Monitoring climate change using coral core samples

2 Feb 2015
Professor Gregg Webb

Scientists from The University of Queensland and other Australian universities are undertaking a project to measure how the reef has responded to changing sea-levels, climate, and water quality over the past 8000 years. 

Professor Gregg Webb (pictured right) from UQ's School of Earth Sciences is a carbonate sedimentologist and palaeobiologist who specialises in ancient and modern corals, coral reefs and microbialites (rocks made by microbes). 

In collaboration with Dr Jody Webster (The University of Sydney) and Dr Luke Nothdurft (QUT), Prof Webb has commissioned a new research vessel, the RV D. Hill*. The researchers will use this vessel, with a purpose-built coring platform to collect shallow core samples from dead reef rock in the southern GBR, including around Heron Island. 

By analysing the geochemistry of the coral skeletons and other materials in the samples, it is possible to gain an understanding of how the ecology and geology of the reef has responded to historical environmental changes.This project will aid prediction of future reef behaviour while informing current climate models.

Predicting how the GBR will respond to future environmental changes is crucial if we are to effectively manage these valuable systems.

Our ability to do this depends on our knowledge of the responses of reef ecosystems to previous environmental changes over different spatial and temporal scales.

Those responses are commonly preserved in the rocks beneath the living reef surface, but to access them requires specialised equipment and vessels like the RV D. Hill.

Will the reef be damaged by the project?

  • The platform will only be moored on bare sand or bare reef rock and will have no impact on live corals in the area.
  • The coring is only in dead reef rock and holes will be capped after the cores are extracted.
  • Appropriate safety measures will be used to limit any pollution being released from the vessel or the coring.
  • The drilling platform will only be used for 12 days in each location.

For more information, please email Professor Gregg Webb

* The RV D. Hill is named for Professor Dorothy Hill (1907-1998) a geologist, palaeontologist and world authority on coral reefs. She was the first female professor at UQ, the first woman ever to be elected to the Australian Academy of Science and its presidency, and she was instrumental in establishing the Heron Island Research Station.