Climate Change Won’t Stop Stony Corals From Making Rock

Climate Change Won’t Stop Stony Corals From Making Rock

Stylophora pistillata, a well-studied stony coral common in the Indo-Pacific. (Credit: Kevin Wyman/Rutgers)

New research suggests stony corals may fare better under the acidic ocean conditions caused by climate change than once thought.

“The bottom line is that corals will make rock even under adverse conditions,” says Paul G. Falkowski, a professor who leads the Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Laboratory at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

“They will probably make rock even as the ocean becomes slightly acidic from the burning of fossil fuels.”

“They’re more resilient than we give them credit for.”

Using a materials science approach, the team tapped several high-tech imaging methods to show that corals use acid-rich proteins to build rock-hard skeletons made of calcium carbonate minerals.

“What we’re showing is that the decades-old general model for how corals make rock is wrong,” Falkowski says. “This very careful study very precisely shows that corals will secrete proteins, and the proteins are what really forms the mineral, and the proteins are very acidic, which will surprise a lot of people.”

Corals are largely colonial organisms that harbor hundreds to hundreds of thousands of polyps (animals). Reefs built by stony, shallow-water coral species are among the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Thousands of species of fish and other sea life rely on reefs for survival, and thousands of human communities count on reefs for food, protection, and jobs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But corals face several environmental threats over the long-run: potentially deadly bleaching from global warming and rapid temperature changes; nutrient pollution; the physical destruction of coral reefs; and ocean acidification linked to carbon dioxide emissions, Falkowski says.

The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning and land use changes, leading to lower pH and greater acidity, according to NOAA. Ocean acidification is reducing levels of calcium carbonate minerals in many areas, which will likely hamper the ability of some organisms to create and maintain their shells.

According to the study, there are two main hypotheses about how stony corals build their stony skeletons. One is through largely physical and chemical processes and the other is through a biologically driven process.

Rutgers scientists examined Stylophora pistillata—a well-studied stony coral common in the Indo-Pacific—using ultra-high-resolution 3D imaging and 2D nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. They showed that stony corals precipitate minerals through a biologically driven process.

“As far as I know, we were unique in the world in using a coordinated set of techniques to understand the ultrastructure of coral skeletons,” Falkowski says. The techniques included Raman imaging and spectroscopy, and scanning helium ion microscopy.

The scientists found that random nanoparticles are deposited in coral microenvironments enriched in organic material. The nanoparticles accumulate and form stony structures made of calcium carbonate—known as aragonite—by growing crystals. The NMR imaging results show that coral acid-rich proteins are the main drivers.

The proteins function at a pH (a measure of acidity and alkalinity) of about 8.5 to 7, and “that environment, to them, is still perfectly fine,” Falkowski says. The ocean normally has a pH of 8.1 or 8.2 and in the coming century or so that may drop to 7.8, but stony corals will still be able to make rock.

“For stony corals, we’re fairly confident that the acidification issue is exaggerated,” he says. “They’re more resilient than we give them credit for.”

The study appears in the journal Science. Other study authors are from the Newark and New Brunswick campuses of Rutgers University and from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Source: Rutgers University

Related Books

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

How Supercharged Plants Could Slow Climate Change
by TED
Plants are amazing machines -- for millions of years, they've taken carbon dioxide out of the air and stored it…
Are Hungry Swarms Of Tiny Krill Behind Ocean Mixing?
Are Hungry Swarms Of Tiny Krill Behind Ocean Mixing?
by National Science Foundation
Engineers are investigating the impact of krill swarms on ocean mixing, and possibly global climate.
Methane: The Arctic's Hidden Climate Threat : Natalia Shakhova's Latest Paper
by Just Have a Think
A methane burst from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf could happen at any time and needs only a trigger.
Understanding The Human Side Of Climate Change Relocation
Understanding The Human Side Of Climate Change Relocation
by Sarah M. Munoz
Climate change is expected to have a striking impact on vulnerable communities, especially in coastal regions where…
On Contact: Climate Crisis with James Hansen
by RT America
Dr. James Hansen, former director of NASA's Goddard Institute and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Earth…
Fran Ulmer: After the Arctic Ice Melts
by World Affairs
Sea ice in the Arctic is getting thinner and thinner each year. As the ice melts away, shipping lanes will expand and…
Experts Warn of Climate Tipping Point as Scientists Find Permafrost Thawing 70 Years Ahead of Schedule
Experts Warn of Climate Tipping Point as Scientists Find Permafrost Thawing 70 Years Ahead of Schedule
by Eoin Higgins
Areas of the Canadian Arctic permafrost are thawing rapidly, 70 years ahead of when scientists previously believed, as…
Ice on Fire: HBO Official Trailer And Interviews
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Ice on Fire is an outstanding documentary presented by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is equally as important as An Inconvenient…

LATEST ARTICLES

Why The Indian Ocean Is Spawning Strong And Deadly Tropical Cyclones
Why The Indian Ocean Is Spawning Strong And Deadly Tropical Cyclones
by Jennifer Fitchett
The Indian Ocean has made its mark on the global news cycle this year. In March, tropical cyclone Idai made headlines…
Biodiversity Helps Coral Reefs Thrive – And Could Be Part Of Strategies To Save Them
Biodiversity Helps Coral Reefs Thrive – And Could Be Part Of Strategies To Save Them
by Cody Clements
Coral reefs are home to so many species that they often are called “the rainforests of the seas.”
Methane Emissions From Oil And Gas Basins 60 Percent Higher Than ...
Methane Emissions From Oil And Gas Exploration Are Under-Reported
by Greg McDermid and Maria Strack
Wetlands in Canada’s boreal forest contain deep deposits of carbon-rich soils, made up of decomposed vegetation (peat)…
Household tissue is a climate issue
Household Tissue Is A Climate Issue
by Kieran Cooke
Trees are the source of much of our household tissue. And trees and soil store huge quantities of carbon to add to…
How To Bring The Wisdom Of The Public To Bear On The Climate Emergency
How To Bring The Wisdom Of The Public To Bear On The Climate Emergency
by Graham Smith
A new form of politics is gaining steam as a solution to the climate crisis. Six parliamentary committees in the UK are…
Utopia Isn't Just Idealistic Fantasy – It Inspires People To Change The World
Utopia Isn't Just Idealistic Fantasy – It Inspires People To Change The World
by Heather Alberro
Climate breakdown, mass extinctions, and extreme inequality threaten the earth’s rich tapestry of life and leave our…
US Military Is A Bigger Polluter Than As Many As 140 Countries
US Military Is A Bigger Polluter Than As Many As 140 Countries
by Benjamin Neimark, et al
The US military’s carbon bootprint is enormous. Like corporate supply chains, it relies upon an extensive global…
Solar future shines ever more brightly
Solar Future Shines Ever More Brightly
by Paul Brown
Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper…