Climate change and coral reefs: different effects in two high-latitude areas (Arabian Gulf, South Africa)

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Coral Reefs, ISSN: 0722-4028, Vol: 22, Issue: 4, Page: 433-446

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Riegl, Bernhard
Springer Nature; NSUWorks
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Coral reef; Climate change; Bleaching; Refugia; Mass mortality; High latitude; Arabian Gulf; South Africa; Environmental Sciences; Marine Biology; Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology
article description
The findings in this paper show that Arabian Gulf (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah) corals have already been measurably affected by climate change and further negative impacts are expected. Corals in South Africa have been only weakly impacted and are expected to persist in this likely refuge. The Arabian Gulf has recently experienced high-frequency recurrences of temperature-related bleaching (1996, 1998, 2002). First evidence may suggest that bleaching patterns in corals changed due to phenotypic adaptation after two strong bleaching events in rapid succession, because Acropora, which during the 1996 and 1998 events always bleached first and suffered heaviest mortality, bleached less than all other corals in 2002 at Sir Abu Nuair and recovered at Jebel Ali and Ras Hasyan. In South Africa, reef corals largely escaped the mass mortalities observed across the tropics in the late 1990s, although bleaching has also increased since 1999. These reefs are protected by local small-scale upwelling events in summer that, if they occur at the right time, keep temperatures below bleaching levels. Both areas, the Arabian Gulf and South Africa, have rich coral faunas but little to no recent reef-framework production. It is possible that many reefs worldwide may have similar dynamics in the future, if the changed climate (recurrence of temperature anomalies, changes in aragonite saturation state, etc.) suppresses sustained reef building at least temporarily. Global climate models predict the possibility of significant environmental changes, including increases in atmospheric temperature, sea-surface temperature (SST), and sea level. Monsoon and El Niño Southeastern Oscillation (ENSO) patterns might change, but climate models are not conclusive. Sea-level rise by up to 0.88 m is expected to be a problem in some low-lying areas, like the southern Arabian Gulf. Ocean aragonite saturation state is predicted to fall throughout the ocean but may not change reef dynamics in the two study areas.