AskDefine | Define reef

Dictionary Definition



1 a submerged ridge of rock or coral near the surface of the water
2 a rocky region in the southern Transvaal in northeastern South Africa; contains rich gold deposits and coal and manganese [syn: Witwatersrand, Rand]


1 lower and bring partially inboard; "reef the sailboat's mast"
2 roll up (a portion of a sail) in order to reduce its area
3 reduce (a sail) by taking in a reef

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ɹiːf/


From rif.


  1. A chain or range of rocks lying at or near the surface of the water.
  2. & (South Africa) A large vein of auriferous quartz; hence, any body of rock yielding valuable ore.
  3. An arrangement to reduce the area of a sail in a high wind.
  4. A reef knot.


rocks at or near surface of the water
large vein of auriferous quartz
arrangement to reduce the area of a sail
reef knot
See → reef knot
Translations to be checked

Derived terms


  1. To take in part of a sail in order to adapt the size of the sail to the force of the wind.




See also

Extensive Definition

In nautical terminology, a reef is a rock, sandbar, or other feature lying beneath the surface of the water yet shallow enough to be a hazard to ships. Many reefs result from abiotic processes—deposition of sand, wave erosion planning down rock outcrops, and other natural processes—but the best-known reefs are the coral reefs of tropical waters developed through biotic processes dominated by corals and calcareous algae.
Reefs can be created artificially either by special construction or through deliberately sinking ships, but one can argue that these "reefs" are not real ones, as it is seldom the case that an artificial obstruction would be created that is a hazard to shipping. These structures are usually created to enhance physical complexity on generally featureless sand bottoms in order to attract a diverse assemblage of organisms, especially fish. Thus, "artificial reef" is a misnomer, though firmly established as the term used for man-made underwater habitat structures.

Biotic reef types

There are a number of biotic reef types, including oyster reefs, but the most massive and widely distributed are tropical coral reefs. Although corals are major contributors to the framework and bulk material comprising a coral reef, the organisms most responsible for reef growth against the constant assault from ocean waves are calcarous algae, especially, although not entirely, species of coralline algae.

Geologic reef definition

Geologists define reefs and related terms (for example, bioherm, biostrome, carbonate mound) using the factors of depositional relief, internal structure, and biotic composition. There is no consensus on one universally applicable definition. A useful definition distinguishes reefs from mounds as follows. Both are considered to be varieties of organosedimentary buildups: sedimentary features, built by the interaction of organisms and their environment, that have synoptic relief and whose biotic composition differs from that found on and beneath the surrounding sea floor. Reefs are held up by a macroscopic skeletal framework. Coral reefs are an excellent example of this kind. Corals and calcareous algae grow on top of one another and form a three-dimensional framework that is modified in various ways by other organisms and inorganic processes. By contrast, mounds lack a macroscopic skeletal framework. Mounds are built by microorganisms or by organisms that don't grow a skeletal framework. A microbial mound might be built exclusively or primarily by cyanobacteria. Excellent examples of biostromes formed by cyanobacteria occur in the Great Salt Lake of Utah (USA), and in Shark Bay, Western Australia.
Cyanobacteria do not have skeletons and individuals are microscopic. Cyanobacteria encourage the precipitation or accumulation of calcium carbonate and can produce compositionally distinct sediment bodies that have relief on the seafloor. Cyanobacterial mounds were most abundant before the evolution of shelly macroscopic organisms, but they still exist today (stromatolites are microbial mounds with a laminated internal structure). Bryozoans and crinoids, common contributors to marine sediments during the Mississippian (for example), produced a very different kind of mound. Bryozoans are small and the skeletons of crinoids disintegrate. However, bryozoan and crinoid meadows can persist over time and produce compositionally distinct bodies of sediment with depositional relief.

Geologic reef structures

Ancient reefs buried within stratigraphic sections are of considerable interest to geologists because they provide paleo-environmental information about the location in Earth's history. In addition, reef structures within a sequence of sedimentary rocks provide a discontinuity which may serve as a trap or conduit for fossil fuels or mineralizing fluids to form petroleum or ore deposits. Corals, including some major extinct groups Rugosa and Tabulata, have been important reef builders through much of the Phanerozoic since the Ordovician period. However, other organism groups, such as calcifying algae, especially members of the red algae Rhodophyta, and mollusks (especially the rudist bivalves during the Cretaceous period) have created massive structures at various times. During the Cambrian period, the conical or tubular skeletons of Archaeocyatha,an extinct group of uncertain affinities (possibly sponges), built reefs. Other groups, such as the Bryozoa have been important interstitial organisms, living between the framework builders. The corals which build reefs today, the Scleractinia, arose after the Permian-Triassic extinction that wiped out the earlier rugose corals (as well as many other groups), and became increasingly important reef builders throughout the Mesozoic Era. They may have arisen from a rugose coral ancestor. Rugose corals built their skeletons of calcite and have a different symmetry from that of the scleractinian corals, whose skeletons are aragonite. However, there are some unusual examples of well preserved aragonitic rugose corals in the late Permian. In addition, calcite has been reported in the initial post-larval calcification in a few scleractinian corals. Nevertheless, scleractinian corals (which arose in the middle Triassic) may have arisen from a non-calcifying ancestor independent of the rugosan corals (which disappeared in the late Permian).

See also

External links

reef in Bulgarian: Риф
reef in Bosnian: Greben
reef in Danish: Rev
reef in German: Riff (Geographie)
reef in French: Récif
reef in Estonian: Kari
reef in Modern Greek (1453-): Ύφαλος
reef in Basque: Uharri
reef in Croatian: Greben
reef in Indonesian: Batu karang
reef in Ido: Rifo
reef in Dutch: Rif (ondiepte)
reef in Japanese: 暗礁
reef in Norwegian: Rev (maritimt)
reef in Polish: Rafa
reef in Portuguese: Arrecife
reef in Slovak: Rif (more)
reef in Finnish: Riutta
reef in Vietnamese: Ám tiều

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

ait, archipelago, arrest, atoll, backpedal, backwater, bank, bar, bill, brake, breakwater, cape, cay, check, chersonese, clear the decks, clip the wings, consider every angle, continental island, coral head, coral heads, coral island, coral reef, curb, decelerate, delay, delta, detain, dowse sail, draw rein, ease off, ease up, flat, ford, forearm, foreland, furl, guard against, hand a sail, head, headland, hedge, hold back, hold in check, hold up, holm, hook, impede, insularity, ironbound coast, island, island group, islandology, isle, islet, keep back, key, leave out nothing, ledges, lee shore, let down, let up, lose ground, lose momentum, lose speed, make sure, make sure against, moderate, mull, naze, ness, obstruct, oceanic island, overlook no possibility, peninsula, pitfall, play safe, point, prepare for, promontory, provide a hedge, provide against, provide for, quicksands, reduce sail, reef down, rein in, relax, retard, rockbound coast, rocks, sandbank, sandbar, sands, sandspit, set back, shallow, shallows, shelf, shoal, shoal water, shoals, shorten sail, slack off, slack up, slacken, slow, slow down, slow up, snug down, spit, spur, stay, take in sail, take measures, take precautions, take steps, throttle down, tidal flats, tongue, undercurrent, undertow, wetlands
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