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Scientists discover new reef system at mouth of Amazon River

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:25pm

Marine sciences professor Patricia Yager is part of an incredible story of the unlikely discovery of a reef system near the mouth of the Amazon River:

A new reef system has been found at the mouth of the Amazon River, the largest river by discharge of water in the world. As large rivers empty into the world's oceans in areas known as plumes, they typically create gaps in the reef distribution along the tropical shelves—something that makes finding a reef in the Amazon an unexpected discovery.

An international team—including scientists from the University of Georgia and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro—documented their findings in an April 22 study published in the journal Science Advances.

Scientists on a recent expedition to investigate the Amazon River plume included a Brazilian research team looking for evidence of a reef system along the continental shelf. The Amazon plume—an area where freshwater from the river mixes with the salty Atlantic Ocean—affects a broad area of the tropical North Atlantic Ocean in terms of salinity, pH, light penetration and sedimentation, conditions that usually correlate to a major gap in Western Atlantic reefs.

Carlos Rezende from the State University of North Fluminense, Fabiano Thompson from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Rodrigo Moura, a reef ecologist from UFRJ who has written extensively about richness of reef corals south of the Amazon River mouth, led the reef discovery team.

"Our expedition into the Brazil Exclusive Economic Zone was primarily focused on sampling the mouth of the Amazon," said Patricia Yager, an associate professor of marine sciences in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the River-Ocean Continuum of the Amazon project.

Yager's work with the River-Ocean Continuum of the Amazon project brought her to the area and on research crusies to study the Amazon Plume, which all led to this discover. Wonderful international collaboration to produce extraordinary science. 

Image: Patricia Yager, center, oversees ocean sampling equipment on board the RV Atlantis before it's lowered into the Amazon River plume. (Credit: Lance Willis)

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