Region of the “super corals” discovered that it thrives in extremely high concentrations of carbon dioxide


Corals found in an area of ​​the ocean with extremely high carbon dioxide content in the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines. Credit: University of Texas at Austin,

In 2019, a hydrology professor at the University of Texas at Austin started a research project to see if he could identify harmful nutrients flowing through the groundwater into a sensitive coral reef sanctuary in the Philippines. He achieved that goal, but after a long history of accidental scientific discoveries, he instead stumbled upon something completely unexpected: a region of possible “super corals” that thrive despite high levels of carbon dioxide.

The results of the 2019 fieldwork were published in the journal in August ACS ES&T water.

For the first time, UT Austin professor Bayani Cardenas and an international team of researchers were able to identify the source of CO2 and other gases and nutrients in seawater at this point into the groundwater, a result that researchers believe the underwater reef environment can be vulnerable to the way communities discharge sewage, agricultural runoff, and other by-products into the ocean.

“This is an invisible vulnerability,” said Cardenas, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “With this site we were able to show that groundwater is part of these sensitive coral reef environments. There is a connection and it is still not so accepted in science and in many parts of the world. “

Bayani Cardenas

Bayani Cardenas, a professor at the University of Texas’ Jackson School of Geosciences, is preparing to dive while doing research to track the effects of harmful nutrients flowing through the groundwater into a sensitive coral reef sanctuary in the Philippines. Credit: University of Texas at Austin,

In addition, Cardenas said, research has led to new questions – and new research proposals – about the supercorals found, which will be used elsewhere as global CO in the coming years. could be replicated2 The levels are expected to rise.

Coral reefs have long suffered from climate change, particularly during a 2014-2017 global coral bleaching that caused heat stress to 75% of the world’s reefs, according to the American Meteorological Society. But the coral-rich area that Cardenas has explored in the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines, a region so vibrant and diverse that he calls it the “Amazon of the Ocean”, thrives despite the enormous amounts of CO2 is pumped out of the groundwater.

Lead author Rogger E. Correa, a researcher at Southern Cross University in Australia, estimates that groundwater contains about 989 grams of CO. pumps2 per square meter and year in the area they investigated, known as the “Twin Rocks” and bordered by a chain of volcanoes. That is equivalent to parking two cars on the ocean floor and emitting carbon dioxide on every acre of reef for a whole year.

In order to differentiate between groundwater and seawater, the scientists immersed devices that measure the CO. Content2 and Radon 222, a naturally occurring radioactive isotope found in local groundwater but not in open seawater. The measurement technology was developed by co-author Isaac Santos, professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

This work follows a 2020 study by Cardenas in which he CO. discovered2 gushed out of the ocean floor off an area of ​​the Philippine coast so dramatically that he called it “Soda Springs”.

The end result of the latest investigation is an entire region of coral reefs that needs further investigation, said Cardenas, who is a geoscientist and not a coral researcher.

Adina Paytan, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz who was not involved in the study, warned that other man-made stressors, including sedimentation, overfishing, and pollution, can still destroy coral reefs . But she was encouraged that the Cardenas team showed that corals can grow in carbon-rich environments, a finding that “gives some hope for the future of corals.”

Reference: “Submarine groundwater discharge sets CO. free2 to a Coral Reef ”by Rogger E. Correa, M. Bayani Cardenas, Raymond S. Rodolfo, Mark R. Lapus, Kay L. Davis, Anna B. Giles, Jose C. Fullon, Mithra-Christin Hajati, Nils Moosdorf, Christian J. Sanders and Isaac R. Santos, August 4, 2021, ACS ES&T water.
DOI: 10.1021 / acsestwater.1c00104

The co-authors of the study included researchers from the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Germany; the State Office for Mining, Energy and Geology in Germany; and the following institutions in the Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University, Agricultural Sustainability Initiatives for Nature Inc., and Planet Dive Resort.

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