we can map this type of habitat.”
He says they then use the maps to guide the submarine, which involves manned or remotely operated submarines attached to their ship with a cable that sends a live video feed to the boat.
The NOAA ship, which Sawyers said did most of the mapping, broadcast the dives live to the public.
“Anyone with an Internet connection can see what is being explored at the same time as the exploration team at sea,” Sawyers said.
What makes these deep sea coral reefs different?
According to a press release from the Ocean Exploration Trust, a partner of NOAA, the largest area of the reef, which scientists call the “Million Mounds,” consists primarily of stony coral. types, Desmophilus pertussis, is found mainly in the ocean at depths of 656 to 3,280 feet. At those depths, the water temperature is an average of 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cold-water corals in deep-sea reefs are biologically different from corals in shallow waters such as the Great Barrier Reef, which runs along the northeastern coast of Australia, Sawyers said.
According to the scientist, this is because coral reefs are located so deep in the water that they are out of the reach of sunlight.
“They don’t depend on photosynthesis because they live in the dark,” Sawyers said. “But they rely on filter-feeding molecules coming down through the water column, and they capture those molecules and bring them in.”
Shallow water reefs are facing coral bleaching. This occurs when different types of algae that live inside the coral reef are pushed out because the water is 2 degrees warmer for 10 or more days. This phenomenon is due to climate change and the rise in temperatures to record levels, according to USA Today.
Deepwater corals do not have these types of problems because they rely on filter feeding, but they are still affected by changing waters.
“Climate change, changing water temperatures and ocean acidity can also affect these coral reefs and is something we need to try to manage in the future so we can keep these ecosystems functioning,” Sawyers said.