Combat climate change II: Computational strength analyses 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 engineering currently not existing monitoring and assessment strategies similar to strength or lifetime analyses but 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 computational models of CWCs to compute structural strength and investigate the impact of acidification. Key tasks of the project are

  1. analysing CWC structure and porosity using existing µCT data,
  2. developing computational models (e.g. finite element or micromechanical models) based on these images,
  3. integrating micromechanical experimental data into these models, and
  4. analysing strength comparing living and dead samples.

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”. If successful, this project will help to close this gap.

Note: Project can be done in tandem with Combat climate change I: Statistical shape 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