Research by Dr. Shamberger Selected for Feature Video at South by Southwest

Mar 22, 2017

Research on Palau coral reef growth and ocean acidification by Dr. Kathryn Shamberger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Oceanography, was selected by Texas A&M University to appear in a feature video at the festival South by Southwest in March 2017.

Humans are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and deforestation. About a quarter to a third of this carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, causing a decrease in the pH of ocean water, making it more acidic. This process is called ocean acidification and is only expected to continue as more carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere, driving a scientific emphasis on understanding the effects on marine ecosystems. 

Of particular interest are coral reef systems around the world because ocean acidification slows coral reef growth, putting reefs in danger of being eroded away faster than they can grow. In collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Palau International Coral Reef Center and funded by the National Science Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, Dr. Shamberger is working in the country of Palau on “coral reef growth at the ecosystem level under high and low levels of acidification to try to understand what is driving coral reef growth and how it is being affected by ocean acidification today and in the future.”  This is an ideal area of the world to study ocean pH because the bays and lagoons in the Rock Islands of Palau, including Risong Lagoon, have “naturally high levels of acidification [at levels] close to what is expected at the end of this century,” giving scientists the opportunity to study a system under conditions that may be the ‘new normal’ in coming years.

Rising Lagoon, an inlet of Risong Bay

Rising Lagoon, an inlet of Risong Bay

While increased acidification generally has a negative effect on coral reef systems, the reefs in Palau appear to be flourishing despite the low pH levels. “There are a handful of other naturally acidified coral reefs in the world,” said Dr. Shamberger when asked about the uniqueness of her project, “but Palau is the only one discovered so far that looks this healthy despite acidification.  This does not mean other coral reefs will be able to withstand ocean acidification in the future but it gives us an amazing opportunity to learn about the impacts of ocean acidification.”

Through the appearance of the Palau Coral Reefs video at the South by Southwest Conference and Festival, March 10-19 in Austin, Texas, Texas A&M University and Dr. Shamberger hope to focus public awareness on the increasingly important issue of ocean acidification. To give the public an even more intimate experience, Dr. Shamberger appeared live through Skype to answer questions during the festival.  For more information on this research, please contact Dr. Shamberger at

By: Natalie Zielinski