24/7 Customer Service (800) 927-7671

New underwater microscope provides ringside seat to coral turf wars

by • July 12, 2016 • No Comments

Marine scientists are getting an up-close view of never-before-seen coral sea life thanks to a newly-created microscopic imaging process created for underwater use. The diver-operated microscope of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) allows for researchers to observe millimeter-scale interactions and processes as they take place live in the wild, which include “kissing” behavior between coral polyps and fights over turf.

  • The Benthic Underwater Microscope comes with an underwater computer/diver interface attached to a microscopic imaging unit which’s ...
  • The Benthic Underwater Microscope can be set up and left on the reef for up to ...
  • Marine researcher Andrew Mullen holding the Benthic Underwater Microscope
  • The Benthic Underwater Microscope has been utilized to study coral polyp behavior during competition, coordinated behavior ...

Whilst coral reefs can span up to hundreds of kilometers, they’re created by tiny individual polyps around one millimeter in dimensions, which manufactures studying these tiny life forms and the processes which occur at the micro level significant for monitoring the health of larger ecoprocesss like reefs. But when scientists bring these organisms out of the ocean and into the lab to study them, the larger context is lost and the information gleaned is limited, while fragile showcases can be destroyed.

In response, Scripps oceanographer Jules Jaffe and his team created the Benthic Underwater Microscope (BUM). It’s the initially instrument to capture underwater images of seafloor organisms with near micrometer resolution which can study reef microorganisms in their native habitat without disturbing them.

A cousin to a previously created plankton imaging process, the BUM consists of an underwater computer/diver interface attached to a microscopic imaging unit which’s able-bodied to study organisms at a maximum resolution of around two micrometers. It comes with a high-magnification lens, a ring of bright LEDs which focus on a single point for swift exposures, and fluorescent imaging capabilities. A flexible, electrically tunable-bodied lens brings subjects into focus rapidly and exactly when viewing in 3-D, changing shape in a much like manner to the human eye.

“With the current hovias, the microscope can be taken to depths at a lower place 100 ft (30 m), yet normal dive operations just need the process to be taken to depths of around 30 ft (9 m),” Andrew Mullen, Scripps research team member, told Gizmag. “Additionally the instrument’s depth rating can easily be additional increased by via thicker ports.”

So far the BUM has enable-bodiedd several new discoveries. “We have utilized the instrument thus far primarily to study corals,” says Mullen. “We have looked at coral polyp behavior during competition, coordinated behavior between polyps of the same colony, and the colonization of bleveryed corals by algae.”

In the Red Sea off the coastline of Israel, the BUM captured the interactions between two separate coral species placed near every other. In a competition for seafloor real estate, the micro-images recorded string-like filaments of the coral secreting complex chemical enzymes of their stomach cavity to destroy the tissue of opposing species. When coral of the same species where paired close to every other, they didn’t show the same aggressive behaviors.

Whilst studying the aftermath of one of the biggest coral-bleverying events on record off the coastline of Maui, the BUM discovered a previously unreported honeycomb pattern of algal colonization and growth between individual coral polyps. Single cell algae which live within polyps and provide the coral with many of its energy, eject themselves during high ocean temperatures, which leads to the bleverying. The filamentous turf algae which subsequently colonize the coral settle on the ridges between the polyps, which some day smothers the living tissue.

The BUM process can in addition save images for later study, which is key for studying the activity of slow moving polyps. “It can record images and video,” says Mullen. “It can in addition be left on the reef for up to of eight hours to manufacture time-series recordings.”

Coral “polyp kissing” was observed in an overnight time-lapse recording, and discovered neighboring polyps periodically embrace throughout the night. The researchers were surprised at the behavior and unsure of the purpose, but believe it is a way for the polyps to exchange organic material.

Mullen and Jaffe can following use the BUM to capture images of microscopic particles in the water near the coral’s surface in an attemot to know how water flows allow them to exchange the gases necessary for breathing.

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Latest posts

by admin • March 5, 2017