The remains of a millions of years old coral reef have been discovered in the middle of a desert in Australia.
The Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia, where the reef was found, is now a 76,000 square mile desert of limestone bedrock. But it was covered by a tropical ocean about 14 million years ago, during the Cenozoic period.
Researchers from the Timescales of Mineral Systems Group at Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Perth have spotted the bulls-eye reef in new high-resolution satellite images. The discovery challenged their previous assumptions that the Nullarbor Plain had always been featureless.
“Unlike many parts of the world, large areas of the Nullarbor Plain have remained largely unaffected by weathering and erosion processes over millions of years, making it a unique geological canvas recording ancient history in remarkable ways,” co-author and geologist Milo Barham of Curtin University said in a statement.
“Through high-resolution satellite imagery and fieldwork, we have identified the clear remnant of an original seafloor structure preserved for millions of years, which is the first of this type of landform discovered in the Nullarbor Plain,” Barham said.
Most of Australia has been dry in modern times, with 18% of the country classed as desert. But for hundreds of millions of years, Australia was covered in rainforests and seas, including the ocean that once put the Nullarbor Plain under water.
The structure of the coral reef has a circular raised edge and a central dome shape, according to an article published in the journal Earth surface processes and landforms. The structure measures between 3,950 and 4,250 feet in diameter.
Additionally, the structure is distinct from other landforms seen on the plain and cannot be explained by any of the geologic processes common to the region, according to the journal.
“The ring-shaped ‘hill’ cannot be explained by extraterrestrial impact or any known deformation process, but preserves the original microbial textures and features typically found in the modern Great Barrier Reef” , Barham said.
The researchers’ access to new, high-resolution satellite images allowed them to spot much more subtle features of the Nullarbor Plain. This led them to realize that it was not a featureless, unchanging landscape, which they had thought it had become after its ocean dried up.
“Evidence of long-extinct river channels, as well as sand dune systems imprinted directly in limestone, preserves records of ancient landscapes and even a record of prevailing winds,” Barham said.
“And it’s not just scenery. Isolated cave shafts punctuating the Nullarbor Plain preserve mummified remains of Tasmanian tigers and complete skeletons of long-extinct wonders such as Thylacoleo, the marsupial lion,” he said. he declares.
Further exploration of Nullarbor’s geology could help researchers in their quest to learn more about the beginnings of our solar system and the Earth itself.
“On the surface, due to the relatively stable conditions, the Nullarbor Plain has preserved large amounts of meteorites, allowing us to travel back in time to the origins of our solar system,” Barham said.
“These features, together with the millions of years old landscape features we have now identified, make the Nullarbor Plain a land forgotten by time and allow for a deeper and more fascinating understanding of Earth’s history,” said he declared.
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