posted on Jan. 19: Ocean research could change the way we forecast the weather


[img_inline align=”right” src=”” caption=”Mike Risk”]Oceans cover 80 per cent of the Earth's surface, but we know surprisingly little about how oceans influence world weather
patterns. McMaster geologist Mike Risk expects to fathom some answers
through a new research project that will study
deep-sea corals.

“The corals are like the Rosetta stones of the sea,” says Risk. “They are an untapped record of weather patterns that stretch
back hundreds of years. Revealing the climatic records will bring new
accuracy to the science of weather forecasting and will
also create a new bank of information about how the oceans process carbon dioxide, which is a key factor in global warming.”

“The reason the present climate models don't work as well as they should is
that most of the observations are on land, and
most of the action, the driving force of climate change, is in the ocean.
We need to know more about what happens in the deep
sea, and the corals provide a clear record of what has happened over the
centuries. Comparing the coral data to recorded
weather patterns will provide new insight into past weather patterns and
future climate modelling.”

The coral analysis will also provide new information on how much and how
quickly carbon dioxide can be absorbed by the
ocean. These data will be an important resource in the ongoing research
into the history and impact of global warming.

Using a submarine, and with the assistance of east-coast fishermen, Risk
and his team of researchers will collect corals from
the Atlantic Ocean this spring. They will focus on the areas of Orphan
Knoll, George's Banks, and the Grand Banks. Deep-sea
trawlers have already destroyed many coral forests in these areas, “Much of
the priceless coral resource has already been
broken up,” says Risk. This destruction has also had a negative impact on
the fish populations that live in the coral forests.

The research is made possible through a $1.4-million grant from the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council
(NSERC). Partners include the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, University
Quebec ` Montreal, and Dalhousie University.
Co-investigators at McMaster are Ed Reinhardt and Henry Schwarcz, both
professors in the School of Geography & Geology.
This grant is based on the seminal research of McMaster PhD (geology)
graduates Jodie Smith '97 and Jeff Heikoop '98.