Coral reefs support a huge diversity of marine life, provide coastal protection and a food source for local populations, and generate large revenues through fishing and tourism. These spectacular geological structures are actually produced biologically; tiny polyps secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton which en mass, provides the framework of coral reefs. This “convergence” of the geological and biological worlds necessitates an interdisciplinary approach to reef studies. Furthermore, with anthropogenic stresses such as ocean acidification threatening their existence, understanding the influence of ocean chemistry on corals is also vital. My research integrates biology, geology, and chemistry in order to establish a more comprehensive understanding of corals. Additionally, my PhD research draws upon novel analytical innovations developed by archaeologists.
My research has primarily focused on the enigmatic 1% of the coral skeleton known as the “organic matrix” (OM). The OM is incorporated into the skeleton during calcification, the process by which corals secrete their skeleton. My initial analyses have involved:
1. Evaluating the use of protein degradation (amino acid racemization) in the coral OM as an archaeological dating tool. This is being determined in independently dated coral of varying age (from 250,000 to present) and provenance. Also I have been examining the relationship between calcifying fluid pH (derived from measurement of skeletal boron isotopic composition) and racemization.
2. Establishing the differences between OM-composition (i) in different coral genera, and (ii) under different environmental conditions, including different flow regimes, and ocean acidification scenarios.
PJ Tomiak, K. Penkman, E.J. Hendy, Bea Demarchi, S. Murrells, P. McCullagh, SA Davis, M.J Collins ‘Testing the limitations of artificial protein degradation kinetics using known age massive Porites coral skeletons’, Quaternary Geochronology, 2012 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quageo.2012.07.001
Demarchi, B., Collins, M.J., Tomiak, P.J., Davies, B., Penkman, K.E.H., Intra-crystalline protein diagenesis (IcPD) in Patella vulgata. Part II: Breakdown and temperature sensitivity. Quaternary Geochronology, 2012 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quageo.2012.08.001
E.J. Hendy, PJ Tomiak, M. Collins, J. Hellstrom, A. W Tudhope, J. Lough, K Penkman ‘Assessing amino acid racemization variability in coral intra-crystalline protein for geochronological applications’, , Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 86, (pp. 338 - 353), 2012
PJ Tomiak, MB Andersen, W Thompson, E.J. Hendy, K Penkman ‘Establishing the relative chronology of raised reef terraces on Barbados using amino acid racemisation in fossilized Acropora Palmata corals’, , INQUA Bern 2011, 2011
View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system
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