Combat climate change I: Statistical shape modelling of cold-water corals

Background: Cold-water corals (CWC) are key habitat-forming organisms found throughout the world's oceans from 30 to 3000 m deep which are threatened by climate change induced ocean acidification. The complex three-dimensional frameworks made by these vulnerable marine ecosystems support high biodiversity and commercially important species compared to neighbouring, less complex habitats. If this habitat complexity was reduced, the ability of these habitats to support high levels of biodiversity would decrease. This would have huge implications not only for the species that rely on these reefs. Recent own experiments suggest that this reduction is due to a reduced structural integrity of the coral skeleton. This could allow to engineer currently not existing monitoring and assessment strategies for the structural integrity of ecologically important CWC reefs in situ, or to determine how this may change under projected future ocean acidification scenarios.

Project: Therefore, the project aims at developing an image analyses based technology that allows remote investigation of the impact of acidification and habitat loss. Key tasks of the project are

  1. image processing of existing CWC µCT data (potentially extending these),
  2. developing statistical shape models based on these images, and
  3. analysing these shape models with regards to an acidified ocean.

Impact: Given the importance of cold-water habitats, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has recently (2016) stated in its work plan for member countries that there is “a need to develop predictive model research to determine how projected climate change will impact cold-water biodiversity over different timescales”. This project will help to close this gap.

Note: Project can be done in tandem with Combat climate change II: Image based finite element modelling of cold-water corals.

Other Comments: 

Project is in collaboration with University of Edinburgh with Dr. Hennige ( acting as external supervisor.

Supervisor name: 
Uwe Wolfram
Supervisor and Deputy email addresses:,
Project location: 
HWU/UoE, Project is computational so that remote supervision is possible
Deputy name: 
Marta Peña Fernández