Whitney Bernstein, 2012 Joint Program Student
Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry, Chemical Oceanography
Coral reefs are richly diverse and complex ecosystems that are very sensitive to the environment. Many coral reef s are presently under immense stress due to the impacts of destructive fishing practices, heavy tourism and rapid coastal development. Concurrently, the general environmental conditions – the temperature and carbonate chemistry – of reef waters are undergoing changes due to the immense amounts of carbon dioxide being generated by human activities. These changes, namely climate change and ocean acidification, are expected to impact the growth rates of corals and other calcifying organisms in the marine environment. Whitney is investigating the sensitivity of coral growth rates to changes in the environment by two approaches. First, she studies calcification rates of massive coral colonies by examining x-ray images of coral skeletons. She compares these rates to temperature records that are based on geochemical proxies of temperature archived within the coral skeletons. Whitney also estimates community calcification rates by measuring changes in the chemistry (alkalinity) of sea water as it moves across the reef. She compares these rates to concurrent changes in the environmental conditions. These rates are also useful as baseline quantities against which to gauge future changes that may occur in response to climate change and ocean acidification.