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Geological Study Documents Changes in Coral Reefs


A recent study of coral formations in different tropical locations will be used to help geologists reconstruct climate and storm patterns of the past and learn more about the preservation of reefs. The findings will be presented by David Meyer, University of Cincinnati professor of geology, at the upcoming 2002 meeting and exposition of the Geological Society of America.

Meyer’s previous research established that coral reefs can be an index of the ocean’s health and are greatly impacted by pollution. The report he will deliver at this year’s GSA meeting describes how hurricanes affect coral formations and will help scientists compare modern storm effects to those of the past.

Meyer conducted the research with Benjamin Greenstein of Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and recent UC graduate Jill Bries. The trio’s work investigated the effect that the frequency of hurricanes had on the geological record contained in coral reefs. In high-frequency hurricane areas like the Bahamas and Florida Keys, coral formations were damaged and broken. Meyer described it "like a forest fire going through." Reefs studied in the southern Caribbean islands of Curacao and Bonaire were well preserved owing to a very low frequency of storms.

The reefs of the Caribbean region were formed during the interglacial stages of the Pleistocene epoch when sea levels were much higher; current sea levels have left these reefs exposed and intact. Both areas of reefs were formed by the same species and fairly close together in terms of geological time.

By comparing the Caribbean reefs with the newer formations in the Bahaman and Floridian areas, Meyer, Greenstein, and Bries were able to establish a model for looking at older fossil reefs.

"As you go farther back in time," said Meyer, "the reef building species are different and you need a present model to start with. Then you can go back to more ancient reefs to get more insight into the climate and storm patterns of older times."

Meyer said that Bries obtained funding for the project from Sigma Xi, the Paleobiological Fund, and UC’s graduate division.

Marianne Kunnen-Jones | EurekAlert!
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