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Caribbean coral growth influenced by anthropogenic aerosol emissions


Coral growth rates are highly dependent on environmental variables such as sea surface temperature1,2 and solar irradiance3,4. Multi-decadal variability in coral growth rates has been documented throughout the Caribbean over the past 150–200 years5,6, and linked to variations in Atlantic sea surface temperatures5. Multi-decadal variability in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, in turn, has been linked to volcanic and anthropogenic aerosol forcing7. Here, we examine the drivers of changes in coral growth rates in the western Caribbean between 1880 and 2000, using previously published coral growth chronologies from two sites in the region, and a numerical model. Changes in coral growth rates over this period coincided with variations in sea surface temperature and incoming short-wave radiation. Our model simulations show that variations in the concentration of anthropogenic aerosols caused variations in sea surface temperature and incoming radiation in the second half of the twentieth century. Before this, variations in volcanic aerosols may have played a more important role. With the exception of extreme mass bleaching events, we suggest that neither climate change from greenhouse-gas emissions nor ocean acidification is necessarily the driver of multi-decadal variations in growth rates at some Caribbean locations. Rather, the cause may be regional climate change due to volcanic and anthropogenic aerosol emissions.

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Figure 1: Map of the Greater Caribbean region.
Figure 2: AMO and multi-decadal coral growth anomalies.
Figure 3: The influence of anthropogenic aerosols on SSTs and short-wave radiation.
Figure 4: The influence of anthropogenic aerosols on coral growth rates.


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We thank R. Williams, C. Luke, A. Hunter, D. Long, C. Saenger, J. P. Carricart-Ganivet and R. Iglesias-Prieto for helpful insight. We also thank J. Hughes for undertaking the all-forcings model simulations. The study was financially supported by a NERC grant to P.J.M. and P.M.C., the University of Exeter and the EU FORCE project. P.R.H. was supported by the Joint DECC/Defra Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101).

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L.K., P.M.C. and P.R.H. conceived and designed the experiments. L.K. performed the experiments and analysed the data. L.K., P.M.C., P.R.H., T.E., P.J.M., J.C., H.M.G. and B.B.B.B. interpreted the data, discussed their implications and contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lester Kwiatkowski.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kwiatkowski, L., Cox, P., Economou, T. et al. Caribbean coral growth influenced by anthropogenic aerosol emissions. Nature Geosci 6, 362–366 (2013).

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