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SHARQ Studies Marine Communities
Hello, and welcome to the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Podcast. I'm Matthew Cimitile. Today we are talking about SHARQ. Spelled S-H-A-R-Q, SHARQ stands for Submersible Habitat for Analyzing Reef Quality and is a new tool scientists use to understand and map metabolic characteristics associated with marine communities living on the seafloor.
Such benthic communities vary distinctly by type of substrate and by types and numbers of plants and animals that build and live within them. They also vary in ways of responding to things like ocean chemistry, water temperature, or changes in fish populations.
A good example is the coral reef. Coral reefs are known as the rainforests of the oceans. Numerous and diverse communities of fish, crustaceans, sponges, and algae make their homes around coral reefs. However, it is the combined efforts of billions of individual corals that build the reef structure layer by layer. As coral respire and photosynthesize, they slowly secrete the calcium carbonate that builds the impressive benthic community structure.
To understand the health of corals and their relation to changes in ocean chemistry and climate, scientists use SHARQ. This underwater incubation chamber allows scientists to conduct in situ measurements and assess how corals metabolize, grow, and respond to changing conditions.
Kim Yates is an oceanographer at the USGS in St. Petersburg, Florida, who uses SHARQ to measure basic coral reef metabolic functions.
"We use it in a monitoring capacity. Basically, what we do is we put it over a piece of substrate on the seafloor, and it's an enclosed chamber so we trap the water over that piece of seafloor and then we can measure chemical changes that occur in that water mass in response to the metabolism of the organisms that are living on that piece of substrate."
The SHARQ resembles an underwater greenhouse, consisting of an aluminum frame and a clear vinyl tent structure stretched across the frame. The vinyl is sealed at the seafloor using sand bags. The design allows scientists to study and experiment with seafloor communities in their natural environment.
"By using a flexible chamber, the oscillatory action from the waves is actually translated through the flexible plastic so that you get the same motion inside of the chamber. It most closely represents the kinds of movement that organisms and their tissues are seeing in the water."
In addition to the valuable data on baseline rates of reef metabolism, the SHARQ also allows researchers to conduct experiments related to climate change. As oceans take in more CO2 and pH declines, knowledge of how marine organisms will respond to changing ocean chemistry will be essential.
"Because we have an enclosed chamber and the water is trapped in there, we can actually change the environment inside of that chamber. For example, we have done experiments in the past where we elevated salinity inside of the chamber to look at how it effects seagrass growth. Most recently over the last few years we are doing carbon dioxide experiments."
These recent experiments involve injecting specific levels of carbon dioxide into the chamber and measuring how the increased levels impact rates of metabolism in selected benthic communities.
On the seafloor, the SHARQ covers a rectangular area 16 feet long by 8 feet wide. This closely approximates an area on the seafloor that can be mapped by scientists. By combining remote sensing and habitat mapping tools with SHARQ data, scientists will be able to translate metabolic information across larger mapped benthic areas.
So far, SHARQ has been used in the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, Tampa Bay, the Virgin Islands, and other locations involving projects with various science agencies and universities.
Thanks for listening. The Coastal and Marine Geology Podcast is produced in St. Petersburg, Florida, and is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.
The Submersible Habitat for Analyzing Reef Quality (SHARQ) is a new tool scientists use to understand and map metabolic characteristics associated with marine communities living on the sea floor. This podcast gives a closer look at how scientists use SHARQ to analyze important habitats like coral reefs.
Location: St. Petersburg, FL, USA
Date Taken: 4/30/2010
Video Producer: Matthew Cimitile , U.S. Geological Survey
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