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Study in Pacific reveals coral heat danger

Coral in deeper waters are not immune to rising temperatures, new research has revealed.

The results of a large-scale study Pacific Ocean reefs over 16 years show traditional methods of testing coral bleaching underestimate the severity of the problem.

“Mass coral bleaching is most commonly caused by abnormally high temperatures, 1-2degC above the usual summer maximum for several weeks,” U.S researcher Dr Mark Eakin, Coordinator of the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch, said.

He said the usual method of using satellites to detect surface temperature was useful, but this more in-depth research gave a greater insight into the problem.

The study measured temperatures at 457 coral reef sites among 49 islands in the western and central Pacific Ocean between 2001-2017, before comparing them to satellite data.

The research indicates coral at a depth of 38 metres was being affected by rising temperatures, according to Dr Eakin.

“Heat stress isn't so much about the temperature itself, but how different today's temperature is from what the corals are used to experiencing,” he said.

James Cook University Associate Professor Scott Heron said the findings were a cause for major concern.

“What is critical now is that, as a global community, we need to act upon the clear science of climate change to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Assoc Prof Heron, who was part of the study.

“We urgently need international leadership, not equivocation, to keep future impacts as only bad, and not worse.”

The research is published in Nature Scientific Reports.


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