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Global Warming May Create Island Refuges for Corals

Upwelling to bring cold, nutrient rich waters to Gilbert Islands.

Upwelling to bring cold, nutrient rich waters to Gilbert Islands.

The warming of the world’s oceans are expected to have adverse effects on corals, but certain areas may provide a safe haven to certain corals, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study was completed by climate scientist Kristopher Karnauskas from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and coral scientist Anne Cohen. The scientists say that while the effects of global warming will be devastating to corals worldwide, a handful of islands in the equatorial Pacific will benefit from increased upwelling of cold water in the region. This upwelling, which the scientists predict will gain strength, will bring nutrient-rich waters to the corals that need it.

“Our model suggests that the amount of upwelling will actually increase by about 50 percent around these islands and reduce the rate of warming waters around them by about 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.25 degrees Fahrenheit) per century,” Karnauskas said in a press release put out by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The researchers believe that warming near the Gilbert Islands, a chain of 16 atolls and coral islands, won’t be as fast as elsewhere in the ocean. This slower pace of warming may give the corals around the islands the capability to adapt to the new water temperatures. This slower rate of temperature change around the islands, they say, might also lead to a refuge for new corals and other species that could recolonize reefs damaged by the effects of climate change.

“While the mitigating effect of a strengthened equatorial undercurrent will not spare the corals from the perhaps inevitable warming expected for this region, the warming rate will be slower around these equatorial islands, which may allow corals and their symbiotic algae a better chance to adapt and survive,” Karnauskas said. If the model holds true, then even if neighboring reefs are hit hard, equatorial island coral reefs may well survive to produce larvae of corals and other reef species. Like a seed bank for the future, they might be a source of new corals and other species that could re-colonize damaged reefs.”

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Article Categories:
Fish · Lifestyle