As soon as containing an enormous, prehistoric ocean, the Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia is a unprecedented panorama. Now a scrubby desert on limestone bedrock, it is extraordinarily flat and nearly featureless, extending for over a thousand kilometers.

However a brand new discovery means that the huge, semi-arid expanse might not be as featureless as we thought.

Utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery, a world workforce of scientists led by geologist Matej Lipar of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts has discovered an historic landform that seems to have as soon as been a coral reef – or a part of one.

Though we all know limestone can type from calcium carbonate from shells and fossils, and despite the fact that the Nullarbor limestone is wealthy with coral and algae fossils, there are not any major options related to the deposition of carbonate.

diagram showing the parts of the reef-like structure found on the Nullarbor
Diagram displaying the form of the Miocene reef-like construction discovered on the Nullarbor Plain. (Lipar et al., Earth Surf. Course of. Landf., 2022)

The reef-like landform consists of a round elevated ring about 1,300 meters (4,265 toes) extensive with a dome within the middle, and it may very well be the primary major depositional construction ever found on the plain.

Not like many elements of the world, a lot of the Nullarbor Plain has remained largely unchanged by weathering and erosion processes over thousands and thousands of years, making it a singular geological canvas recording historic historical past – and one actually value investigating, when you have the fitting instruments.

“By means of high-resolution satellite tv for pc imagery and fieldwork we’ve got recognized the clear remnant of an authentic sea-bed construction preserved for thousands and thousands of years, which is the primary of this sort of landform found on the Nullarbor Plain,” says geologist Milo Barham of Curtin College in Australia.

“The ring-shaped ‘hill’ can’t be defined by extra-terrestrial influence or any identified deformation processes, however preserves authentic microbial textures and options sometimes discovered within the trendy Nice Barrier Reef.”

Most of Australia is now arid and dry, with huge inland deserts. Hundreds of thousands of years in the past, although, in the course of the Miocene, the continent was teeming with life; not simply dense, thriving forest ecosystems, however big inland seas.

The ocean that coated the Nullarbor began to dry up round 14 million years in the past, exposing the shallow-water limestones deposited in the course of the center Cenozoic.

Since that point, little or no has occurred on the plain, geologically talking. There was no important sediment deposition to talk of, and no main upheavals resulting in the formation of mountain ranges, or different options.

a satellite image showing the ring and dome structure of the nullarbor reef
Satellite tv for pc picture displaying the reef-like function standing out in opposition to the Nullarbor Plain. (Lipar et al., Earth Surf. Course of. Landf., 2022)

Meaning the Nullarbor is successfully a clear report of geological processes and options courting again to the Miocene.

“Proof of the channels of long-vanished rivers, in addition to sand dune programs imprinted immediately into limestone, protect an archive of historic landscapes and even a report of the prevailing winds,” Barham says.

“And it’s not solely landscapes. Remoted cave shafts punctuating the Nullarbor Plain protect mummified stays of Tasmanian tigers and full skeletons of long-extinct wonders similar to Thylacoleo, the marsupial lion.”

That is not all. “On the floor,” provides Barham, “as a result of comparatively secure circumstances, the Nullarbor Plain has preserved massive portions of meteorites, permitting us to see again via time to the origins of our Photo voltaic System.”

Solely via the latest advances in high-resolution satellite tv for pc imagery have scientists been in a position to uncover a few of the plain’s extra refined options – together with the reef-like construction.

Evaluation of a few of the rock taken from the limestone reveals fossilized benthic foraminifera, single-celled marine organisms. This discovering is in step with Nullarbor limestone.

However one of many samples revealed one thing fascinating: microbial boundstone, a sort of stone that was sure by coral or algae when it fashioned.

No different microbial boundstone has been recognized in Nullarbor limestone, and this organism is able to laying down natural materials. Its presence means that the reef-like construction originates from the time when the limestone was deposited.

“These options,” Barham says, “at the side of the thousands and thousands of years outdated panorama function we’ve got now recognized, successfully make the Nullarbor Plain a land that point forgot and permit an interesting deeper understanding of Earth’s historical past.”

The analysis has been printed in Earth Floor Processes and Landforms.

By 24H

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