Katie Shamberger, 2011 Postdoctoral Scholar

Geology & Geophysics


My research is focused on ocean acidification in the coastal ocean and its effects on marine calcifying organisms.  Ocean acidification makes it more difficult for calcifying organisms, such as corals and shellfish, to make their calcium carbonate skeletons and shells.  Coral reefs are an example of a marine ecosystem that is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because the calcifying organisms, namely corals and calcareous algae, must produce calcium carbonate faster than it is eroded away in order to maintain the reef structure that provides habitat for a myriad of coral reef species.  I use water chemistry to determine the calcification rate (how fast calcium carbonate is being produced) of entire coral reef ecosystems, not just individual organisms, and investigate how coral reef ecosystem calcification changes with changing CO2 levels.  My PhD work found that different coral reefs respond differently to changing CO2 levels.  However, ecosystem calcification rates have been measured on only a few coral reefs in the world and we must have a better understanding of how different reefs respond to changing CO2 in order to predict when different coral reefs will be impacted by ocean acidification in the future.

The postdoctoral scholarship that OLI has provided me has allowed me to come to WHOI and work on a collaborative project in Palau with WHOI researchers Anne Cohen (Geology & Geophysics), Dan McCorkle (Geology & Geophysics), and Steve Lentz (Physical Oceanography).  Since I have been at WHOI, we have found reefs in Palau with low CO2 levels and also with very high CO2 levels that support beautiful and healthy coral communities.  We are now working to measure ecosystem calcification rates on multiple reefs in Palau to investigate whether coral communities that are adapted to high CO2 conditions are more or less sensitive to ocean acidification than coral communities in low CO2 conditions.  This work will give us important insights into why some coral reef ecosystems appear to be less sensitive to ocean acidification than others.