In the South China Sea, a 2°C rise in the sea surface temperature in June 2015 was amplified to produce a 6°C rise on Dongsha Atoll, a shallow coral reef ecosystem, killing approximately 40 percent of the resident coral community according to a study published in Scientific Reports this week.
Wind and waves churn the sea, flushing shallow-water coral reefs with seawater from the open ocean to help them stay cool. But according to new research from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), when the weather turns still and these natural cooling mechanisms subside, just a few degrees of ocean warming can prove lethal to the corals that live there.
Scientists at WHOI studied this phenomenon in June 2015 while conducting research on Dongsha Atoll, an almost perfectly circular coral reef in the remote South China Sea. The research, conducted in collaboration with researchers from UC Irvine, Old Dominion University, and National Sun Yat-Sen University, highlights the devastation caused when global-scale ocean warming interacts with short-lived weather anomalies, and adds urgency to the question of how reefs will fare through the end of this century.
Bleached Acropora colony photographed in July 2015. A new study finds that a 2°C rise in the sea surface temperature of the South China Sea in June 2015 was amplified to produce a 6°C rise on the Dongsha Atoll, killing approximately 40 percent of the resident coral community. (Photo by Thomas DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)