Physical mechanisms influencing localized patterns of temperature variability and coral bleaching within a system of reef atolls

Rebecca H. Green, Ryan J. Lowe, Mark L. Buckley, Taryn Foster, James P. Gilmour

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6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Interactions between oceanic and atmospheric processes within coral reefs can significantly alter local-scale (<km) water temperatures, and consequently drive variations in heat stress and bleaching severity. The Scott Reef atoll system was one of many reefs affected by the 2015–2016 mass coral bleaching event across tropical Australia, and specifically experienced sea surface temperature anomalies of 2 °C that caused severe mass bleaching (> 60%) over most of this system; however, the bleaching patterns were not uniform. Little is known about the processes governing thermodynamic variability within atolls, particularly those that are dominated by large amplitude tides. Here, we identify three mechanisms at Scott Reef that alleviated heat stress during the marine heatwave in 2016: (1) the cool wake of a tropical cyclone that induced temperature drops of 1.3 °C over a period of 8 days; (2) air–sea heat fluxes that interacted with the reef morphology during neap tides at one of the atolls to reduce water temperatures by up to 2.9 °C; (3) internal tidal processes that forced deeper and cooler water (up to 2.7 °C) into some sections of the shallow reefs. The latter two processes created localized areas of reduced temperatures that led to lower incidences of coral bleaching for parts of the reef. We predict these processes are likely to occur in other similar tide-dominated reef environments worldwide. Identifying locations where physical processes reduce heat stress will likely be critical for coral reefs in the future, by maintaining communities that can help facilitate local recovery of reefs following bleaching events that are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalCoral Reefs
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Feb 2019

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atolls
coral bleaching
reefs
reef
tides
temperature
tide
bleaching
coral reefs
coral reef
heat stress
hurricanes
tropical cyclone
angle of incidence
coolers
thermodynamics
heat flux
water temperature
heat

Cite this

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title = "Physical mechanisms influencing localized patterns of temperature variability and coral bleaching within a system of reef atolls",
abstract = "Interactions between oceanic and atmospheric processes within coral reefs can significantly alter local-scale ( 60{\%}) over most of this system; however, the bleaching patterns were not uniform. Little is known about the processes governing thermodynamic variability within atolls, particularly those that are dominated by large amplitude tides. Here, we identify three mechanisms at Scott Reef that alleviated heat stress during the marine heatwave in 2016: (1) the cool wake of a tropical cyclone that induced temperature drops of 1.3 °C over a period of 8 days; (2) air–sea heat fluxes that interacted with the reef morphology during neap tides at one of the atolls to reduce water temperatures by up to 2.9 °C; (3) internal tidal processes that forced deeper and cooler water (up to 2.7 °C) into some sections of the shallow reefs. The latter two processes created localized areas of reduced temperatures that led to lower incidences of coral bleaching for parts of the reef. We predict these processes are likely to occur in other similar tide-dominated reef environments worldwide. Identifying locations where physical processes reduce heat stress will likely be critical for coral reefs in the future, by maintaining communities that can help facilitate local recovery of reefs following bleaching events that are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.",
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AU - Green, Rebecca H.

AU - Lowe, Ryan J.

AU - Buckley, Mark L.

AU - Foster, Taryn

AU - Gilmour, James P.

PY - 2019/2/18

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N2 - Interactions between oceanic and atmospheric processes within coral reefs can significantly alter local-scale ( 60%) over most of this system; however, the bleaching patterns were not uniform. Little is known about the processes governing thermodynamic variability within atolls, particularly those that are dominated by large amplitude tides. Here, we identify three mechanisms at Scott Reef that alleviated heat stress during the marine heatwave in 2016: (1) the cool wake of a tropical cyclone that induced temperature drops of 1.3 °C over a period of 8 days; (2) air–sea heat fluxes that interacted with the reef morphology during neap tides at one of the atolls to reduce water temperatures by up to 2.9 °C; (3) internal tidal processes that forced deeper and cooler water (up to 2.7 °C) into some sections of the shallow reefs. The latter two processes created localized areas of reduced temperatures that led to lower incidences of coral bleaching for parts of the reef. We predict these processes are likely to occur in other similar tide-dominated reef environments worldwide. Identifying locations where physical processes reduce heat stress will likely be critical for coral reefs in the future, by maintaining communities that can help facilitate local recovery of reefs following bleaching events that are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

AB - Interactions between oceanic and atmospheric processes within coral reefs can significantly alter local-scale ( 60%) over most of this system; however, the bleaching patterns were not uniform. Little is known about the processes governing thermodynamic variability within atolls, particularly those that are dominated by large amplitude tides. Here, we identify three mechanisms at Scott Reef that alleviated heat stress during the marine heatwave in 2016: (1) the cool wake of a tropical cyclone that induced temperature drops of 1.3 °C over a period of 8 days; (2) air–sea heat fluxes that interacted with the reef morphology during neap tides at one of the atolls to reduce water temperatures by up to 2.9 °C; (3) internal tidal processes that forced deeper and cooler water (up to 2.7 °C) into some sections of the shallow reefs. The latter two processes created localized areas of reduced temperatures that led to lower incidences of coral bleaching for parts of the reef. We predict these processes are likely to occur in other similar tide-dominated reef environments worldwide. Identifying locations where physical processes reduce heat stress will likely be critical for coral reefs in the future, by maintaining communities that can help facilitate local recovery of reefs following bleaching events that are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

KW - Atoll

KW - Coral bleaching

KW - Hydrodynamics

KW - Northwestern Australia

KW - Temperature variability

KW - Tide-dominated

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