Magazine article Oceanus

Coral Coring

Magazine article Oceanus

Coral Coring

Article excerpt

Off a small Island in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) biogeochemists Konrad Hughen and Colleen Hansel use a special underwater drill to take a core sample from a boulder coral {Pontes lobata) during an expedition in 2015 (top left).

Pontes lobata corals are actually colonies of tiny polyps, like sea anemones, that often grow up to 13 feet tall and live more than 400 years. They secrete calcium carbonate skeletons and live only in a thin layer at the surface of the coral structure. The skeletons are built from chemical components in seawater and grow in annual layers, like tree rings, so scientists can precisely date when parts of the skeleton formed.

Back in the lab at WHOI, scientists can analyze the skeleton chemistry, revealing shifts over time in sea surface temperature, salinity, nearby river runoff, and even pollution at up to weekly resolution. …

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