Tropical coral reefs are spectacular, complex and diverse ecosystems. Although occupying less than 0.5% of the sea floor, they support 25% of all marine species and provide goods and services that contribute to the livelihoods of over 500 million people worldwide. Reefs are, however, in trouble. Some have suffered decades of over exploitation which is now being compounded, on even the most pristine reefs, by the impacts of a rapidly changing global climate system. This has been most dramatically demonstrated by the recent increase in frequency and extent of mass coral bleaching events. These have been driven by unusually warm surface ocean temperatures and are a direct result of anthropogenically-driven global climate change. This talk will review how climate is already changing for coral reefs; why they are so sensitive to rapidly changing environmental conditions; and the historical evidence for environmental changes and their impacts as revealed in the annual skeletal records of certain long-lived massive corals. I will also consider what the future of these immensely valuable tropical ecosystems may be given different trajectories of projected global warming and global and local actions that can contribute to their maintenance into the future.
Janice is a Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and an Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow and Partner Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. She is a climate scientist who has been publishing on issues related to climate change for over 30 years. She has a BSc in Environmental Sciences from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK and completed a PhD in 1982 at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia. She held an NSF-funded post-doctoral position at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, from 1982 to 1986. In 1986 she came to AIMS for a two-year postdoctoral position and has been a research scientist at AIMS since 1988! Her research activities focus on 1) obtaining annual growth and proxy environmental records from massive corals which places current changes in an historical context, and 2) assessing how climate is already changing for tropical coral reef ecosystems.