Will Coral Reefs Survive Acidification?
Nestled among the beautiful coral reefs of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a place that could provide the key to our understanding of one of the biggest threats to coral reef survival: Ocean Acidification. Here cool carbon dioxide naturally bubbles out of volcanic cracks in the shallow sea floor and makes the surrounding waters more acidic. This place gives us a glimpse into the future as absorbed atmospheric CO2 makes the ocean more acidic. Smithsonian scientist, Laetitia Plaisance, uses this unique place to study what will happen to corals and coral reefs if the ocean gets more acidic. Read the full blog post from Dr. Plaisance to learn more about acidification and these amazing CO2 seeps.
Carbon Dioxide Volcanic Seep
Off the coast of Papua New Guinea, CO2 bubbles out of volcanic vents in the reef. The excess carbon dioxide dissolves into the surrounding seawater, making water more acidic—as we would expect to see in the future due to the burning of fossil fuels.
MV Chertain Lab Boat
For three weeks, the research ship MV Chertan is home-base for the scientific team and will be transformed in a floating laboratory to study volcanic CO2 seeps.
A Healthy Coral Reef
Far away from the volcanic CO2 seeps, a healthy coral reef flourishes with a diversity of coral species. Closer to the seeps where the water is acidic, the corals barely even grow.
Monoculture of Boulder Corals
Close to the volcanic CO2 seeps, the vast diversity of corals that exists in less-acidic waters is replaced by a "monoculture" of boulder corals.
Fragile Branching Corals in Acidic Water
Branching corals, because of their more fragile structure, struggle to live in acidified waters around natural carbon dioxide seeps, a model for a more acidic future ocean.
Lonely Seagrass in Acidic Waters
Where the pH is the lowest, corals can no longer grow - sand, rubble and seagrasses replace the reef.
The acidic waters from the CO2 seeps can dissolve shells and also make it harder for shells to grow in the first place.
Dissolving Coral Skeleton in Acidic Waters
Acidic waters are also able to completely dissolve coral skeletons.