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Atoll development

Detailed Description

Coral atolls develop from reefs fringing volcanic islands. As first hypothesized by Charles Darwin, and confirmed by ocean drilling done by British scientists a century ago, reefs fringing volcanic islands build vertically to sea level, forming steep-walled barrier reefs. As a volcanic island subsides, or sinks, with time, the growing reef keeps pace with the rising water level. When the island eventually submerges, the ring-shaped reef forms an atoll with a central lagoon. Graphic Design By Susan Mayfield and Sara Boore, USGS Fact Sheet 025-02