Exploring the Deep 4 | Corals in the Cold





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Published on Jun 30, 2008

Marine geologist Claudia Wienberg studies animals whose existence was unknown until a few years ago -- cold water corals that live in the cooler regions of the Atlantic or the Mediterranean.

Like their tropical relatives, cold water corals can form gigantic reefs which serve as habitats for many different ocean animals and plants. For some researchers they are fascinating for other reasons as well: because the growth of the reefs is influenced by environmental conditions, their structure can provide information about the climate in the past. Extreme changes in the environment can be deadly; in more than 20 percent of the reefs, the corals have died out.

In the course of her expeditions Claudia Wienberg made a remarkable discovery. In the Gulf of Cadiz off the Spanish coast she found giant fields of coral remains. Now she is devoting part of her research to finding out the causes of the coral death. Her initial hypothesis is that over the past centuries the water temperature and nutrient levels have changed drastically. The results of Wienberg's study may help predict the fate of the living cold water corals found off the Norwegian or Irish coasts.


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