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The seafloor microscope that can reveal corals’ secrets

See the seafloor like you’ve never seen it before, thanks to this microscope, the first to show 1.6 millimeter-sized coral polyps up close in the wild. An effort to better understand these lifeforms in the face of coral bleaching, Scripps Institution of Oceanography grad student Andrew D. Mullen and University of Haifa’s Tali Treibitz lead a team of scientists in developing the in situ microscope. From The New York Times:

Although corals are animals, they also contain single-cell organisms called zooxanthellae that can photosynthesize, enabling the corals to share in energy captured directly from the sun.

Coral bleaching occurs when warm temperatures cause the polyps to expel the zooxanthellae, leaving them colorless. The microscope is powerful enough to show individual zooxanthellae, about 10 microns, or one-tenth the width of a human hair, in the polyps.

In this weakened state, the reefs are often colonized by algae, and the microscope may show how this happens.

See more coral life in video, including Slow Life: Incredible macro video of fluorescing corals & sponges and underwater time lapse can show the secret life of a coral reef. Plus: More Science Take.

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