In the frigid depths of the Labrador Sea, these scientists are studying coral in novel ways

Local researchers on CCGS Amundsen spent 28-day mission in northern waters

Maxime Geoffroy is a research scientist at the Marine Institute in St. John’s. He’s the chief scientist aboard a research vessel that explored the depths of the Labrador Sea this summer. (Maxime Geoffroy/Twitter)

Two heads are better than one at solving a problem, as the old saying goes.

Well, imagine the strides in ocean science when 36 researchers come together on a month-long deep-sea mission.

That’s exactly what happened this past summer on board the Canadian research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, as part of its annual science program. 

The trip eyed the deep-water corals of the northern Labrador Sea and Baffin Bay, seeking to reveal answers to mysteries about how ecosystems far, far below the surface actually operate.

Maxime Geoffroy, a fish specialist with the Marine Institute in St. John’s and chief scientist for the mission, describes the 28-day journey as a holistic approach to science. He says having such a wide variety of scientists on board one vessel — from geologists to people analyzing water nutrients — can bring researchers a new understanding of the complexity of the ocean. 

Watch scientists in action aboard the CCGS Amundsen:


Ocean acidification

As the climate changes, the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide. This means the ocean environment becomes more acidic.

The more acidic the water becomes, the more difficult it is for corals to form their skeletons. 

“Think of osteoporosis, but apply it to coral skeletons that are under conditions of ocean acidification,” Edinger said. 

Memorial University researcher Evan Edinger studies corals. (Submitted by Barbara Neves)

“They can make a skeleton, but their skeleton isn’t going to last very long in terms of actually building a habitat. So how does that change affect the organisms that build habitat for other organisms? Well, we don’t know. We’re trying to figure that out.”

Because of the collaborative nature of this deep-sea voyage, coral scientists have a better chance of answering those kinds of questions.

While some scientists focused on corals, there were other scientists collecting water samples to measure the dissolved calcium carbonate that corals depend on for growth. 

While the at-sea time for scientists aboard the CCGS Amundsen was lengthy, the work of poring over the collected material will be even lengthier.

Geoffroy says the data analysis could take one to two years before it’s complete.

CBC News, 26 September 2021. Full article.

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