Day 9: The Coral Challenge begins...

Team Coral has a buzz of excitement, as their carefully collected corals have begun their ocean acidification and warming challenge.

But first, a bit about the members of Team Coral involved in these experiments. First up, we have Seb from Heriot-Watt University, multi-tasking to the max, just a blur of activity who only stops for tea. Then there's Janina from GEOMAR, our 'coral doctor', who's enjoying the supply of chocolate digestives, not available in Germany! Next up, Penny from the University of Glasgow, who uses the term 'amazing' at least once an hour and is extremely excited by everything happening on the ship. And then there's me (Laura), the better half of the Heriot-Watt team!

Lophelia pertusa
Following months of preparation, our experimental tanks are now home to a selection of small fragments of Lophelia pertusa, deep-water coral from the Mingulay Reef Complex. These corals live a quiet life on the bottom of the ocean, they use their amazing tentacles to grab food floating past and use the energy from this food to create calcium carbonate skeletons. But all of this is likely to change within the next century. The vast amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing the amount of CO2 in the oceans (ocean acidification). But why is this a problem for these out of sight animals? Well, these corals use carbonate ions which are in the ocean to make their skeletons. The increased CO2 in the oceans is reacting with seawater to form carbonic acid, which releases hydrogen ions, reducing pH, and decreasing the amount of carbonate available to these corals. On top of this, the oceans are warming, and as yet we don't know what affect this will have.

So, the experiments we have set up will look at how the corals will respond, in the short term, to changes in the CO2 level and temperature of the mini-oceans in which they live. Along with longer term experiments underway at Heriot-Watt, this will help us to determine whether corals can adapt to such changes, or whether it will be impossible for them to survive.

Lissie, Laura and Penny planning!
On a day-to-day basis, there is a lot to do to make sure everything runs smoothly in the 6 mini-oceans we have in the hanger. Lissie, also from Heriot-Watt, makes sure the temperature and CO2 levels are stable, and the corals are happy. Penny, resplendent in safety goggles, is in a haze of liquid nitrogen as she takes small samples to look at the changes in coral proteins with these different conditions. Janina is measuring the coral's fitness and respiration- no running machines required! And Seb and I are looking at how the energy budget of corals change when they have to cope with different temperatures and CO2 levels - so do they respire more or less? Do they eat more? Do they grow less? All will be revealed.......