Tropical Cyclones Cause Significant Damage to Coral Reefs

Written by on October 21, 2013 in Coral Reefs, Other News, Physical Oceanography

New research published by the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans reports that tropical cyclones significantly add to acidification problems currently being suffered by coral reefs as the carbon dioxide content of the oceans continues to increase.  We know that ocean acidification means the organisms that make up coral reefs cannot get the calcium carbonate they need for their shells (exoskeletons). It turns out that the salinity and pH level of the oceans are dramatically changed by tropical storms and the effects are not short-lived.  These affects not only affect living corals but actually can dissolve the existing coral structures, which are the skeletons of past coral generations.

Satellite photo of Hurricane Isaac in 2012

At 1:35pm CDT on August 28, 2012 the recently launched Suomi NPP satellite flew over Isaac, capturing this image of the storm with the true color capability of the VIIRS sensor. Image courtesy of NOAA. Data courtesy of the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite.

The researchers — Derek Manzello, Ian Enochs, Sylvia Musielwicz, Renée Carlton and Swight Gledhill — used data collected from two coral reefs in the Florida Keys during Tropical Storm (later Hurricane) Isaac, in August of 2012.  Special chemical sensors were in the water column at Little Conch Reef and Cheeca Rocks and at a nearby SEAKEYS/C-MAN buoy when the storm passed within approximately 142 km of Cheeca Rocks.  What they found was that tropical storms intensified the already high CO2 conditions at these reefs.  Their report details the various different chemical and physical processes that occurred in the storm and their effects on the overall reef chemistry.

The researchers’ conclusion is alarming.  They note that “the existence of coral reefs beyond this century is in jeopardy.  The concern has gone from the drastic declines in living coral cover [Gardner et al., 2003], to fear that the very framework of coral reefs will erode away [Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007; Manzello et al., 2008; Perry et al., 2013].”  They note that given the likely increasing frequency of the strongest storms, in combination with ocean acidification, “will have serious consequences for the persistence of coral reef framework structures, which is far more alarming than the loss of living coral.”

Ask your librarian to get a copy of the study for you.  You can see an abstract of it at this link .

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Tom Tripp is the owner of OceanLines Ltd., the publisher of OceanLines and founder and Editor Emeritus of Marine Science Today. He is an award-winning marine journalist, science and aviation writer and long-time public communications specialist. His PR career and much of his writing stems from the fact that he loves to explain stuff. It all began when he and his brother Mark threw all of Mom's tomatoes at the back wall of the house. . . .


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