Cold water coral (CWC) reefs along the Irish continental margin are part of the largest barrier reef system on the planet and biogeochemical hotspots hosting very complex deep ocean habitats.
Links between the occurrence of CWC and the depth of the Aragonite Saturation Horizon (ASH) suggest that global ocean carbonate chemistry is a palimpsest for CWC biogeography and hence put CWC vulnerability at the centre of the earliest predicted Earth Systems response to shifts in the global carbon cycle.
CWC reefs are also major speciation centres supporting deep-sea fishing stocks, but their food-web structure and its functional role within the marine ecosystem is poorly understood.
CWC ecosystem research is relevant to the Policy Support Research Measure of Sea Change, which states that we need to ‘Enhance our understanding of marine and coastal ecosystems’ as a basis for environmental policy and sustainable resource management.
Research within this theme is organized around 4 main questions:
- Which environmental factors influence the growth of cold-water corals in the deep-sea?
- Which coral species is best suited for environmental reconstruction and interpretation of deep sea networks?
- How do species interactions influence the growth rates of deep sea scleractinians?
- In how far can we use the geochemical signal recorded by the cold-water corals to predict future developments in these environments?