When you speak of coral reefs, you think of pristine clear water, shoals of colorful fish, diverse underwater flora, and a thriving submarine ecosystem. One thing that definitely does not cross the mind while you conjure up images of coral reefs is a desert; yet that is exactly where scientists have discovered a massive coral reef. Yes, a massive coral reef in a desert.
Did someone mention paradox?
The science and other stuff to know
The discovery was publicized in a press release issued by Australia’s Curtin University. The Curtin researchers made the discovery using advance satellite imagery. The Nullarbor Plain, located in southern Australia, is the world’s largest single stretch of limestone bedrock, covering 200,000 km2.
Milo Barham of Curtin School of Earth and Planetary Sciences said satellite imagery and detailed on-ground studies helped the team identify the “clear remnant of an original sea-bed structure preserved for millions of years, which is the first of this kind of landform discovered on the Nullarbor Plain”.
He said large areas of the Nullarbor Plain had remained “largely unchanged by weathering and erosion processes over millions of years, making it a unique geological canvas recording ancient history in remarkable ways”.
“The ring-shaped ‘hill’ cannot be explained by extra-terrestrial impact or any known deformation processes but preserves original microbial textures and features typically found in the modern Great Barrier Reef,” he added.
As Barham put it, the limestone bedrock had preserved traces of “channels of long-vanished rivers, as well as sand dune systems”. Such discoveries are rare, and often vital to understanding the Earth’s ancient environment and the history of how the planet got to its present state. They also provide a crucial base and several clues for scientists to extend their study of the surface, which often leads to important insights about past life as well as ancient flora and fauna — for example, the Nullarbor Plain has revealed preserved remains of the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger.
With a clear understanding of the plain’s history, scientists can even focus on studying the area further to look for key sub-terrain minerals and energy sources associated with coral reefs.
The latest findings about the plain are not only going to pique the interest of geologists around the world to conduct varied studies of the area, but they will also lead to more discoveries that help scientists understand the Earth and its behaviors.
Nullarbor Plain may reveal many more mysteries about the ancient seabed that once existed over it, as well as secrets about water conservation and management, which the world needs desperately needs.
Moreover, with the traditional fossil fuels rapidly depleting, ancient, mineral-rich surfaces like the Nullarbor could lead researchers to previously unknown natural resources that aid in sustaining humanity’s growing energy demand, hopefully in a sustainable manner.