Waypoint Autumn 2015

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Interview: Exploration New Guinea

Interview: Exploration New Guinea


AIMS researcher, Sam Noonan recently returned to Australia, where he has been studying the naturally occurring volcanic seeps, where carbon dioxide bubbles into the ocean from these vents. He talks to us about how important field work is to science.

1. Where did you travel to and what are you studying there?

We sailed to Normanby and Dobu Islands in the D'Entrecasteaux Islands group, Milne Bay Province, a remote place where we have discovered some quite unique field sites.

Here, there are three fringing reefs and volcanic gas seeps where gas bubbles are emerging from the seafloor amongst coral reefs.

2. How are volcanic vents important to science?

These seeps are vents of CO2 bubbles which are dissolving into the seawater, forming carbonic acid that slightly acidifies the water in a similar fashion to what atmospheric CO2 is doing to the world’s oceans.

This is the phenomenon known as ocean acidification (OA). As atmospheric CO2 continues to rise, so too does the problem of OA. We are using these field sites in PNG as a kind of ‘window to the future’ to find out what the future may hold for coral reef communities. 

3. How is field work important to this science?

These ecological effects of OA are not able to be studied in the laboratory, where species interactions, light and flow dynamics can never be properly emulated, further highlighting the value of our field sites.

Also, during the last expedition we successfully conducted coral spawning experiments for the first time, opening up a whole new avenue of research option we hope to explore in the future. This work depends on dedicated staff, crews and vessels.

4. How important to your research are partnerships?

Partnerships are fundamental to science and this seeps project is a great example of ‘science in action’ where researchers investigate remote sites to better understand a worldwide phenomenon, in this case, OA. 

Our work in PNG has been both productive and widely reported upon. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cited and used our work.

Also, we have produced over ten peer reviewed journal articles and we have ongoing collaborations with scientists from over 20 national and international research agencies, including the Smithsonian Institution, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Australian National University, James Cook University, University of Adelaide, University of Miami and Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology, to name a few.