Monday, 22 Sep, 2008 Science

650 Million Years Old Reef Discovered in Australia


Three scientists from Australia have discovered the upturned remnants that earlier were part of a giant 650 million years old underwater reef. The discovery was made in the Northern Flinders Ranges located in South Australia. The reef is believed to be the only known reef complex of such age in the world.

Although scientists will still have to validate their beliefs scientifically, Mr Jonathan Giddings, Associate Professor Malcolm Wallace and Ms Estee Woon from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne consider that the strange remnants of presumable multi-cellular life forms discovered in the reef might represent the earliest primitive animal species on our planet.

The finding is extremely important due to the fact that the reef existed for 5-10 million years during the period when tropical climate dominated earth between two biggest ice age events. The sharp shift from the ice age to tropical climate and back to ice age took place about 750-550 million years ago, which is hundreds of millions of years before the appearance of dinosaurs. Scientists are fascinated about this particular period because it matched with the appearance of the earliest primitive life forms.

Commenting on the discovery Mr Giddings said that the reef represents a very important international discovery because it might explain how climate on Earth evolved in the past as well as how ancient reef complexes developed. In addition, the scientist said that the reef features fossils that could provide important insight into the development of the early multi-cellular life, which might have taken more complex forms that scientists previously thought.

The reef turned 90 degrees skywards due to the tectonic plates of Australia that has been shifting for millions of years.

"In effect, these tectonic forces have resulted in very ancient history being pushed up to the present. Today’s advances in satellite imagery are also helping us to see the reef very easily. Geologists had seen this mass before but had not really recognized it as once being a reef," the scientists said.

According to Associate Professor Wallace, the part of the reef that shows at the ground level is about 20 km wide. He said that the reef was not made by coral, like the famous Great Barrier Reef. It was created by microbial organisms and a number of other more complex life forms that have not been identified.

The reef might bring insight on what was happening in the waters of the ocean 650 million years ago.

"Our main work now will be to undertake further analysis of the fossils and organisms we have found, to determine just what type and stage of life form they represent," said Mr Wallace.

Source: ScienceAlert

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