by Leslie Irwin, OAR Communications Specialist
Not many people are lucky enough to work in some of the most beautiful places in the world.
But for the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory’s Derek Manzello, it is a frequent reality. Taking a path towards environmental science and marine biology in college and graduate school at the University of Miami was only natural for Manzello, who, despite growing up in Chicago had always harbored a love for the ocean.
Now, as the lead principal investigator of the climate change and ocean acidification monitoring under the National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan (NCRMP), Manzello studies the impacts of ocean acidification on reefs from a variety of ocean sites over time. NCRMP was recently initiated by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program in an effort to standardize the types of data being monitored on US coral reefs. The NCRMP ocean acidification monitoring efforts are co-funded by NOAA’s new Ocean Acidification Program (OAP). Data on seawater carbon dioxide (CO2) are collected from sites in the Atlantic and Pacific, encompassing a range of environments from the naturally-occurring, high-CO2 conditions of the eastern tropical Pacific to low-CO2 conditions found in sea grass beds near the Florida Keys.
Buoy site on a reef in Puerto Rico. Credit: NOAA
Ocean acidification, due to increases in oceanic uptake of atmospheric CO2, is expected to reduce coral calcification and growth while simultaneously increasing rates of reef erosion.
“This research helps us understand how climate change and ocean acidification affect both coral growth and dissolution now and in the future,” Manzello explains. “How these processes change will have consequences for ecosystem functions like reef biodiversity.”
It turns out that seawater carbonate chemistry can vary substantially between reef systems. Local factors, like currents, weather patterns, or the types of organisms residing on or near a given reef can lead to differing carbonate chemistry, meaning certain reefs may experience different impacts with ocean acidification.
“Ten years ago we assumed the carbonate chemistry near reefs was similar to the open ocean,” Manzello says. “But now we see that reefs surrounded by seagrass beds may be more resilient to ocean acidification because seagrasses can take up a lot of dissolved CO2 during photosynthesis. Lab studies have shown that seagrasses may be positively impacted from ocean acidification and could be a winner in a high-CO2 world.”
Diving on a coral reef in Saipan. Credit: Derek Manzello, NOAA
Determining how these conditions may impact the future of different reef systems is important, as coral reefs not only support a high biodiversity and economically significant fisheries, but also tourism and a natural framework of coastal storm protection.
Even though 75 percent of his time is spent on data analysis, the 25 percent spent diving for his field research make his hard work worthwhile. The outcome to his research should help inform if there are critical thresholds for carbon inputs to the oceans where the ecosystem services of reefs are lost. Manzello hopes the results will inform better management of coral reefs and maintain their existence. The magnificence of the reefs he works on is enough to inspire his continued research to determine their potential survival with the predictions of future climate change.
“I still can’t believe I get paid to do this,” marvels Manzello.
Derek Manzello earned his Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries in 2008 from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences of the University of Miami. Since then, he has been a marine scientist with NOAA's Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory, managing the Ocean Acidification Program’s Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the climate and ocean acidification monitoring of the Coral Reef Conservation Program’s (CRCP) National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan, and the CRCP’s Atlantic Ocean Acidification Test-Bed.