Coral reefs are havens for marine biodiversity and underpin the economies of many coastal communities. But they are very sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to pollution, warming waters, overdevelopment, and overfishing. Reefs use a mineral called aragonite, a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3, to make their skeletons.  When carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, it forms carbonic acid—the same stuff that makes soda fizz--making the ocean more acidic and thus more difficult for many marine organisms to grow their shells and skeletons and threatening coral reefs globally.

Ken Caldeira and colleagues have looked at several aspects of coral reef decline. In one study they calculated ocean chemical conditions that would occur under different future scenarios and determined that if we continue on our current emissions path, by the end of the century there will be no areas of the ocean with the chemical properties that have supported coral reef growth in the past. In another study at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the researchers found that carbonate accumulation is 44% lower than 40 years ago and that the reef  dissolves  nearly three times more at night than in the 1970s. They suspect that sea cucumbers are a factor in this nightly activity as they feed.


Scientific Area: 
Reference to Person: 

Explore Carnegie Science

Coal mine, public domain
January 29, 2019

Washington, DC—Chinese regulations on coal mining have not curbed the nation’s growing methane emissions as intended, says new research from a team led by Carnegie’s Scot Miller and Anna Michalak. Their findings are published in Nature Communications.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which is used to generate more than 70 percent of its electricity. It also emits more methane than any other nation, and the coal sector accounts for about 33 percent of this total. This happens when underground pools of methane gas are released during the mining process.

In the atmosphere, methane acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat

SOCCR2 cover art
November 27, 2018

Washington, DC—Carnegie’s Anna Michalak was a major contributor to the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report released last Friday, which provides a current state-of-the-science assessment of the carbon cycle in North America—including the United States, Canada, and Mexico—and  its connection to climate and society.

Over the past decade, fossil fuel emissions continued to be by far the largest North American carbon source. Urban areas in North America are the primary source of anthropogenic carbon emissions.

But land ecosystems and the ocean play a major role in removing and sequestering carbon

October 29, 2018

Washington, DC—Today, Paul G. Allen Philanthropies and a consortium of partners, including Carnegie, unveiled the Allen Coral Atlas, a pioneering effort that uses high-resolution satellite imagery and advanced analytics to map and monitor the world’s coral reefs in unprecedented detail. At launch, the Allen Coral Atlas offers the highest-resolution, up-to-date global image of the world’s coral reefs ever captured, and the first detailed maps showing the composition and structure of five important reefs located throughout the world.

“Paul challenged us with a bold and audacious goal—save coral reefs around the world,” said Bill Hilf, CEO of

Smokestacks photo from the public domain
August 16, 2018

Washington, DC— When it comes to aerosol pollution, as the old real estate adage says, location is everything.

Aerosols are tiny particles that are spewed into the atmosphere by human activities, including burning coal and wood. They have negative effects on air quality—damaging human health and agricultural productivity.

While greenhouse gases cause warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere, some aerosols can have a cooling effect on the climate—similar to how emissions from a major volcanic eruption can cause global temperatures to drop.  This occurs because the aerosol particles cause more of the Sun’s light to be reflected away from the

No content in this section.

Anna Michalak’s team combined sampling and satellite-based observations of Lake Erie with computer simulations and determined that the 2011 record-breaking algal bloom in the lake was triggered by long-term agricultural practices coupled with extreme precipitation, followed by weak lake circulation and warm temperatures. The bloom began in the western region in mid-July and covered an area of 230 square miles (600 km2). At its peak in October, the bloom had expanded to over 1930 square miles (5000 km2). Its peak intensity was over 3 times greater than any other bloom on record. The scientists predicted that, unless agricultural policies change, the lake will continue to experience

Chris Field is a co-principal investigator of the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in northern California. The site, designed to exploit grasslands as models for understanding how ecosystems may respond to climate change, hosts a number of studies of the potential effects from elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, elevated temperature, increased precipitation, and increased nitrogen deposition. The site houses experimental plots that replicate all possible combinations of the four treatments and additional sampling sites that control for the effects of project infrastructure. Studies focus on several integrated ecosystem responses to the

Until now, computer models have been the primary tool for estimating photosynthetic productivity on a global scale. They are based on estimating a measure for plant energy called gross primary production (GPP), which is the rate at which plants capture and store a unit of chemical energy as biomass over a specific time. Joe Berry was part of a team that took an entirely new approach by using satellite technology to measure light that is emitted by plant leaves as a byproduct of photosynthesis as shown by the artwork.

The plant produces fluorescent light when sunlight excites the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll. Satellite instruments sense this fluorescence yielding a direct

Monitoring tropical deforestation and forest degradation with satellites can be an everyday activity for non-experts who support environmental conservation, forest management, and resource policy development.

Through extensive observation of user needs, the Greg Asner team developed CLASlite ( the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System--Lite) to assist governments, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions with high-resolution mapping and monitoring of forests with satellite imagery.

CLASlite is a software package designed for highly automated identification of deforestation and forest degradation from remotely sensed satellite imagery. It incorporates state-of-the

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments. 

Nick Konidaris is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Observatories and Instrument Lead for the SDSS-V Local Volume Mapper (LVM). He works on a broad range of new optical instrumentation projects in astronomy and remote sensing. Nick's projects range from experimental to large workhorse facilities. On the experimental side, he recently began working on a new development platform for the 40-inch Swope telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory that will be used to explore and understand the explosive universe.

 Nick and his colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology are leveraging the work on Swope to develop a new airborne spectrograph that will be