Response of coral reefs to global warming

The atmospheric CO2 crossed over 400 ppm and we must prepare for a “+2 °C world” during this century. Coral reefs are directly related to each scenario of global warming: increase in CO2 results in ocean acidification and suppresses calcification, rise in sea surface temperature leads to severe bleaching, and sea level rise causes submergence of coral reefs and atoll islands. They are the most sensitive ecosystem and act as an early warning system to examine and predict response of ecosystem to the global warming. Records of bleaching events and SST for the last 17 years in the northwest Pacific show that 2 °C SST rise would induce severe bleaching of coral reefs. Reduction of ocean surface water pH by 0.3 would cause shift from hard coral to non-calcifying macroalgae or soft coral populations in coral reefs. Submergence of coral reefs by sea level rise of up to one meter results in a loss of their breakwater function and in atoll islands submergence of national land. “+2 °C world” is the threshold to maintain coral reefs. Factors of global warming and responses of coral reefs are coupled to form feedback loops, which enhance or stabilize the changes within a system.

Kayanne H., 2016. Response of coral reefs to global warming. In Kayanne H. (Ed.), Coral Reef Science: Coral Reefs of the World 5:81-94. Book chapter (subscription required).

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