Day 15: Capturing Carbon and Corals

The Changing Oceans expedition has passed the halfway point, and everyone is optimistic that all our aims will be achieved. It's pretty rocky out at Rockall at the moment, the waves are up and ROV operations have been postponed. Luckily, there is other equipment that we can deploy when the seas are a bit choppy so overnight we have had the moving vessel profiler in the water.

But first, today's blog is written by Rowan from Heriot-Watt University about cold-water corals, from an engineering perspective.....

Rowan measuring coral respiration
Hello and nice to meet you.  I have been asked to write a small piece for today’s blog so I thought I would tell you a little about my research. Though I hail from Ireland, I feel quite at home in my present position as a postgraduate researcher with Heriot-Watt University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences. This specialty is, as the name suggests, where engineering meets the physical and, in my case, life sciences.

Lophelia pertusa
As a marine biologist, I have always held a deep fascination for learning about natural biological systems and using information from these processes to look after and repair damaged areas of our planet. It seemed natural for me to gravitate towards the concept and engineering of carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way to deal with climate change. CCS is, in brief, capturing carbon dioxide and other flux gases from the source of combustion (e.g., power stations, fertilizer & concrete manufacturing) and transporting it to a storage facility on land, at sea, or even beneath the seabed.

My research is concerned with the environmental impact(s) of this stored CO2 on marine creatures and the surrounding ecosystems. If this CO2 store were to leak, either during or post injection, it could have rapid and immediate effect on the critters that live near the reservoir. As the name of our expedition denotes, the oceans are changing. One aspect that is currently being altered is the acidity of the sea. If too much CO2 enters the world’s oceans then it could drastically alter the pH of the water which is normally 8.1 in the ocean to anything from 6.5 to 7.8. To put this in perspective your stomach has a pH value of about 1.5 to 2 and orange juice a pH value of 3.5. Overall, changes in pH could have major effects on marine species, presenting a new challenge to their already perilous existence. While this may be short term from 7 days to 2 months or more it has many consequences for carbon cycles, marine species, ecosystems and us.

I am investigating the effect(s) of rapidly lowered pH on deep water coral species. Obviously, it is key to avoid a possible leak in the first place. However, if it does happen, we need to study the impact on surrounding marine communities, so we will have some idea of what will happen to them and their ecosystems. It is my hope that the results of this research will help guide the development of policies that impose regulations on the type(s) of technology required to safely manage carbon sequestering programs like CCS.