All over the world, coral reefs, the elaborate graceful structures that serve as the infrastructure of tropical sea life, are turning a deathly white, bleached of all life, mortally wounded. When reefs die, the metropolis of teeming life that surrounds them disappears.
Scientists in Europe found that the bleaching process that kills the reefs is even more complex than they thought. While they were at it, they discovered that the relatively new scientific imaging technique they used to observe the dying reefs may have applications for all kinds of other research, including cancer treatment studies. Science sometimes works that way.
Coral formations consist of a thin layer of living coral that sits atop calcium carbonate skeletons of the dead coral. Corals form structures shaped like fans, leaves, or even brains. Some build entire walls in the sea, which can stretch thousands of miles, like the Great Barrier Reef off eastern Australia.
The biodiversity of reefs makes them akin to underwater rain forests and is extremely valuable to the fishing and tourism industries of nations that are lucky enough to have coral reefs close to their shores, explained Anders Meibom, a physicist at the Ecole Polytechnique F