Reef
Overview
 
In nautical terminology, a reef is a rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

, sandbar
Bar (landform)
A shoal, sandbar , or gravelbar is a somewhat linear landform within or extending into a body of water, typically composed of sand, silt or small pebbles. A spit or sandspit is a type of shoal...

, or other feature lying beneath the surface of the water (six fathom
Fathom
A fathom is a unit of length in the imperial and the U.S. customary systems, used especially for measuring the depth of water.There are 2 yards in an imperial or U.S. fathom...

s or less beneath low water).

Many reefs result from abiotic processes—deposition of sand
Sand
Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and non-tropical coastal...

, wave
Wave
In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, accompanied by the transfer of energy.Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass...

 erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 planning down rock outcrops, and other natural processes—but the best-known reefs are the coral reefs of tropical waters developed through biotic
Biotic component
Biotic components are the living things that shape an ecosystem. A biotic factor is any living component that affects another organism, including animals that consume the organism in question, and the living food that the organism consumes. Each biotic factor needs energy to do work and food for...

 processes dominated by coral
Coral
Corals are marine animals in class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria typically living in compact colonies of many identical individual "polyps". The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.A coral "head" is a colony of...

s and calcareous
Calcareous
Calcareous is an adjective meaning mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate, in other words, containing lime or being chalky. The term is used in a wide variety of scientific disciplines.-In zoology:...

 algae
Algae
Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

.
Encyclopedia
In nautical terminology, a reef is a rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

, sandbar
Bar (landform)
A shoal, sandbar , or gravelbar is a somewhat linear landform within or extending into a body of water, typically composed of sand, silt or small pebbles. A spit or sandspit is a type of shoal...

, or other feature lying beneath the surface of the water (six fathom
Fathom
A fathom is a unit of length in the imperial and the U.S. customary systems, used especially for measuring the depth of water.There are 2 yards in an imperial or U.S. fathom...

s or less beneath low water).

Many reefs result from abiotic processes—deposition of sand
Sand
Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.The composition of sand is highly variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions, but the most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and non-tropical coastal...

, wave
Wave
In physics, a wave is a disturbance that travels through space and time, accompanied by the transfer of energy.Waves travel and the wave motion transfers energy from one point to another, often with no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium—that is, with little or no associated mass...

 erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 planning down rock outcrops, and other natural processes—but the best-known reefs are the coral reefs of tropical waters developed through biotic
Biotic component
Biotic components are the living things that shape an ecosystem. A biotic factor is any living component that affects another organism, including animals that consume the organism in question, and the living food that the organism consumes. Each biotic factor needs energy to do work and food for...

 processes dominated by coral
Coral
Corals are marine animals in class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria typically living in compact colonies of many identical individual "polyps". The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.A coral "head" is a colony of...

s and calcareous
Calcareous
Calcareous is an adjective meaning mostly or partly composed of calcium carbonate, in other words, containing lime or being chalky. The term is used in a wide variety of scientific disciplines.-In zoology:...

 algae
Algae
Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

. Artificial reefs such as shipwrecks are sometimes created to enhance physical complexity on generally featureless sand bottoms in order to attract a diverse assemblage of organisms, especially fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

.

Biotic reef


There are a variety of biotic reef types, including oyster
Oyster
The word oyster is used as a common name for a number of distinct groups of bivalve molluscs which live in marine or brackish habitats. The valves are highly calcified....

 reefs, but the most massive and widely distributed are tropical coral reef
Coral reef
Coral reefs are underwater structures made from calcium carbonate secreted by corals. Coral reefs are colonies of tiny living animals found in marine waters that contain few nutrients. Most coral reefs are built from stony corals, which in turn consist of polyps that cluster in groups. The polyps...

s. Although corals are major contributors to the framework and bulk material comprising a coral reef, the organisms most responsible for reef growth against the constant assault from ocean waves are calcareous algae, especially, although not entirely, species of coralline algae
Coralline algae
Coralline algae are red algae in the order Corallinales. They are characterized by a thallus that is hard because of calcareous deposits contained within the cell walls...

.

These biotic reef types take on additional names depending upon how the reef lies in relation to the land, if any. Reef types include fringing reef
Fringing reef
A fringing reef is one of the three main types of coral reefs recognized by most coral reef scientists. It is distinguished from the other two main types in that it has either an entirely shallow backreef zone or none at all...

, barrier reefs, as well as atolls. A fringing reef is a reef that is attached to an island. A barrier reef forms a calcareous barrier around an island resulting in a lagoon between the shore and the reef. An atoll is a ring reef with no land present. The reef front (ocean side) is a high energy locale whereas the internal lagoon
Lagoon
A lagoon is a body of shallow sea water or brackish water separated from the sea by some form of barrier. The EU's habitat directive defines lagoons as "expanses of shallow coastal salt water, of varying salinity or water volume, wholly or partially separated from the sea by sand banks or shingle,...

 will be at a lower energy with fine grained sediments.

Definition

Geologists define reefs and related terms (for example, bioherm, biostrome, carbonate mound) using the factors of depositional relief, internal structure, and biotic composition. There is no consensus on one universally applicable definition. A useful definition distinguishes reefs from mounds as follows. Both are considered to be varieties of organosedimentary buildups: sedimentary features, built by the interaction of organisms and their environment, that have synoptic relief and whose biotic composition differs from that found on and beneath the surrounding sea floor. Reefs are held up by a macroscopic skeletal framework. Coral reefs are an excellent example of this kind. Corals and calcareous algae grow on top of one another and form a three-dimensional framework that is modified in various ways by other organisms and inorganic processes. By contrast, mounds lack a macroscopic skeletal framework. Mounds are built by microorganisms or by organisms that don't grow a skeletal framework. A microbial mound might be built exclusively or primarily by cyanobacteria. Excellent examples of biostromes formed by cyanobacteria occur in the Great Salt Lake
Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake, located in the northern part of the U.S. state of Utah, is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere, the fourth-largest terminal lake in the world. In an average year the lake covers an area of around , but the lake's size fluctuates substantially due to its...

 of Utah
Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 (USA), and in Shark Bay
Shark Bay
Shark Bay is a World Heritage listed bay in Western Australia. The term may also refer to:* the locality of Shark Bay, now known as Denham* Shark Bay Marine Park* Shark Bay , a shark exhibit at Sea World, Gold Coast, Australia* Shire of Shark Bay...

, Western Australia
Western Australia
Western Australia is a state of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the Australian continent. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean to the north and west, the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the south, the Northern Territory to the north-east and South Australia to the south-east...

.

Cyanobacteria do not have skeletons and individuals are microscopic. Cyanobacteria encourage the precipitation or accumulation of calcium carbonate and can produce distinct sediment bodies in composition that have relief on the seafloor. Cyanobacterial mounds were most abundant before the evolution of shelly macroscopic organisms, but they still exist today (stromatolite
Stromatolite
Stromatolites or stromatoliths are layered accretionary structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria ....

s are microbial mounds with a laminated internal structure). Bryozoans and crinoid
Crinoid
Crinoids are marine animals that make up the class Crinoidea of the echinoderms . Crinoidea comes from the Greek word krinon, "a lily", and eidos, "form". They live both in shallow water and in depths as great as 6,000 meters. Sea lilies refer to the crinoids which, in their adult form, are...

s, common contributors to marine sediments during the Mississippian (for example), produced a very different kind of mound. Bryozoans are small and the skeletons of crinoids disintegrate. However, bryozoan and crinoid meadows can persist over time and produce compositionally distinct bodies of sediment with depositional relief.

The Proterozoic
Proterozoic
The Proterozoic is a geological eon representing a period before the first abundant complex life on Earth. The name Proterozoic comes from the Greek "earlier life"...

 Belt Supergroup
Belt Supergroup
The Belt Supergroup, is an assemblage of Mesoproterozoic sedimentary rocks which outcrop chiefly in western Montana, but also exposed in Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, and British Columbia. It is most famous as the formation that makes up Glacier National Park in northwest Montana...

 contains evidence of possible microbial mat and dome structures similar to stromatolite reef complexes.

Geologic reef structures

Ancient reefs buried within stratigraphic
Stratigraphy
Stratigraphy, a branch of geology, studies rock layers and layering . It is primarily used in the study of sedimentary and layered volcanic rocks....

 sections are of considerable interest to geologist
Geologist
A geologist is a scientist who studies the solid and liquid matter that constitutes the Earth as well as the processes and history that has shaped it. Geologists usually engage in studying geology. Geologists, studying more of an applied science than a theoretical one, must approach Geology using...

s because they provide paleo-environmental information about the location in Earth's history
History of Earth
The history of the Earth describes the most important events and fundamental stages in the development of the planet Earth from its formation 4.578 billion years ago to the present day. Nearly all branches of natural science have contributed to the understanding of the main events of the Earth's...

. In addition, reef structures within a sequence of sedimentary rock
Sedimentary rock
Sedimentary rock are types of rock that are formed by the deposition of material at the Earth's surface and within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause mineral and/or organic particles to settle and accumulate or minerals to precipitate from a solution....

s provide a discontinuity which may serve as a trap or conduit for fossil fuel
Fossil fuel
Fossil fuels are fuels formed by natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years...

s or mineralizing fluids to form petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 or ore
Ore
An ore is a type of rock that contains minerals with important elements including metals. The ores are extracted through mining; these are then refined to extract the valuable element....

 deposits.

Corals, including some major extinct groups Rugosa
Rugosa
Disambiguation:The Rugosa Rose is also sometimes just called "Rugosa". For the moon in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, see .The Rugosa, also called the Tetracoralla, are an extinct order of coral that were abundant in Middle Ordovician to Late Permian seas.Solitary rugosans are often referred to...

 and Tabulata, have been important reef builders through much of the Phanerozoic
Phanerozoic
The Phanerozoic Eon is the current eon in the geologic timescale, and the one during which abundant animal life has existed. It covers roughly 542 million years and goes back to the time when diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared...

 since the Ordovician
Ordovician
The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six of the Paleozoic Era, and covers the time between 488.3±1.7 to 443.7±1.5 million years ago . It follows the Cambrian Period and is followed by the Silurian Period...

 Period. However, other organism groups, such as calcifying algae, especially members of the red algae Rhodophyta, and molluscs (especially the rudist bivalves during the Cretaceous
Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 Period) have created massive structures at various times. During the Cambrian
Cambrian
The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from Mya ; it is succeeded by the Ordovician. Its subdivisions, and indeed its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, where Britain's...

 Period, the conical or tubular skeletons of Archaeocyatha
Archaeocyatha
The Archaeocyatha or archaeocyathids were sessile, reef-building marine organisms of warm tropical and subtropical waters that lived during the early Cambrian period. It is believed that the centre of the Archaeocyatha origin is in East Siberia, where they are first known from the beginning of...

, an extinct group of uncertain affinities (possibly sponges), built reefs. Other groups, such as the Bryozoa
Bryozoa
The Bryozoa, also known as Ectoprocta or commonly as moss animals, are a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals. Typically about long, they are filter feeders that sieve food particles out of the water using a retractable lophophore, a "crown" of tentacles lined with cilia...

 have been important interstitial organisms, living between the framework builders. The corals which build reefs today, the Scleractinia
Scleractinia
Scleractinia, also called stony corals, are exclusively marine animals; they are very similar to sea anemones but generate a hard skeleton. They first appeared in the Middle Triassic and replaced tabulate and rugose corals that went extinct at the end of the Permian...

, arose after the Permian–Triassic extinction event that wiped out the earlier rugose corals (as well as many other groups), and became increasingly important reef builders throughout the Mesozoic
Mesozoic
The Mesozoic era is an interval of geological time from about 250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. It is often referred to as the age of reptiles because reptiles, namely dinosaurs, were the dominant terrestrial and marine vertebrates of the time...

 Era. They may have arisen from a rugose coral ancestor. Rugose corals built their skeletons of calcite
Calcite
Calcite is a carbonate mineral and the most stable polymorph of calcium carbonate . The other polymorphs are the minerals aragonite and vaterite. Aragonite will change to calcite at 380-470°C, and vaterite is even less stable.-Properties:...

 and have a different symmetry from that of the scleractinian corals, whose skeletons are aragonite
Aragonite
Aragonite is a carbonate mineral, one of the two common, naturally occurring, crystal forms of calcium carbonate, CaCO3...

. However, there are some unusual examples of well preserved aragonitic rugose corals in the late Permian
Permian
The PermianThe term "Permian" was introduced into geology in 1841 by Sir Sir R. I. Murchison, president of the Geological Society of London, who identified typical strata in extensive Russian explorations undertaken with Edouard de Verneuil; Murchison asserted in 1841 that he named his "Permian...

. In addition, calcite has been reported in the initial post-larval calcification in a few scleractinian corals. Nevertheless, scleractinian corals (which arose in the middle Triassic) may have arisen from a non-calcifying ancestor independent of the rugosan corals (which disappeared in the late Permian).

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