Cefas scientist to "SPI" on coldwater coral habitats
15 May 2012
With the oceans warming and moving towards acidity, will
Scotland's coldwater corals die out, as some predict, or do they
have the capacity to adapt and survive?
These are the key questions facing a team of top international
scientists who have set off on a month-long research voyage in the
waters around Scotland using the latest robotic submersible
technology. The researchers will be aboard the Natural Environment
Research Council's (NERC's) Royal research ship,
the James Cook.
The "Changing Oceans" expedition is part of the £12 million UK
Ocean Acidification Research programme, jointly funded by NERC, and
government departments DECC and Defra. It will study how these
unique deep-sea ecosystems function, and how they may be impacted
by changes in sea temperature and ocean chemistry.
It is hoped that the survey will provide new information on
how coldwater corals might best be protected in
Silvana Birchenough is taking part in the multidisciplinary
cruise and will be using a Sediment-Profile Imagery (SPI camera) to
investigate sediment layers within the seabed.
The SPI camera has a prism that penetrates the seabed and
collects profile images, similar to looking at sand and gravel
through the glass of an aquarium. These images help
scientists to characterise the biodiversity and "bioturbation"
of habitats (that is, how species rework the
sediment). For this cruise, Dr Birchenough will be collecting
data on habitats adjacent to the coral reefs.
Sediment-profile images (SPI) collected at different UK
SWI = sediment water interface; SP = sea
pen; SF = surface fauna; I = infaunal polychaete; v = void; B =
burrow. The scale on the left is at 2cm intervals (© Crown
Dr Birchenough said: "This is a very exciting opportunity
for us to view, in real time, various burrows, fauna and sediment
types. We will be also able to incubate some of these habitats and
mimic ocean acidification effects.
"This research will help our conservation colleagues (JNCC and
Marine Scotland) with scientific evidence for monitoring some of
Murray Roberts, Professor of Marine Biology at Heriot-Watt
University, said: "Over the past 100 years, human activities
including the burning of oil, coal and gas have increased carbon
dioxide levels in the atmosphere, causing the oceans to become
warmer and lower in pH. For coldwater corals, these changes mean
that they may start to grow slower, need more food to survive, and
may not even be able to grow in some areas.
"There may also be changes in how much food is available, as the
whole marine food web is likely to be altered, unpredictably, in a
future, warmer, lower-pH ocean. We need to learn more about how
these corals will react to the changes, by studying how they
survive now, and by doing laboratory experiments to see how they
respond to different conditions.
"There are also a myriad of other animals and micro-organisms
which live on and around these coral reefs - we will be examining
how these creatures will be affected by changes in their
"Our work will also characterise the carbonate chemistry and
environmental conditions surrounding the reef areas, and we will be
mapping the seabed. We will also collect cores of the seabed that
can take us back thousands of years in time."
A blog is being kept during the cruise around the Hebrides. To
find out more about this research and to follow cruise
activities on the James Cook visit: http://changingoceans2012.blogspot.co.uk.