The Foundations of Atolls: First Explorations

  • D. R. Stoddart
Part of the Circum-Pacific Council for Energy and Mineral Resources Earth Science Series book series (CIRCUM-PACIFIC, volume 14)


Apart from a boring, about which little is known, in the Maldive Islands during 1834–1837 by R. Moresby, the two earliest attempts to drill an atoll were made in the Tuamotus in 1840–1841 by E. Belcher and R. E. Johnson. The prevailing belief was that atoll reefs were superficial veneers on the rims of volcanic craters. Specific knowledge of ocean depths surrounding atolls was lacking. The boring technology then available (for drilling water wells) appeared adequate for the anticipated thickness of the reefs, but all the bores made were entirely in sandy material and none reached a reef foundation. After Darwin published his theory of subsidence in 1842, with its deduced consequence of the existence of great thicknesses of shallow-water reef limestones beneath atoll rims, and after deep ocean soundings became available in the tropical Pacific in the 1870s, the perceived technical requirements for a successful boring to reef foundations were enormously increased. The first successful deep boring took place at Funafuti Atoll during 1896–1898, though it failed to reach reef foundations. Darwin’s theory was not demonstrated to be correct until more than 110 years after those first tentative attempts by Moresby, Belcher, and Johnson, when basalt was reached beneath shallow-water reef limestones at a depth of 1.2 km at Enewetak Atoll.


Coral Reef National Archive Marshall Island Thin Veneer Coral Island 
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Copyright information

© Circum-Pacific Council for Energy and Mineral Resources 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. R. Stoddart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeEngland

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