Climate Change and Paleoclimate Reconstruction

 

      Studying, predicting and mitigating the effects of climate change on coral reef ecosystems involves interdisciplinary research from a number of biological, geological, oceanographic and atmospheric disciplines. Central to these investigations are ecological studies of ongoing changes, investigations into likely adaptation scenarios; both to higher temperatures and lower pH, and research into past and future patterns of ocean warming and acidification in the tropics.

    NCORE scientists are involved with a variety of projects that investigate different aspects of coral reefs and climate. These include: long-term ecological studies of the effects of climate change and coral bleaching (>30 years in the eastern Pacific; the longest-running study of its kind on the world); genetic investigations in the field and laboratory that study how coral symbioses acclimatize or adapt to high temperature environments; investigations of the effects of pH on coral calcification; and modeling studies to identify reef areas most likely to escape the worst effects of warming, and understand how mesoscale eddies affect coral bleaching response and recovery.

    Local fieldwork also investigates how corals respond to naturally variable CO2 levels, and experimental work also studies the combined effects of high temperature and low pH to predict survival trajectories of corals under these scenarios.

    In addition, NCORE research projects are utilizing geochemical records and density x-rays of coral skeletons, like the image at left, to reconstruct the past history of environmental change over the last few decades to centuries. Interpreting these records helps us understand how corals have responded to past climate variations, and how they are currently responding to current changes in temperatures and pH.

Key Questions

 

How will global warming and episodes of coral reef bleaching impact reefs, and how should these impacts be planned for and mitigated?

 

How will ocean acidification and the reduced calcification potential of reef-building organisms impact the resilience of coral reefs? What role do these stresses play in explaining the growing incidence and severity of disease on coral reefs?

 

What can paleoclimate reconstruction tell us about the past to assist in the formulation of ecoforecasting models?