Lead University: Lehigh University
PI: Sabrina Jedlicka
Co-PIs: Susan Perry

Recently, coral reefs made headline news with the announcement that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has been bleached, and that reefs surrounding the Florida keys are dissolving. Coral bleaching is caused by the coral tissues expelling symbiotic algae (Symbiodinium spp.), commonly known as zooxanthellae, while under stress. Generally, this event leads to the demise of the organism and disruption of the reef ecosystem. Thus, significant international attention has been focused at sustaining the health of the world’s marine environments. Water quality, such as the ionic balance, is one line of scientific inquiry. The balance of ionic species within marine water is increasingly at risk, due to pH disruption and temperature fluctuations. While widespread control of ocean chemistry is not feasible, developing an understanding of these dynamics could lead to long-term, environmental protection solutions. Therefore, developing technologies that allow for robust monitoring of marine water chemistry could enhance our understanding of these delicate ecosystems, as well as provide tools for sustainable aquaculture and other industrial purposes. The long-term goal of the proposed PITA project is to develop a sensing device that can autonomously monitor and report ionic balances in a marine environment (aquaculture facility, aquarium, environmental test bed, etc.). Previous results from associated research (PITA 2015) have identified a suite of materials that allow for robust calcium and magnesium sensing, with a linear calibration curve in the range of seawater. The remaining ions of interest are nitrate, phosphate, and bicarbonate (alkalinity). Thus, the short-term goal associated with this one-year PITA award is to design a set of sensing materials that can detect the concentration of these anions in seawater, for future incorporation into a prototype sensing device that is being designed for use in marine environments such as commercial/home aquariums and aquaculture facilities.