Every day thousands of tourists flock to north Queensland to witness the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory.
But soon a different group of travellers will visit the reef in order to dig up samples of ancient coral buried deep in the ocean floor.
A group of international scientists say this sediment holds clues to how the Earth adapted since the last ice age.
Buried deep under layers of coral reef lies a time-capsule of chemicals and sediment and scientists say that contains the clues to how the Pacific Ocean looked several thousand years ago.
Professor Neville Exon from the Australian National University is one of the masterminds behind the project.
He says the coral samples will tell researchers how the sea levels and water temperatures have changed in the past.
“The real proof of a lot of scientific theories developed in other ways is to drill a hole and actually see what’s there,” he said.
“You often have a pretty good idea of what you’ll get but you don’t have any detail, and this gives you the detail.
“To build up a good idea of the future you have to understand the past, you have to understand what’s happened in recorded history and you’ve got to have good modellers who understand how all these things interplay.”
Climate change evidence
Dr Jody Webster, one of the scientists in charge of the drilling expedition, says the coral samples will provide concrete evidence of climate change since the last ice-age.
“From other work that we’ve done in different parts of the world, there’s evidence, still quite controversial evidence, that a sea level rise following the end of the last ice-age was not smooth and continuous; there’s these periods of accelerated sea-level rise,” he said.
“It hopefully will provide better constraints on past sea level rise and a better understanding of past dynamic ice-sheet behaviour, so the way in which some of these perhaps catastrophic ice-sheet collapses occurred.”
He says this year’s dig is one of just many since the project began seven years ago.
“It is very expensive 0 I don’t know the exact dollar value but in the order of $5 million to $10 million is being spent,” he said.
Professor Exon says the scientists are hoping to release the findings to the public after documenting their deep sea treasure.
“It will be public domain information, and what that means is all the geo-physical information, all the well logging information and all the samples are available one year after the expedition, they are available to all comers,” he said.
“This is what makes science great, is when it’s in the public domain as this one is.”