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Tech & Science In New York lab, centuries-old corals hold clues to climate shifts

15:06  05 december  2019
15:06  05 december  2019 Source:   reuters.com

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By Maria Caspani PALISADES, N . Y . (Reuters) – Some 20 miles north of New York City, a team of scientists is searching for clues about how the. FILE PHOTO: An Acropora coral colony grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia October 25, 2019.

Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries , at The paper identifies a specific mechanism that the scientists say they believe could help cause such an abrupt climate shift .

underwater view of a large rock: University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Sonora Meiling studies the extent of a bleaching event affecting an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands© Reuters/STRINGER University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Sonora Meiling studies the extent of a bleaching event affecting an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands

By Maria Caspani

underwater view of a large rock: University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Sonora Meiling studies the extent of a bleaching event affecting an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands© Reuters/STRINGER University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Sonora Meiling studies the extent of a bleaching event affecting an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands

PALISADES, N.Y. (Reuters) - Some 20 miles north of New York City, a team of scientists is searching for clues about how the environment is changing by studying organisms not usually found in the woods around here: corals.

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Scientists studying ocean currents find clues to how and why the earth's climate is changing, the role of human activity in global warming and even how One of the major oscillations, in the North Atlantic, may be in the process of switching to a new state, one with far-reaching implications for the study of

Before we can make a plan to protect our oceans from climate change, we need to know what they were like before human impact. We haven’t been collecting

Coral cores recovered from Panama by Braddock Linsley are shown inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Coral cores recovered from Panama by Braddock Linsley are shown inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

In the labs of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a research unit of Columbia University overlooking the Hudson River, the scientists led by Professor Braddock Linsley pore over feet-long coral cores they extracted from far-away reefs.

Tape marking the growth path is attached to slices of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Tape marking the growth path is attached to slices of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

For Linsley and his colleagues, corals are a precious repository of clues https://tmsnrt.rs/360ebeX about the past that may help predict future climate trends. They can also reveal how much and how fast environmental conditions have changed during a certain period of time.

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a man sitting in front of a computer: A research assistant uses a microscope to inspect a slice of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A research assistant uses a microscope to inspect a slice of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

Cores are the hard, stony part of a coral underneath the top of the colony - its skeleton. Much like trees, corals produce growth rings that record climatic conditions like seawater temperatures and rainfall as they grow.

University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Sonora Meiling studies the extent of a bleaching event affecting an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands© Reuters/STRINGER University of the Virgin Islands graduate student Sonora Meiling studies the extent of a bleaching event affecting an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands

In a lab room packed with boxes of coral samples, Linsley and a small team of colleagues cut the cores into slabs and then X-ray the slabs to reveal the annual growth bands.

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That’s the case in New York , too, where, by some estimates, between 80 and 90 percent of wetlands in and around the city are gone. Every inch of the dirt held clues to what had been occurring in the wider world at the time it was deposited in the marsh. For instance, a small peak in the concentration

a close up of a piece of paper: A research assistant grinds up a slice of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A research assistant grinds up a slice of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

Using dentist drills, they pulverize small pieces and run geochemical analyses of the coral dust to reconstruct changes in the temperature, salinity and acidity of the water around the coral on a monthly basis going back hundreds of years.

a man standing in front of a building: Braddock Linsley poses with a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Braddock Linsley poses with a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

"It is years of lab work and a lot of frustration but once you get to that point, the final product is just so exciting because you've got this long dataset," Linsley said.

A research assistant grinds up a slice of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A research assistant grinds up a slice of a coral core recovered during a research trip in American Samoa in 2011 by Braddock Linsley inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

Coral reefs develop over thousands of years and are vital to the survival and prosperity of countless marine species. They also curtail flood damage from storms and support human activities like fisheries.

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Neal Cantin collected coral samples from Rib Reef, a section of the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia.Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Building a Better Coral Reef. As reefs die off, researchers want to breed the world’s hardiest corals in labs and return them to the sea to multiply.

New research shows that the second most diverse group of hard corals first evolved in the deep sea, and not in shallow waters. This finding contradicts a long-established theory suggesting that corals evolved in shallow water before migrating into deeper habitats. Radiocarbon dating shows that some

Assorted reef fish swim above a staghorn coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Assorted reef fish swim above a staghorn coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia

As humans burn more fossil fuel - the biggest contributor to global warming - oceans absorb growing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Coral cores recovered from Fiji by Braddock Linsley are shown inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Coral cores recovered from Fiji by Braddock Linsley are shown inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

Some of Linsley's recent research on corals from the South Pacific island of Tonga suggests that increased seawater acidification caused by excess CO2 could lead to a decline in coral growth rates, endangering the wellbeing of entire reefs.

a coral in the water: A bleaching event causes discoloring as it affects a boulder brain coral (Colpophyllia natans) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands© Reuters/STRINGER A bleaching event causes discoloring as it affects a boulder brain coral (Colpophyllia natans) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands

LOVE AT FIRST CHANCE

a close up of a box: Coral cores recovered from Fiji by Braddock Linsley are shown inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Coral cores recovered from Fiji by Braddock Linsley are shown inside of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in Palisades, New York

Linsley, a tall and soft-spoken 60-year-old, grew up on the Connecticut coast, making dams in the sand and observing erosion on the beaches near the town of Guilford. He loved water and began his career studying ocean sediments and fossils.

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a close up of a coral: A school of fish swim above a staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A school of fish swim above a staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia

His work on corals began after a chance encounter with a colleague who was visiting his girlfriend at the University of New Mexico - where Linsley was studying to get his PhD in the late 1980s - led to a collaboration.

underwater view of the ocean: Members of Linsley's research team drill a coral core from the Porites lutea colony, known as Big Mama in American Samoa© Reuters/BRADDOCK LINSLEY Members of Linsley's research team drill a coral core from the Porites lutea colony, known as Big Mama in American Samoa

"I was fascinated by the fact that the corals had these annual bands in them and you could potentially extract annual resolve records back several hundred years," he said at his office in the leafy campus, papers and books scattered on his desk and photos of diving expeditions on the wall.

a close up of a coral: Branching staghorn coral grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON Branching staghorn coral grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia

Corals also brought him closer to the water and he had to learn how to dive, a perk of the job for Linsley.

underwater view of a coral: A sergeant major reef fish swims above a staghorn coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A sergeant major reef fish swims above a staghorn coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia

By studying the environmental records derived from corals, the scientist is hoping to be able to shine a light on issues like the rate of surface ocean warming, ocean acidification and the impact on coral reef ecosystems worldwide.

underwater view of a coral: A bleaching event causes discoloring as it affects a brain coral (Diploria Labryinthiformis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands© Reuters/STRINGER A bleaching event causes discoloring as it affects a brain coral (Diploria Labryinthiformis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands

But one thing is already evident, he said. Environmental changes are happening much more rapidly than in the last several thousand years and they are "clearly linked" to human activity.

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a close up of a rock: A green turtle swims through corals on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A green turtle swims through corals on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia

Linsley's childhood home in Connecticut – which he said now regularly battles encroaching waters - stood as a stark reminder.

a close up of a rock: A colony of mushroom leather coral grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia© Reuters/LUCAS JACKSON A colony of mushroom leather coral grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia

"My children are 11 and 13. I think about in 50 years from now when I'm not here, what's it going to be like," he said.

underwater view of a coral: A bleaching event causes discoloring as it affects an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands© Reuters/STRINGER A bleaching event causes discoloring as it affects an entire field of boulder star corals (Orbicella annularis) off the coast of St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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