Great Barrier Reef: Massive underwater coral ‘skyscraper’ is taller than the Empire State Building

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A skyscraper-esque spire of detached coral discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stands taller than the Empire State Building at 1,640 feet (500 metres) high.

Researchers from the US and Australia mapped out the blade-like coral mount — the first to be discovered in some 120 years — off the coast of Cape York on October 20.

Towering above the surrounding seafloor, the spire grew separately to the larger, plateaux-like mass of coral reef to its west.

The reef’s height dwarfs both that of France‘s Eiffel Tower and The Shard — Britain’s tallest building — which stand at 1,063 and 1,016 feet (324 and 310 m), respectively. 

Reefs form from the growth of successive generations of corals — first attached to rocks on the seafloor and later to the skeletons of their predecessors.

They grow up until they reach the ideal depth beneath the sea surface — and over thousands of years can form vast structures as they adapt to changing sea levels.

The scientists — who are working onboard the research vessel ‘Falkor’ — are presently undertaking a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia.

A skyscraper-esque spire of detached coral discovered in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, pictured, stands taller than the Empire State Building at 1,640 feet (500 metres) high

A skyscraper-esque spire of detached coral discovered in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, pictured, stands taller than the Empire State Building at 1,640 feet (500 metres) high

The newly-discovered reef's height dwarfs that of New York's Empire State Building, France's Eiffel Tower and The Shard in London. Reefs form from the growth of successive generations of corals — first attached to rocks on the seafloor and later to the skeletons of their predecessors. They grow up until they reach the ideal depth beneath the sea surface — and over thousands of years can form vast structures as they adapt to changing sea levels

The newly-discovered reef’s height dwarfs that of New York’s Empire State Building, France’s Eiffel Tower and The Shard in London. Reefs form from the growth of successive generations of corals — first attached to rocks on the seafloor and later to the skeletons of their predecessors. They grow up until they reach the ideal depth beneath the sea surface — and over thousands of years can form vast structures as they adapt to changing sea levels

‘We are surprised and elated by what we have found,’ said paper author and Dr Robin Beaman of the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.

At its base, the blade-like reef is some 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres) in width — and reaches up to just 131 feet below the sea surface.

It joins the seven other tall detached reefs in the area — most of which were mapped in the late 1800s. These include the reef at Raine Island — the world’s most important green sea turtle nesting area.

Five days after making their discovered, the team dispatched SuBastian — the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot — on a dive to explore the new reef.

High-resolution footage from this expedition was live-streamed online.

‘To not only 3D map the reef in detail — but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian — is incredible,’ Dr Beaman added.

Researchers from the US and Australia mapped out the blade-like coral mount — the first to be discovered in some 120 years — off the coast of Cape York on October 20. Pictured, the topography of the newly-discovered reef and, behind it, a similar detached reef that had previously been mapped. Larger bodies of reef can also be seen in the background

Researchers from the US and Australia mapped out the blade-like coral mount — the first to be discovered in some 120 years — off the coast of Cape York on October 20. Pictured, the topography of the newly-discovered reef and, behind it, a similar detached reef that had previously been mapped. Larger bodies of reef can also be seen in the background

The revelation of the new coral reef adds to a year of underwater discoveries by Schmidt Ocean Institute.

In April, researchers discovered the longest recorded sea creature — a 148 feet (45 metres) -long siphonophore, a creature related to the jellyfish, in Ningaloo Canyon — as well as 30 new species.

In August, five previously undescribed species of black coral and sponges were uncovered by the team — who also recorded Australia’s first observation of rare scorpionfish in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks.

Back in February, their year started with the discovery of deep sea coral gardens and graveyards in Bremer Canyon Marine Park.

 

At its base, the blade-like reef is some 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres) in width — and reaches up to just 131 feet below the sea surface. Pictured, an outcrop of coral on the newly found reef

At its base, the blade-like reef is some 0.9 miles (1.5 kilometres) in width — and reaches up to just 131 feet below the sea surface. Pictured, an outcrop of coral on the newly found reef

The scientists — who are working onboard the research vessel 'Falkor' (pictured) — are presently undertaking a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia

The scientists — who are working onboard the research vessel ‘Falkor’ (pictured) — are presently undertaking a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia

‘To find a new half-a-kilometre tall reef in the offshore Cape York area of the well-recognised Great Barrier Reef shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline,’ said Schmidt Ocean Institute executive director Jyotika Virmani.

‘[A] 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 maps created by the researchers on their voyages will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation’s GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

The maps created by the researchers on their voyages will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation's GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project. Pictured, the research vessel Falkor

The maps created by the researchers on their voyages will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation’s GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project. Pictured, the research vessel Falkor

‘This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,’ said Schmidt Ocean Institute co-founder Wendy Schmidt.

‘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 have the capacity to explore like never before,’ she added.

‘New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.’ 

'This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,' said Schmidt Ocean Institute co-founder Wendy Schmidt. Pictured, a cuttlefish spotted by the SuBastian robot during its dive

'This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,' said Schmidt Ocean Institute co-founder Wendy Schmidt. Pictured, a fish spotted by the SuBastian robot during its dive

‘This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our ocean,’ said Schmidt Ocean Institute co-founder Wendy Schmidt. Pictured, a cuttlefish (left) and fish (right) spotted by the SuBastian robot during its dive

Coral expel tiny marine algae when sea temperatures rise which causes them to turn white

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae called ‘zooxanthellae’ that live inside and nourish them. 

When sea surface temperatures rise, corals expel the colourful algae. The loss of the algae causes them to bleach and turn white. 

This bleached states can last for up to six weeks, and while corals can recover if the temperature drops and the algae return, severely bleached corals die, and become covered by algae. 

In either case, this makes it hard to distinguish between healthy corals and dead corals from satellite images.

This bleaching recently killed up to 80 per cent of corals in some areas of the Great Barrier Reef.

Bleaching events of this nature are happening worldwide four times more frequently than they used to. 

An aerial view of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The corals of the Great Barrier Reef have undergone two successive bleaching events, in 2016 and earlier this year, raising experts' concerns about the capacity for reefs to survive under global-warming

An aerial view of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The corals of the Great Barrier Reef have undergone two successive bleaching events, in 2016 and earlier this year, raising experts’ concerns about the capacity for reefs to survive under global-warming

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