Study Looks at Future Ocean Acidification Conditions on Great Barrier Reef

Scientists build lab in a box that mimics future composition of seawater.

Written by
John Virata

An international team of scientists, including scientists from Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, has created an ocean acidification experiment that enables them to mimic future ocean conditions on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. They created a lab in a box that uses treated water to mimic the composition of the ocean in the future as it is exposed to climate change. The lab itself is located off of Heron Island in shallow water on a reef 2 to 6 feet deep. The scientists created elevated levels of acidity to test how local coral reefs were affected by the acidity. Their study marks the first attempt to conduct a controlled ocean acidification experiment in shallow ocean waters.

The lab, called the Coral Proto-Free Ocean Carbon Enrichment System (CP-FOCE), measures chemical changes in water via sensors that monitor the surrounding water conditions while also keeping the experimental pH levels as offsets from the actual environmental pH. Seawater treated with CO2 is pumped into the system at specific intervals and flow rates and can accept water from both ends of the device to allow bi-directional flow of seawater into and out of the device.  The CP-FOCE located on the reef enables the scientists to study acidification changes and its effects on coral reefs as they occur in nature, unlike studies that are performed in a laboratory or aquarium environment.

“Installing systems like this at reefs and other aquatic environments could be instrumental in helping us identify how ecosystems will change, and which locations and ecosystem types are more likely to remain robust and resilient,” said Lida Teneva, a Stanford doctoral student who assisted in the study. “From this, we can determine which habitats to focus our conservation efforts on as strongholds for the future,” Teneva said.

The acidification study was funded by the Australian Research Council, the Queensland Government, the National Science Foundation and the Pacific Blue Foundation. 

The complete study can be found here.

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