1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Limiting global warming to save coral reefs

23
Jun 2016

Extensive coral bleaching on many of the world’s reefs over the past two years has highlighted their susceptibility to thermal stress with global warming already at 0.9C to date.

“Climate is changing rapidly for tropical coral reef ecosystems which are already showing their vulnerability, even with relatively modest increases in global average temperatures observed to date,” says Dr Janice Lough, Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Partner Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville.

The early 2016 mass coral bleaching, that significantly affected the northern Great Barrier Reef of Australia, was linked to the 2015-2016 El Niño. El Niño events typically result in warmer than normal sea surface temperatures across large parts of the tropical oceans – home to coral reefs.

The magnitude of natural climate variability has, however, been compounded by global warming.

A global index of thermal stress (when temperatures exceed the normal seasonal maximum) at 42 reef sites has tripled in intensity since the late 19th century recording 1.3C during the 1877-1878 El Niño, 2.8C in 1997-1998 (another major global bleaching event) and 3.9C in 2015-2016.

“This is clear evidence that global warming is increasing the intensity of thermal stress events on tropical coral reefs,” says Dr. Lough.

Tropical sea surface temperature reconstructions, developed from annually-banded massive coral skeletons, herald a new era for coral reefs. The combination of these results with recent observations, show that 1998 and 2016 were the warmest years for the world’s reefs in at least the past 400 years.

“Over the last 18 months we have observed the impacts of thermal stress causing bleaching of coral reefs across the planet. It is becoming clear that if we are to avoid increases in the number and severity of bleaching events, we need to limit global warming to well below 1.5C.”

Note: Dr. Lough will be speaking on this topic at the ICRS in Hawaii, Thursday 23 June at 8am (HAST). She is available for interviews in the lead up to her talk and after. Please contact Kylie Simmonds (details below)

Images

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For interviews please contact:

Dr. Janice Lough
Senior Principal Research Scientist
Australian Institute of Marine Science
Email: j.lough@aims.gov.au

 

Kylie Simmonds
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Phone: +61 (0) 428 785 895
Email: kylie.simmonds1@jcu.edu.au

 

 

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au