Effect of Hurricanes on Reefs

Background: The experts' opinions vary on the effect of hurricanes on reefs. Some of them argue that hurricanes are beneficial to the reef because they draw the dead organisms away and increase bio-diversity. They also argue that they disperse broken parts of the reef thus they help the reproduction of the reef. Other experts argue that the effects of hurricanes on the reefs are more important and damaging to the reef.

Method: We will need some boats and novice divers to measure water currents and take pictures of the reef at the 18 locations around the blue hole. These parts of the reef have a size of 40 sq meters and we need to take measurements and pictures for each of these squares. The water current measurements can be taken by a cheap device ($25) that can be attached on the boats. These measurements must be taken in a small interval, 45 min so that our temperature measurements will not be different. The measurements for currents should be taken often, about once a week.

The other part of this experiment has to do with taking pictures of the reef which will be scanned in order to characterize the live cover of the reef. These pictures should be taken about once in each three months but this schedule may change if the researcher believes that there is a reason for these pictures to be taken sooner than the scheduled time. Taking pictures before or after the hurricane is expected to be more often.

The boats will be equipped with a GPS because the measurements should be taken in the exact same location so that we will be able to characterize live cover changes on the reef. Divers who can be locals or even tourists and this project can be used for taking pictures and measuring transparency using a Secchi disc. Using these pictures the reef can be characterized as white(bleached), pale, dead and normal. By taking algae samples from the dead reefs we can determine if they are recently dead or old dead.

For example it has been observed that when reefs die the percentage of algae is suddenly increased. By studying these variables over time we will get an idea how things how these variables are related to each other and we will know how the hurricanes affect them. For example if it's true that hurricanes drive dead bodies away and clean the sea then we will observe changes in dissolved oxygen, salinity, transparency, pH and the concentration of toxins may be reduced. Then we will be able to observe the long terms on the reef, ie by determining the life cover and the health of the reef.

Significance: By conducting this experiment we will be in a position to determine the exact way hurricanes affect the reef. This information is valuable to marine biologists who study fatalities of reefs.

Observing Sedimentation
Timeline: Our sedimentary research would take the whole 6 months and could be done at any time. We have 5 locations in mind in which we would take roughly 4-6 sample cores depending on the location. The point of acquiring these cores is to look determine the age of the sediment layers and their chemical composition. We choose these locations to see if there were any discrepancies in the cores in the blue hole from the same time period to give us an idea of how caves formed and the environment in the hole. Secondly, we choose these different environments to weed out any anomalies in any of the 3 locations out of the hole; however, if we found great differences in the 4 locations for a layer of the same time period, this could tell us a lot. Finally, if the cores we procured from the different locations had different ages, we could learn a lot about sedimentation rates and span a wider time frame. The idea for this research came from an article. These scientists cored the bottom of the blue hole and found a lot of really interesting things such as 15 ppm arsenic concentrations, pollen, storm layers, spores, and African dust. The layer of hydrogen sulfide, which prevents life forms from burrowing in the floor and the stillness of the water, makes it an ideal place to extract sediment coresWe propose a deeper drill and to span the scope of our research to the cave and outside the blue hole.

The Plan: 5 locations: 4-6 cores from very bottom of blue hole, inside the main cave, approx 1000m deep 20m east off of Glover's Reef, a shallow portion with very few water currents (entrance to the blue hole), and in a shipping channel where the currents are the strongest near a caye. All this will be done not to disturb stalactites or coral.

Exploring the Caves
With specific regard to the caves in the Blue Hole, their formation and evolution, with a detailed examination of the speleothems therein, the research that will be done by Atlantis 1 will continue the work started by the Cambrian foundation and extend it. Specific assistance from this group is essential for this reason.

Specifically, in the first month, a detailed exploration of the caves will take place using the unmanned submersible robots. These will take video records of the features of every possible resess of the system. Also, sampling of water, sediments, and speleothems for later study should be done at the same time. Sonics can be used to assess inaccessible regions.

The purpose of this first part of the exploration is to answer some classic questions about the formation and evolution of the cave- Uranium dating of samples, comparative analysis of sedimentation at various depths and regions. Also, it is possible that data gathered here will enable geologists to infer some details of climate change over geologic time. Sea-level rise is one example of this. Any relation to inland cave systems would also be explored in this period.

From the second month onward, analysis of the data will answer some questions and produce some more, at which time some other specific explorations of the cave systems and speloethems therein will be called for. The same methodology can be used in subsequent trips.

The initial stage requires specialized robots and technicians who oversee the functions. The likely costs of such equipment will be estimated with the help of the Cambrian Foundation.

The analysis stage will require well equipped laboratories that it is impossible to access without the sponsorship of Universities. The Belizean government and US institutes of learning will make contributions to these experiments. Specifically, chemical analysis of collected samples of water, rock, including Uranium dating will require mass spectrometer, centrifuge, xray spectrometer and diffractometer in addition to a standard chemical laboratory, a detailed mapping will involve visual as well as sonic methods and computers that will process and present data for interpretation are required.

The recommendation is that minimal pressure be put on the habitat itself, and all the work that can be done by scientists in their laboratories in Universities, etc. be sent to them directly. On the other hand a station in Belize that will house all the equipment needed and the work done, will be beneficial for Belizean people and the visiting scientists. As the underwater station will be permanent, so will this complementary facility be permanent on land. Resources needed will likely spiral upwards but it will be well to investigate the long term benefits of such a station.

Mapping the Caves
Timeline: can be done whenever convenient.

Something fun to do when bored! Get a better map of the cave to help us with our research on how the cave formed and climate/geological history. Also, we can sell our completed map to tourists because it would be the most recent and the most accurate.

Equipment: small robot outfitted with video camera and inferred, sonar, and a pressure reader (to figure out our depth)

Monitoring Seismic Activity

Timeline: ongoing, dives once every one/two weeks

To begin with this research is ongoing and to be done over the course of time the facility runs. Also, our seismeters have multiple of uses and can be used for a variety of data-gathering with relative ease. Our seismic study has three purposes: 1.) to provide a risk assessment and aid in long-term planning for the habitat and Belize. 2.) to detect vulcanism 110-8000 km away (1). 3.) to get a clearer picture of the seismic and climate history of Belize and the world. 4.) after the first six months of operations, the seismeters can be used for additional experiments such as monitoring the activities of noise producing animals such as dolphins

We will set up a underwater seismeter in a very shallow portion of the reef (probably away from the shipping channel into the blue hole). This seismeter would communicate back to the habitat. Secondly, we propose sending a geologist out to examine the nearby faults. We have map of faults in the area