A morphometric assessment and classification of coral reef spur and groove morphology
Spurs and grooves (SaGs) are a common and important feature of coral reef fore slopes worldwide. However, they are difficult to access and hence their morphodynamics and formation are poorly understood. We use remote sensing, with extensive ground truthing, to measure SaG morphometrics and environmental factors at 11,430 grooves across 17 reefs in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. We revealed strong positive correlations between groove length, orientation and wave exposure with longer, more closely-spaced grooves oriented easterly reflecting the dominant swell regime. Wave exposure was found to be the most important factor controlling SaG distribution and morphology. Gradient of the upper reef slope was also an important limiting factor, with SaGs less likely to develop in steeply sloping (> 5°) areas. We used a subset of the morphometric data (11 reefs) to statistically define four classes of SaG. This classification scheme was tested on the remaining six reefs. SaGs in the four classes differ in morphology, groove substrate and coral cover. These differences provide insights into SaG formation mechanisms with implications to reef platform growth and evolution. We hypothesize SaG formation is dominated by coral growth processes at two classes and erosion processes at one class. A fourth class may represent relic features formed earlier in the Holocene transgression. The classes are comparable with SaGs elsewhere, suggesting the classification could be applied globally with the addition of new classes if necessary. While further research is required, we show remotely sensed SaG morphometrics can provide useful insights into reef platform evolution.