Four deep-water coral reefs have been discovered at a depth of 3,900 feet in the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland.
With so much ocean floor, how did the team of scientists locate the reefs? Well, predictive mathematical models.
"The models work by looking at where we know deep-water coral reefs are found, identifying what is favorable environment for the corals, for example their favorite depths, and then looking for areas with the same or similar conditions," added Dr Anthony Grehan, from the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway). "If conditions are very similar then there is a high likelihood we will find corals."
The modeling system was developed at Plymouth University in England. The system predicts where the reefs will be according to conditions that are right for coral.
After using the model to predict coral reef locations, researchers from Plymouth, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), and NUI Galway, then confirmed their existence during a two-week expedition, using an underwater robot to obtain video evidence.
The production of accurate coral reef models has only been made possible by scientists having access to high resolution multibeam sonar maps of the seabed.
The team has said the experiment is a breakthrough in pinpointing and potentially protecting these delicate habitats.
Project lead Dr Kerry Howell, Associate Professor in the School of Marine Science and Engineering at Plymouth University, said, "We're delighted with these results. It means we can now produce maps of where coral is likely to be for large areas of the deep-sea that we have not yet visited, and use them to identify high value ecological areas that might need protection from damaging activities."
The team also searched for deep-sea sponge fields, but found the models to be less accurate, with a 50 percent success rate.