The Geology of One Tree Reef

Investigating the past, present and future of One Tree Reef.

This project is based on the ongoing major research program of the Geocoastal Research Group (GRG) at the School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney. 

From a geological perspective, One Tree Reef (OTR) is perhaps the best-studied reef in the world, and therefore represents an ideal natural laboratory to understand the influence of environmental changes on coral reef systems. Based on several new coring campaigns this project has been able to unravel the evolution of OTR during the Last Interglacial period (125,000 years ago), establishing the rates of reef growth during the Holocene and the subsequent lateral growth that occurred once sea level stabilised.

The data collected from this research has been used to identify a high-stand when sea level was slightly higher than now and that was followed by a small drop in sea level. This drop in sea level had large implications for the functioning of the reef like, for example, isolating the lagoon and reducing wave propagation over the reef. OTR is also the site of world-leading studies in spurs and grooves, we have measured hydrodynamics and extracted cores that are helping us unveiling the form, function and evolution of these mysterious features.

The results of this research are being used to develop new numerical computer models with which researchers can simulate reef evolution in the geological timescale and investigate the effects that different environmental parameters have in determining reef evolution. In the future, these models will be used to investigate the future of the Great Barrier Reef under different scenarios.