Carina pointing at computer screen, collaborating with another ocean scientist.

Tracking climate change below the surface

Human induced change has been well studied in easily accessible locations (land, and surface ocean), but the extent to which deeper parts of the ocean feel human impacts is understudied. I am investigating the ways in which deep sea coral ecosystems are affected by ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and temperature variability higher in the water column.

Specifically, I seek to answer the following questions: 1) How have surface water carbonate chemistry and biological productivity changed over timescales of modern oceanographic monitoring (i.e. decades), and 2) Is there evidence that these short-term processes impact benthic communities?

Overhead shot of Carina adjusting a CTD rosette.

Coral growth controls

The California Current system is dominated by upwelling and is a harbinger of change. Bamboo corals, in particular, have two records - one from the surface and one from the deep sea - which make them a wealth of information. To better understand the effects of human-induced change, I am studying coral growth in the California margin, specifically how they respond to environmental parameters like oxygenation via depth in the water column, and food availability via geography/latitude. I measure this through the variability of the coral skeleton, including morphology, density, and rate of radial growth.

Carina holding a rack of water samples on a research vessel with a giant wave swell behind her.

California margin recent variability

The California margin is usually replete in biologically available nitrogen due to upwelling, so the base of the food web stays relatively stable. However, a recent paper found an isotopic excursion - possibly a signal of a state change. The geochemical toolset Schiff et al. (2014) used to detect a change in the isotopic composition of the coral is effective in tracking coral diets, so this could signal that the coral’s food source has changed. My research aims to isolate exactly what caused this excursion so as to determine implications for the entire ecosystem.

Journal Publications and Patents

  • Lipski, D, Williams G, Howard D, Stock J, Roletto J, Cochrane G, Fish CR, and Graiff K. 2018. Discovering the Undersea Beauty of Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, in Raineault, N.A, J. Flanders, and A. Bowman, eds. 2018. New frontiers in ocean exploration: The E/V Nautilus, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and R/V Falkor 2017 field season. Oceanography 31(1), supplement, 126 pp.
  • Haynes LL, Hönisch B, Dyez KA, Holland K, Rosenthal Y, Fish CR, Subhas AV, Rae JWB. 2017. Calibration of the B/Ca proxy in the planktic foraminifer Orbulina universa to Paleocene seawater conditions. Paleoceanography, 32. DOI: 10.1002/2016PA003069.
  • Martinez RV, Branch JL, Fish CR, Jin L, Shepherd RF, Nunes RDM, Suo Z, Whitesides GM. 2013. Robotic tentacles with three-dimensional mobility based on flexible elastomers. Adv. Mater. 25(2):205– 212. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201203002
  • Martinez RV, Fish CR, Chen X, Whitesides GM. 2012. Elastomeric Origami: Programmable Paper - Elastomer Composites as Pneumatic Actuators. Adv. Funct. Mater. 22(7)1376-1384. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201102978
  • Morin SA, Shepherd RF, Stokes A, Ilievski F, Martinez RV, Branch JL, Fish CR, Jin L, Nunes RMD, Suo Z, Whitesides GM. Patent: Flexible Robotic Actuators: Systems and methods for providing flexible robotic actuators. US 20150283699 A1 (WO2013148340 A2 WO2013148340 A3, EP2834047 A2).


Oct. 2018 Ford Fellows Conference (oral)
Jun. 2018 10th anniversary Bridge to the PhD Symposium (oral)
Feb. 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting: OC41A (oral)
Dec. 2017 AGU Fall Meeting: GC23B (poster)
Nov. 2017 MIT/UW Graduate Climate Conference (poster)
May 2016 Bridge to the PhD Symposium (oral)
Dec. 2015 AGU Fall Meeting: PP53B (poster)
Jun. 2015 Bridge to the PhD Symposium (oral)


Oct. 2018 NOAA Ship Shimada, project: deep sea coral
Sep. 2018 R/V Fulmar, project: ACCESS
July 2018 NOAA Ship Shimada, project: ACCESS
Sep. 2017 R/V Fulmar, project: ACCESS 
Aug. 2017 E/V Nautilus, deep sea coral ROV
July 2017 R/V Fulmar, CBNMS ROV
July 2017 R/V Fulmar, project: ACCESS
May 2017 R/V Fulmar, project: ACCESS
Sep. 2016 R/V Fulmar, project: ACCESS
May 2012 R/V Knorr, project: MARPEX