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Earth Matters

January Puzzler Answer: Palau’s Coral Reefs

February 18th, 2016 by Adam Voiland


Congratulations, Thomas Goldammer, for being the first to solve our January Puzzler. As Thomas noted, the image highlighted coral reefs immediately north of Palau’s Babeldaob island. Tyler Johnson chimed in the next day with some additional details and insight.

Though more than 100 people weighed in on Facebook, reefs in Palau never came up. Interestingly, several Facebook readers guessed that the image showed reefs in the Maldives. That, in turn, reminded me of an old but excellent story in our archives about the amazing atolls in the Maldives. The story does a nice job of explaining how atolls (such as the the North and South Malosmadulu Atolls shown below) get their remarkable shapes.


As our atoll article explains, the shapes of Maldavian atolls are affected not only by the birth and death of islands but also by the churning and currents of the ocean caused by the winds of passing monsoons. (Extraordinary, isn’t it? Maybe it is just me, but I find understanding how the land surfaces came to be both fascinating and humbling.)

Getting back to Palau, I also want to draw your attention to the video below. Compiled by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, it shows mesmerizing aerial and underwater imagery of Palau’s reefs. In fact, the foundation recently completed an expedition to Palau to collect baseline data on the health of the reefs. Ground campaigns like this—combined with aerial and satellite campaigns from above—offer scientists a more complete picture of the health of the world’s coral reefs than either might alone. To learn more about a NASA-sponsored aerial survey of Palau’s coral reefs, see our January 31 Image of the Day.

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