Global declines in coral reef calcium carbonate production under ocean acidification and warming


The growth of coral reefs is threatened by the dual stressors of ocean warming and acidification. Despite a wealth of studies assessing the impacts of climate change on individual taxa, projections of their impacts on coral reef net carbonate production are limited. By projecting impacts across 233 different locations, we demonstrate that the majority of coral reefs will be unable to maintain positive net carbonate production globally by the year 2100 under representative concentration pathways RCP4.5 and 8.5, while even under RCP2.6, coral reefs will suffer reduced accretion rates. Our results provide quantitative projections of how different climate change stressors will influence whole ecosystem carbonate production across coral reefs in all major ocean basins.


Ocean warming and acidification threaten the future growth of coral reefs. This is because the calcifying coral reef taxa that construct the calcium carbonate frameworks and cement the reef together are highly sensitive to ocean warming and acidification. However, the global-scale effects of ocean warming and acidification on rates of coral reef net carbonate production remain poorly constrained despite a wealth of studies assessing their effects on the calcification of individual organisms. Here, we present global estimates of projected future changes in coral reef net carbonate production under ocean warming and acidification. We apply a meta-analysis of responses of coral reef taxa calcification and bioerosion rates to predicted changes in coral cover driven by climate change to estimate the net carbonate production rates of 183 reefs worldwide by 2050 and 2100. We forecast mean global reef net carbonate production under representative concentration pathways (RCP) 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 will decline by 76, 149, and 156%, respectively, by 2100. While 63% of reefs are projected to continue to accrete by 2100 under RCP2.6, 94% will be eroding by 2050 under RCP8.5, and no reefs will continue to accrete at rates matching projected sea level rise under RCP4.5 or 8.5 by 2100. Projected reduced coral cover due to bleaching events predominately drives these declines rather than the direct physiological impacts of ocean warming and acidification on calcification or bioerosion. Presently degraded reefs were also more sensitive in our analysis. These findings highlight the low likelihood that the world’s coral reefs will maintain their functional roles without near-term stabilization of atmospheric CO2 emissions.

Cornwall C. E., Comeau S., Kornder N. A., Perry C. T., van Hooidonk R., DeCarlo T. M., Pratchett M. S., Anderson K. D., Browne N., Carpenter R., Diaz-Pulido G., D’Olivo J. P., Doo S. S., Figueiredo J., Fortunato S. A. V., Kennedy E., Lantz C. A., McCulloch M. T., González-Rivero M., Schoepf V., Smithers S. G. & Lowe R. J., 2021. Global declines in coral reef calcium carbonate production under ocean acidification and warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118(21): e2015265118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2015265118. Article.

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