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Student Research: Surviving Warmer Waters

With ocean waters warming globally, undergraduate Griffin Hill, Biology ’17, decided to focus his research project on which corals are most successful under warmer conditions.

“We’re comparing a number of species and nine different sites to see which do best under these circumstances and which may be worth investigating further through genetic analysis or transplant experiments,” he said.

Hill brought coral samples back to the onshore lab for observation in biology Professor Steve Palumbi’s heat stress tanks. For each sample, he put one portion in a control tank and subjected the other to a much warmer version of the diurnal cycle they experience on the reefs, with the sun heating up water trapped over the reefs during the day and then cooling down at night.

Hill then assessed the samples and rated them for bleaching. “We’re finding that corals here can survive even seven, eight or nine days in a tank that’s a rampant 35 degrees Celsius, which is about the temperature of a hot tub,” Hill said. “Even though that’s well beyond what they’re experiencing out on the reefs here, they’re surviving, and that’s really interesting and a major point of optimism for the future.”