92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Monday, 23 January 2012
The Impacts of Climate Variability on Coral Bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef
Hall E (New Orleans Convention Center )
Daniel Gilford, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL; and A. Arguez

The strong 1997/98 El Niņo event corresponded with an unprecedented amount of thermal stress on coral reefs throughout the earth's oceans. This brought renewed interest in the connection between climate variability and coral bleaching events, and increased speculation that climate change may be inducing higher sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and more frequent bleaching events. The economic impact of the United States' coral resources alone are approximately $30 billion USD annually. Climate impacts on these valuable ecosystems must be understood if proper protection/prevention measures are to be taken. While the El Niņo Southern Oscillation (ENSO) effects on bleaching are thought to be insignificant in a globally-averaged sense, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is believed to play at least some role in coral bleaching, little is known of their climatic effects on SSTs in specific coral regions. Additionally, the impact of these two cycles may further or lessen stress effects on a regional scale, but no study has documented this in specific coral reef regions. This study uses NOAA's 30-year global Optimum Interpolation Sea Surface Temperature V2 (OISST V2) data set to examine the Coral Sea in relation to natural tropical climate variability. SST climatologies and correlations will be computed to examine the roles of climate modes in regional bleaching events. Two Degree Heating Week (DHW) metrics will be applied to the Great Barrier Reef to show the key role of climate variability in the bleaching process. Contrasts between these two metrics will be presented. Results will show that SSTs in the Great Barrier Reef region are negatively correlated with ENSO. Additionally, the phase of ENSO is on average a La Niņa event during events of high DHWs in this region.

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