Amid endless Pacific Ocean vistas 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, a small team of divers secures plate-like objects to dead corals.

This scene, which has played out the past two summers and will again this summer, is part of ongoing fieldwork on Palmyra Atoll aimed at understanding coral health and resiliency. The research comes at a crucial time: Reef ecosystems, which provide sustenance and livelihoods to a billion people, face increasing threats from pollution, destructive fishing practices and climate change impacts such as warmer, more acidic ocean water.

Those plate-like objects that Rogers and his colleagues attach to dead coral are current and temperature sensors, one of the many battery-powered instruments the team uses to measure everything from wave velocity and energy to depth and salinity. The data they gather, together with results from land-based atmospheric monitors and lab-based models that analyze hydrodynamics across the entire atoll, will ultimately help resource managers better focus limited conservation resources on issues that most effect reefs.

“It’s the first time that we have an understanding of the way that the physics of an atoll work as a whole system,” said Justin Rogers, a Stanford graduate student in civil and environmental engineering.

Rogers and his fellow researchers, Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellows Stephen Monismith (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Rob Dunbar (Earth Sciences) and environmental earth system science graduate student David Koweek, expect to publish a paper on their work this fall. In the meantime, Rogers will discuss the research at 2:45 p.m. on Feb. 28 at this year’s Ocean Sciences Meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. The presentation, “Hydrodynamics of a Pacific Atoll,” will be part of a session titled “Physical Processes Along Reef-Protected Coastlines: Current Observations and Future Predictions.”

Stanford Woods Institute researchers authored nearly 70 innovative research papers presented at the biennial conference, which takes place Feb. 23 to 28, and is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union, the Oceanographic Society and the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography. Among them:

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