Participant in the 2010 ACM Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study
- Program: SEA Semester - Fall 2009
- Graduation: May 2011
- Majors: Chemistry and Biology
The Ocean as My Laboratory: The Buffering Effects of Atoll Islands on Ocean Acidification in the Equatorial Pacific
Last semester, I participated in a unique off-campus research program called SEA Semester. I spent six weeks in Woods Hole, MA, learning nautical science (celestial navigation, sailing techniques, and charting) and oceanic public policy and designed an oceanographic research project. After the "shore component," I flew to Honolulu, HI, where my classmates and I boarded the SSV Robert C. Seamans, a state-of-the-art research sailing vessel. For six weeks, we crewed the ship and sailed 3,500 nautical miles across the equatorial Pacific, collecting water, nutrient, and organismal samples.
At left: Video of Heather Nennig's presentation at the Symposium.
For my research project, I wanted to determine the buffering effect of atoll islands on ocean acidification in the water surrounding the islands. Atoll islands are composed of calcium carbonate — a mineral that can help buffer the effects of acidification. I collected water samples in the thermocline of the open ocean and compared them to surface samples collected at two Pacific atoll islands, Palmyra and Kiritimati (or Christmas Island). I determined that Palmyra's carbonate ion concentration was significantly lower than the open ocean, probably due to growing, healthy coral reef, small atoll size, and high water flushing rates. However, Kiritimati's carbonate concentration was significantly higher than the open ocean, suggesting that a local buffering effect was occurring. This effect was probably caused by unhealthy coral reef, large atoll size, and low water flushing rates.
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