Day 14: Up close and personal with corals

Out in the North Atlantic, conditions have changed - the swell is up and we have been busy securing everything after 2 weeks of calm seas. ROV operations have continued throughout the afternoon, and the night team are now about to embark on a box coring campaign in the rain!

But first, today's blog is written by Penny from the University of Glasgow, about coral feelings!

....So many of you will have heard scientists talking about global climate change and ocean acidification, but what exactly do we mean when we talk about this? And why are we particularly interested in it on this expedition?

Global climate change sums up a whole list of things affecting our environment. Scientists believe these changes have been caused by human activities which have led to an increased level of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere. If we look back in the past we can see that the Earth’s climate has been through some major changes. The difference between past changes and modern day climate change is the speed of that change and scientists are worried that animals and plants will struggle to adapt fast enough to the new conditions.

Increasing temperature and ocean acidification are two factors that have been highlighted as areas of concern for the animals and plants that live in our oceans. Deep sea coral reefs provide a home for thousands of marine animals and act as a nursery ground for many important commercial fish species. As a member of team coral, I am part of the experiment investigating how cold water corals may respond in the future to increased temperature and ocean acidification. Ideally we would be able to ask the corals how they were feeling about all these changes to their habitat; however scientists are yet to master the language of coral! Therefore we need to come up with ways to find out how the coral is ‘feeling’.

Ok, so here is the science; I look at the response of corals to environmental changes at the molecular level. All the processes we carry out on a day to day basis, including eating, breathing, regulating our body heat and growing, are controlled by proteins. For example, when we breathe our body transports oxygen from the lungs around the body using the blood. The main component of our blood, and the thing that does all the work, is a protein called haemoglobin. When our body experiences a change in environment our body is able to produce more or less of particular proteins to cope with these changes. If I was climb up a mountain to a very high altitude where there is less oxygen in the air, my body would produce more haemoglobin to help me cope with this change. The proteins used by the corals act in a similar way to changes to their environment. We can look at changes in the concentration of particular proteins to assess how important coral processes, such as calcification, may respond in the future to increased temperature and ocean acidification. By looking at the corals in this way, we can start to better understand how and which processes important to the coral, will be impacted by climate change.