Posted by: Dr. Chris Martens
Our ocean acidification project is steaming along in spite of some heavy weather. Sustained 20 knot winds are great for sailors but not necessarily for divers and their boats, even forty-footers like the R/V George Bond or R/V Sabina! When you are diving the problem isn’t getting into the water, but rather, getting out! Jumping the waves at the beach is fun until the waves get about 3-4 ft high- imagine trying to get back on the stern of a 40 ft boat that’s bucking up and down on 6-7 ft waves and you begin to get the picture. I t could be worse- when hurricanes go past Aquarius Reef Base the waves sometimes get over 30ft- everyone’s ashore when that happens.
The good news is that down at 60 ft the orbital wave motion are damped out sufficiently to make it much better to be diving than riding in the boat. We’ve got a lot of work done out at our sponge sensor string system and with the enclosure experiments where we’re monitoring increasing ocean acidity (drops in pH) associated with respiration and carbon dioxide production by bottom dwelling organisms. There’s a lot to learn before we can separate this local acid source from that associated with fossil fuel burning and help inform reef managers who must make decisions about how to best preserve these important resources. Most of us ocean scientists believe that it is essential to find ways to mitigate the rising inputs from fossil fuel burning as we begin to see a worldwide oceanic pH drop in surface waters. The CO2 mixing with surface ocean waters makes carbonic acid instantly and we all know what happens when acid contacts limestone- fzzzz!. The Florida Keys, where I spent much of my childhood, is a precious resource for numerous reasons- we all love to visit, fish, swim, enjoy local seafood, and drive along the highway that goes to sea on its way to Key West. How can we arrest the alarming rate of coral reef decline that’s happening before our own eyes?
We have also deployed new sensors that should prove useful for monitoring oil releases in coastal waters. The ones we have out now measure the components of natural gas, for example methane and propane. At this time we don’t expect those chemicals to get to the Keys from the Deep Horizon oil gusher but we’re ready in case they do come along the outer reef track and we have also learned a lot about how to deploy these sensors out on the reef regardless of what releases occur. Did you know that there is an oil spill of over 10,000 gallons every other day somewhere in the world’s oceans? Hopefully the Keys will avoid such disasters.