First cold-water coral reef discovered off Greenland

First cold-water coral reef discovered off Greenland

A reef of living cold-water corals has been discovered for the first time in Greenland waters - at a depth of almost 3,000 feet below sea-level.

There are several species of coral in Greenland, but this is the first time that an actual reef has been found, researchers said.

In the tropics, reefs are popular tourist destination for divers. However, there is little prospect of Greenland becoming a similar diving hotspot.

The living reef, located off Cape Desolation in southwest Greenland, lies at a depth of nearly 3,000 feet in a spot with very strong currents, making it difficult to reach.

This also means that so far little is known about the reef itself and what lives on it.
The reef, made of Lophelia pertusa, or eye-coral, was discovered by accident when a Canadian research vessel needed to take some water samples.

When the ship sent the measuring instruments down to a depth of 3,000 feet, they came back up completely smashed.

Fortunately, there were several pieces of broken coral branches on the instrument that showed what was responsible.

The coral specimen was identified by professor Ole Tendal from Denmark's Natural History Museum.

Another Canadian research vessel returned to the site last fall to try and lower a camera down onto the reef to explore it close up.

"We got some photos eventually, although we almost lost them at the bottom of the ocean as the camera got stuck fast somewhere down in the depths. Luckily we managed to get it loose again and back up to the surface," said Helle Jorgensbye, from the University of Denmark, who was on the research vessel.

"It's been known for many years that coral reefs have existed in Norway and Iceland and there is a lot of research on the Norwegian reefs, but not a great deal is known about Greenland.

"In Norway, the reefs grow up to 30 metres (98 feet) high and several kilometres long. The great Norwegian reefs are over 8,000 years old, which means that they probably started to grow after the ice disappeared after the last ice age.

"The Greenlandic reef is probably smaller, and we still don't know how old it is," said Jorgensbye.

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