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Hawaiʻi Pacific University Uses Lasers to Study Coral Health

Flickr - USFWS Pacific Region

Hawaiʻi Pacific University is using laser technology to analyze coral reefs and marine debris found in Hawaiʻi’s ocean water.

The Raman spectrometer was acquired through a $320,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The device will shine high intensity light on coral and study the way the light scatters. The pattern of the light beam’s scatter reveals the chemistry of coral growth.

The laser can also detect different types of microplastics in the water. Plastic pollution increases ocean acidification by attracting harmful bacteria — creating a condition that increases the water's pH level. Ocean acidification causes coral to bleach, and stunt their growth.

Thomas DeCarlo is an assistant professor of oceanography at HPU, and the principal investigator for the Raman spectrometer.

"You might have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is located a little north of Hawaiʻi. That’s in that location because the way the winds blow and the way currents circulate in the surface ocean. It forces plastic to accumulate in the middle of what’s called a gyres, which is water going in a circular motion," DeCarlo tells HPR.

DeCarlo hopes to use the Raman spectrometer to gather data that helps improve coral growth.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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