RESEARCH - Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are incredible complex and diverse ecosystems located in the “deserts” of the oceans, i.e., there are very little nutrients available in these locations. Coral communities have solved this problem by complex symbiotic relationships between corals and algae, and also a highly efficient recycling of nutrients between different trophic levels. The calcium carbonate structures built by reefs are essential for providing habitats for many marine species. 25% of all the fish species in the ocean live on a coral reef. Coral reefs are also important to millions of humans who depend on these systems for their nutrition, financial revenue, and protection from storms, waves and land erosion. It has been hypothesized that coral reefs may be one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to ocean acidification.

Biogeochemical processes, controls, and feedbacks

To understand the effect of ocean acidification on coral reefs,we need to understand the variations and controls of seawater carbonate chemistry on the reef. This might have been easy if it was not for the fact that biogeochemical processes (e.g., photosynthesis, respiration, calcification and CaCO3 dissolution) exert a strong influence on the seawater carbonate chemistry.

Hence, to make predictions about the effects of ocean acidification on reefs, we need to understand these biogeochemical processes, their controls, and how they might change in response to future environmental change. Some of the research questions we are working on include:

CaCO3 dissolution

As a result of ocean acidification, we are fairly certain that both dissolution and bioerosion of CaCO3 substrates, sediments, and structures will increase on coral reefs, but when, where, what, and how fast are questions we are actively trying to address. Some of these questions include: