New light on dark depths: Australia’s Coral Sea landscape
July 16, 2012

Authors: Beaman, R.J.

Year: 2012

Publication: 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, 9-13 July 2012. Coral Reef Studies Centre of Excellence, Cairns, Australia


The undersea landscape of Australia’s Coral Sea comprise vast abyssal plains, bordered by submerged plateaus and separated by broad troughs and valleys. Superimposed over these major features are emergent coral atolls, some of the largest in the world, and an extensive seamount chain of drowned guyots, or in places capped with coral reefs. Mapping this undersea landscape is a challenge but through a series of bathymetric surveys using the RV Southern Surveyor and other vessels of opportunity, advanced mapping techniques now reveal the finer-scale detail of the seabed.

This talk will discuss the methods used to map the deep Coral Sea, and take a virtual 3D tour to reveal the latest data and information on deep-water geomorphic features and seabed habitats. For example, the Great Barrier Reef margin forms the western boundary of the Coral Sea and is extensively cut by deep submarine canyons, or sculpted by giant undersea landslides that result in debris blocks lying within the adjacent Queensland Trough. Wherever submerged plateaus have moderately steep margins, then dense submarine canyon systems appear. Relatively flat plains and plateau tops are now observed with numerous finer-scale abyssal hills, or ridges and knolls. Surveys of individual seamounts reveal that mass wasting commonly shapes their steep flanks.

This new knowledge helps to inform managers about potentially vulnerable marine ecosystems, and improves the datasets used by scientists to understand the oceanic environment. Ideas about future study areas in the Coral Sea will also be presented to help fill the data gaps and knowledge.

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