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Great Barrier Reef Protects Australia from Tsunamis

First Posted: Nov 26, 2015 09:50 AM EST
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The world-famous Australian reef is providing an effective barrier against landslide-induced tsunamis. The findings could have important implications for the conservation of this reef, and what the future may hold if the reef declines.

The Great Barrier Reef was not always a barrier reef. Instead, it was once a fringing reef and didn't offer the same protection as it does today. This is because the coast was much closer to the source of the tsunamis.

In this latest study, the researchers found that a shallow underwater landslide occurred 20,000 to 14,000 years ago, which caused a tsunami that was 2 to 3 meters high. The tsunami could have impacted Aborigines living at the time along estuaries and islands off of the coastline, which has since receded under the rising sea levels that followed the last ice age.

The 7km-wide landslide occurred off of the edge of the continental shelf causing the tsunami on the paleo coastline in the northern State of Queensland.

"There is a relatively low chance that a similar submarine landslide with the potential to cause a tsunami of up to three meters or more would happen today," said Jody Webster, one of the researchers, in a news release. "However, if one did occur, our findings suggest that the Great Barrier Reef is doing us a great service because of its ability to absorb some of that potential wave energy."

The findings reveal a bit more about what may cause tsunamis and how the Great Barrier Reef protects the coastline today.

The findings are published in the journal Marine Geology.

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