Experimental Reef Lab

We designed and built the CIMAS Experimental Reef Lab (ERL) at the University of Miami as a state of the art system for creating the reefs of tomorrow today, in the lab. Using custom algorithms and real-time logging, ERL is capable of controlling temperature, light, and seawater carbonate chemistry at an order of magnitude higher precision than many contemporary systems.


CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO EXPLORE THE LAB IN 3D. We designed ERL from the ground up in a digital 3D environment. Google SketchUp allowed us to develop a system layout that is modular, accessible, and easy to maintain. We had to fit a lot in a small space with 16 completely independent tanks, connected by kilometers of wiring, along with 100's meters of tubing delivering water, air and carbon dioxide. Since everything was custom and designed in house, we used 3D printing to rapidly fabricate numerous components throughout the lab.


Every tank in the ERL system is controlled by a central computer and graphical user interface (GUI) that runs custom software written in LabVIEW. Each tank can be set to fully automatic, or with manual overrides. Every minute, every tank logs pH, temperature, CO2, air, and water flow, along with several other system-wide parameters. In total, more than a 110 different measurements are recorded every minute (nearly 160,000 a day), allowing us to keep very detailed logs of what our corals are experiencing.

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Coral reefs naturally experience diurnal (daily) changes in CO2 concentration and pH due to numerous processes such as day-time photosynthesis as well as respiration. Ocean acidification will change the average pH that reef organisms experience and it will also change the range of conditions that they experience. We are very interested in incorporating variability into our experiments. Because ERL can be programmed with real-time set points, we can program in a range of daily fluctuations and test how corals respond.


CLICK PLAY ON THE VIDEO TO SEE INSIDE A CORAL SKELETON. We are using state of the art techniques for measuring coral growth and calcification. This video shows how we can assemble hundreds of x-ray images into a 3D model of endangered staghorn coral. This type of analysis allows us to look at skeletal density, structure, and coral growth in very high detail. These aspects of the coral will be influenced by ocean acidification and are important characteristics to consider when establishing management and restoration strategies.