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Coral bleaching pathways under the control of regional temperature variability

Nature Climate Change volume 7, pages 839844 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Increasing sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are predicted to adversely impact coral populations worldwide through increasing thermal bleaching events. Future bleaching is unlikely to be spatially uniform. Therefore, understanding what determines regional differences will be critical for adaptation management. Here, using a cumulative heat stress metric, we show that characteristics of regional SST determine the future bleaching risk patterns. Incorporating observed information on SST variability, in assessing future bleaching risk, provides novel options for management strategies. As a consequence, the known biases in climate model variability and the uncertainties in regional warming rate across climate models are less detrimental than previously thought. We also show that the thresholds used to indicate reef viability can strongly influence a decision on what constitutes a potential refugia. Observing and understanding the drivers of regional variability, and the viability limits of coral reefs, is therefore critical for making meaningful projections of coral bleaching risk.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the World Climate Research Programs Working Group on Coupled Modelling for their roles in making available the CMIP5 multi-model data sets. This work was supported by the NCI National Facility. This research was conducted with the support of the Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning Program funded by AusAID in collaboration with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and delivered by the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The manuscript contents are solely the opinions of the authors and do not constitute a statement of policy, decision, or position on behalf of NOAA or the US government.

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Author notes

    • C. Evenhuis

    Present address: Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, New South Wales 2007, Australia.

Affiliations

  1. CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Climate Science Centre, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia

    • C. E. Langlais
    • , A. Lenton
    • , C. Evenhuis
    •  & M. Kuchinke
  2. NOAA Coral Reef Watch, 675 Ross River Road, Townsville, Queensland 4817, Australia

    • S. F. Heron
  3. Marine Geophysical Laboratory, Physics Department, College of Science, Technology and Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

    • S. F. Heron
  4. CSIRO Land and Water, ATSIP Building, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia

    • S. F. Heron
  5. Climate Change Research Centre and ARC Center of Excellence for Climate System Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia

    • A. Sen Gupta
  6. CSIRO Agriculture and Food, University of Tasmania, College Road, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005, Australia

    • J. N. Brown

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Contributions

All authors contributed to the design and writing of the paper. C.E.L. performed the research. C.E.L. and A.L. analysed the data.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to C. E. Langlais.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3399

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