Oceanographic study defines climatological ranges and anomalies for Pacific coral reef ecosystems

Jamison Gove and Oliver Vetter of the oceanography team of the PIFSC Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) and partners at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California San Diego, NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, and the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa have authored a paper recently published in PLoS ONE that presents the results of their work to develop a method to generate consistent and comparable climatological data for the U.S. Pacific coral reef ecosystems surveyed by CRED as part of the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program.

Coral reefs are exposed to a range of environmental forcings that vary on daily to decadal time scales and across spatial scales that span from reefs to archipelagos. Environmental variability is a major determinant of the structure and function of reef ecosystems, including coral reef extent and growth rates and the abundance, diversity, and morphology of reef organisms. Proper characterization of environmental forcings on coral reef ecosystems, therefore, is a critical step toward understanding the dynamics and implications of abiotic–biotic interactions on reef ecosystems.

To quantify environmental forcings on coral reefs, this recently completed study combines high-resolution bathymetric information with modeled wave data and remotely sensed data of sea-surface temperature, chlorophyll-a concentration, and irradiance. Study results indicate considerable spatial heterogeneity in climatological ranges and anomalies across the 41 islands and atolls for which data were examined, with emergent spatial patterns specific to each environmental forcing. For example, wave energy was greatest at northern latitudes and generally decreased with latitude. In contrast, chlorophyll-a concentration was greatest at reef ecosystems proximate to the equator and at northern-most locations, showing little synchrony with latitude. In addition, the coral reef ecosystems with the highest chlorophyll-a concentrations—Jarvis, Howland, Baker, Palmyra and Kingman—are all uninhabited and characterized by high cover of hard corals and large numbers of predatory fishes. Metrics developed for this study will help to identify reef ecosystems most exposed to environmental stress and systems that may be more resistant or resilient to future climate change.

Long-term means in (A) sea-surface temperature, (B) wave energy, (C) chlorophyll-a concentration, and (D) irradiance in coral reef ecosystems across the U.S. Pacific.

Long-term means in (A) sea-surface temperature, (B) wave energy, (C) chlorophyll-a concentration, and (D) irradiance in coral reef ecosystems across the U.S. Pacific.

Gove JM, Williams GJ, McManus MA, Heron SF, Sandin SA, Vetter OJ, Foley DG.
2013. Quantifying climatological ranges and anomalies for Pacific coral reef ecosystems. PLoS ONE 8(4): e61974. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061974

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