Health of Coral Reefs Can Now Be Predicted With Wave Dynamics

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Climate change has a strong effect on all parts of the world, but here are a few segments that are still safe from it. The same stands true for coral reefs.The warming up of oceans affects the wave strength, water flow, and other physical factors that decide which reefs would succumb and which would survive. The conclusion was drawn from a study that was conducted by a postdoctoral researcher, Justin Rogers, working at the Stanford's Environmental Fluid Mechanics Lab. He says, “We have known for a while that high water temperatures are harmful to coral reefs. What this paper illuminates for the first time is how waves can lower the water temperature and create better conditions for coral reefs to thrive.”

Coral reefs get counted among the biggest hotspots of global biodiversity. They are known for hosting hundreds and thousands of marine species that provide base for sustainable fisheries. Their framework protects some of the softest coastal areas from stormy waves. Rogers wanted to understand the dynamic of these forces that drive water circulation through these oceans and how it exactly affects the temperature of reefs and their overall health. 

To find this out, they deployed a set of devices in water close to South Pacific atoll of Palmyra along with some velocity and temperature sensors. Rogers explains, “The idea was just to get a huge coverage over the reef.” Once these instruments were in place, the monitoring was done for next three years to collect data and study patterns. The data analysis revealed that health of some reefs was controlled by temperature, pressure dynamics and waves in their respective regions. Oceans absorb more and more CO2 as the temperatures take a toll leading to depletion in the amount of calcium carbonate that is extracted by corals from water. It results in their stunted growth and dissolution in water. The reefs that did well were the ones receiving cooler water during this period. Rogers further adds, “High temperature is very stressful to corals. If there’s not enough exchange of water from the open ocean, those areas do not do well.”