Oct 28, 2020 - Science

Scientists discover reef that's taller than the Empire State Building

A plane flies close to the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland on October 10, 2020 in Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
A plane flies over the Great Barrier Reef, at Queensland, Australia, on Oct. 10. Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Scientists have discovered a 1,600-foot-tall detached coral reef at Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The shoal of coral that's taller than New York City's Empire State Building is the first detached reef to be found in more than 120 years.

  • Per a statement from Tom Bridge, a principal investigator on the expedition from James Cook University, "We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about what lies in the depths beyond our coastlines."
  • Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of the nonprofit Schmidt Ocean Institute, noted in a statement, "This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our Ocean."

Between the lines: A "detached" reef is bedded to the ocean floor, rather than part of the main body of a wider reef system.

The big picture: Scientists found the reef off the coast of Far North Queensland on Oct. 20 during a 12-month mapping project of the oceans of Australia. Researchers used an underwater robot Sunday to explore the find.

  • The "blade-like" reef is estimated to be 20 million years old at its deepest part.
  • "This newly discovered detached reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area—all otherwise mapped in the late 1800s," Bridge said.

For the record: The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world.

  • A study published earlier this month found the World Heritage-listed has lost over half of its coral populations in the past three decades because of ocean warming.

What's next: Scientists will continue to investigate and map the depths of the northern Great Barrier Reef until mid-November.

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