The Earth’s coupled atmosphere-ocean system is changing - sea level is rising and ocean chemistry, along with climate in general, is shifting. Variability is not new; if nothing else, geology informs us that the Earth is dynamic at many time and space scales. What is striking, however, is the greatly increased rate of change, especially in forces impacting sensitive marine systems such as reefs. Although it is widely appreciated that marked changes are occurring, it is less well understood how these changes will affect coastal systems (i.e., coral reefs), and how ecosystems may be forced to adapt to survive. To explore the nature and controls on change in reef systems, my PhD dissertation will examine the carbonate budgets of reef systems (i.e. constructive and destructive processes) in areas with varied pH, total alkalinity, saturation states, and nutrient levels.
Why Study reefs and Climate change?
Reef ecosystems have been prevalent throughout Earth’s history. Reefs tend to be good indicators of global stress, especially modern coral reefs due to their sensitivity to temperature, salinity, pH and nutrients. One adverse effect of climate change is ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is considered the “other CO2 problem” and is impacting reef communities around the world. Acidification of the world’s oceans has led to a decrease in calcification rates of marine organisms such as corals. Coupled with sea level rise, lowered calcification rates could prohibit coral reefs from keeping up with the effects of global climate change on the shallow water environment. Reefs are important to a significant portion of the world’s population. If reef decline continues due to the combined effects of ocean acidification and sea level rise, this delicate marine ecosystem may not be able to support the people that depend on it.