Scientists analyze global warming in Caribbean coral reefs

A new study examines 150 years of sea surface temperature in the Greater Caribbean region, identifying key warming trends that have harmed coral reef ecosystems. March 9and2022, Colleen Bove and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published their findings in the open access journal OLP Weather.

Coral colony on the Caribbean reef. Image credit: Colleen B. Bove, CC-BY 4.0.

Climate change produced by human activity is warming not only the atmosphere, but also the world’s oceans, thus affecting marine ecosystems. Previous studies have reported substantial warming-induced changes in coral reef ecosystems around the world – particularly in the Caribbean – finding effects such as mass coral mortality from coral bleaching and the extinction of dependent fish. reefs.

Bove and his colleagues revised their analysis of sea surface temperature trends for Caribbean coral reefs, based on previous studies. They started by compiling an inventory of 5,326 Caribbean coral reefs divided into eight sub-regions. They then assessed the warming history from 1871 to 2020 using three open-access databases of satellite and on-site sea surface temperature records.

Since 1915, throughout the region, coral reefs in the Caribbean have been warming, according to the study. Warming started earlier in four of the eight subregions, in the second half of the 19th century.

The researchers found that Caribbean reefs have warmed by 0.5 to 1°C, with distinct sub-regions experiencing different rates of warming from each other over the past century. According to research data, if current warming trends persist, these ecosystems will warm by an average of 1.5°C by the year 2100.

The study also looked at the frequency of marine heat waves, which are defined as brief episodes of unusually high temperatures in the ocean. They found that the frequency and duration of these episodes was increasing in the Caribbean, with reefs now experiencing an average of five per year, compared to one in the 1980s.

Experts have suggested immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as actions to address local and regional disruptors of coral reef ecosystems, such as fishing and pollution, in the Caribbean and beyond. based on their findings and previous studies.

The authors conclude:Our study indicates that coral reefs have been warming for at least a century and that many reefs across the Caribbean have already warmed by one degree Celsius. This explains why we have seen such devastating declines in the health of this invaluable ecosystem..”

Journal reference:

Bove, CB, et al. (2022) A century of warming on Caribbean reefs. PLOS Climate.


Teresa H. Sadler