AOML establishes new sites to monitor ocean acidification in Gulf of Mexico

Photo credit: NOAA

Photo credit: NOAA

AOML’s Acidification, Climate, and Coral Reef Ecosystems Team (ACCRETE) traveled to two remote reef locations this summer to expand the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program’s (NCRMP) network of sentinel climate and ocean acidification monitoring sites. The newly established sites, located in the Flower Garden Banks and the Dry Tortugas, will provide the team of coral scientists with additional datasets and insight on changing ocean chemistry and the progression of ocean acidification, as well as the ecological impacts of these variables, across the Caribbean basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

Both sentinel sites are located in remote regions of the Gulf of Mexico, providing scientists with important data on reefs that experience few impacts from other man-made stressors, such as overfishing and pollution from land. In addition to long-term physical and chemical monitoring, scientists will closely monitor the ecosystem impacts of ocean acidification at the sites. These impacts include ecosystem and species-specific calcification rates, calcium carbonate budgets, and rates of bioerosion, or the removal of calcium carbonate structures by living organisms.

The team partnered with NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries Service to establish the first of the two sentinel sites at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in May. Located approximately 120 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, the Flower Garden Banks are the northernmost coral reefs on the continental shelf of North America and some of the most pristine reefs in the Atlantic.

An AOML coral researcher takes a coral core in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Image credit: NOAA

Aboard the Sanctuary vessel Manta, scientists conducted benthic surveys to measure ecosystem productivity and deployed monitoring units to measure calcium carbonate cycling, subsurface ocean temperatures, and rates of bioerosion. In order to measure historical growth, scientists also took coral cores, which were analyzed at AOML by a state-of-the-art CT scanner.

In September, the team traveled to Dry Tortugas National Park to establish the second and final monitoring site. The Dry Tortugas are a small group of islands located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. Scientists established long-term transects and deployed monitoring units to track the ecosystem impacts at the site. The Dry Tortugas site gives the monitoring program a unique opportunity to compare ocean chemistry changes and impacts along the same reef tract. The team has already established a monitoring site along the Florida Reef Tract, located offshore of Key Largo at Cheeca Rocks in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The NCRMP, co-funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and Ocean Acidification Program, seeks to provide sustained and long‐term measurement of key variables to gauge the status and trends of coral reef health. This work also incorporates the Atlantic Ocean Acidification Test-Bed, which, in collaboration with academic and other governmental partners, tests and improves current and newly developed methodologies to understand and interpret the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs. Data from the sentinel sites also contribute to the efforts of the larger Global Ocean Acidification Monitoring Network.

Aside from leading the in-situ climate change and ocean acidification monitoring for the Atlantic Ocean, AOML’s team of coral scientists works collaboratively with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington and the Coral Reef Ecosystems Division of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, to ensure that monitoring efforts in the Atlantic and Pacific are aligned.

In addition to the Cheeca Rocks site in the Florida Keys, the team also monitors a sentinel site in La Parguera, Puerto Rico. In the Pacific, sentinel sites are located in Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, American Samoa, and Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) / NOAA, 15 Septemnber 2015. More information.


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