Because they build their skeletons from calcium carbonate, cold-water corals such as the globally distributed species Lophelia pertusa are considered particularly threatened by ocean acidification. This change in seawater chemistry, caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, reduces the concentration of carbonate ions. With fewer carbonate ions, calcification becomes more difficult. However, laboratory studies at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel reveal, that a simultaneous increase in water temperatures could help Lophelia pertusa to counteract negative effects of ocean acidification. The experiments that were conducted as part of the German research programme on ocean acidification BIOACID (Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification) demonstrate how important it is to investigate Lophelia’s response to single drivers of climate change as well as their combined effects.
On an expedition with the research vessel POSEIDON and the submersible JAGO, marine biologists from GEOMAR collected corals at Trondheim Fjord (Norway) for their investigations. “During our JAGO dives, we examined the condition of the reefs. We documented their expansion and the diverse community living in the reefs and carefully chose our samples”, explains Janina Büscher. The PhD student from the department of Biological Oceanography at GEOMAR conducted the experiments and is lead author of a publication on the effects and impact of ocean acidification and warming on the growth and fitness of Lophelia pertusa in the research journal Frontiers in Marine Science. “The richness in species of these reefs that exist in almost complete darkness and at temperatures below ten degrees Celsius is very impressive.” Many of these underwater oases, grown over centuries, are protected as natural heritages. Their diversity ensures the resilience of the fjord ecosystem, and many species of fish find shelter and food in the reefs.