These two images of the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, illustrate diversity in the morphology of atolls, one of the major types of coral reef formations. A typical atoll structure is a lagoon surrounded by a closed rim of cays and shallow spillways that control the exchange of water between the ocean and the lagoon. However, like human beings, this general scheme may vary according to the history of each individual atoll, resulting in a high diversity of morphology, especially for small atolls. The two neighboring atolls shown here have some unique features. What was a lagoon on Nukutavake (19°17′ S 138°48′ W, 6.2 km²) is now dry and completely covered by vegetation. Pinaki (3.54 km²) has a drying shallow lagoon still connected to the ocean via a single narrow spillway. The variation of morphology implies that each atoll may have a different equilibrium between ocean, lagoon, and land ecosystems.
Published Jul 1, 2001
Image of the Day