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SCU project looks at how fast climate change killing reefs

DYING: Climate change is making our oceans more acidic, which is in turn dissolving the sediments that make up coral reefs. Now a Southern Cross University study will look at how fast this is happening.
DYING: Climate change is making our oceans more acidic, which is in turn dissolving the sediments that make up coral reefs. Now a Southern Cross University study will look at how fast this is happening. AAP AND LEE CONSTABLE

THEY call it climate change's "evil twin".

About a third of all carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets absorbed by the ocean, creating a nasty process called ocean acidification.

Sucking up all that greenhouse gas actually helps offset global warming, but the ocean pays a price.

Ocean acidification is stunting the growth of coral reefs among other things - just how badly we don't know yet, which is what the director of Southern Cross University's Dr Bradley Eyre wants to find out with a pioneering global study, looking at sites on the Barrier Reef, Hawaii, and Bermuda.

The research has been given funding worth about $350,000 from the Australian Research Council, one of a swag of grants recently won by SCU worth over $1.7 million and announced by Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne this week.

The director of SCU’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, Dr Bradley Eyre, is thrilled with the recent funding awards the department has received.
The director of SCU’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, Dr Bradley Eyre, is thrilled with the recent funding awards the department has received. Marc Stapelberg

Dr Eyre, director at SCU's Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry Research, said the aim was to establish how fast the sediments which actually form 95% of coral reefs were dissolving.

"There hasn't been much work done on what the effects of ocean acidification are going to have on that framework on how it's going to dissolve," Dr Eyre said.

The worry is that the dissolution of the sediments combined with the stunting of live reef could see a "double whammy" effect.

"If we get an increase in dissolution and a decrease in calcification, they might literally dissolve into the ocean and there would be nothing left," Dr Eyre said.

An academic review, proving the knowledge-gap in this area lead-authored by Dr Eyre, has already broken new ground, becoming the first ever SCU-led review to grace the pages of the esteemed Nature group of publications.

Another researcher to win ARC funding was Dr Damien Maher, in the form of a $360,000 Early Career Research Award to study the carbon impacts of natural wetlands being converted into cropfields.

Other projects

OTHER projects to score funding included an investigation of carbon burial in mangroves and understanding the use of digital technology in health and physical education programs in schools.

In total, the University received two Early Career Research Awards, three Discovery Project grants and an ARC Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme grant.

Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee said the result was outstanding, with SCU boasting the highest success rate for Early Career Award applications and the second-best for Discovery Projects.

Topics:  climate change



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