Rising Sea Level Could Drown Coral Reefs

Posted: Jun 14 2018, 2:52pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Rising Sea Level could Drown Coral Reefs
Credit: Prof Chris Perry

New study says many coral reefs will be unable to keep growing fast enough to keep up with rising sea levels

Coral reef systems are under pressure from many factors including diseases, bleaching events and overfishing. Together, these factors can have negative consequences on coral reefs’ growth and overall health. When researchers combined the maximum upward growth rate of coral reefs with predicted sea level rise, they found that many reefs will be unable to keep pace. This means that coral reefs could be drowned by future sea level rise.

"For many reefs across the Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions, where the study focused, rates of growth are slowing due to coral reef degradation," said lead author Professor Chris Perry from the University of Exeter. "Meanwhile, rates of sea-level rise are increasing—and our results suggest reefs will be unable to keep up. As a result, water depths above most reefs will increase rapidly through this century."

Coral reefs naturally protect coasts from severe storms with their unique ability to cause waves to break offshore. Their slow growth can expose coastlines and low-lying lands to increased erosion and flooding risk. Even under modest climate change, only about 9% of the 202 studied reefs will grow fast enough to keep up with rising sea levels. Most reefs will experience water depth increases in excess of half a meter if greenhouse gas emissions left unchecked. Researchers estimate that greenhouse gases will peak around 2040.

"This is now of critical concern because reefs play a key role as natural sea defenses by limiting coastal wave energy exposure," said co-author Professor Nick Graham from Lancaster University, "Efforts to tackle climate change must therefore be coupled with careful management of fishing and water quality protection to prevent widespread submergence through this century."

In a rapidly changing climate, the decline of coral reefs around the world is a very real concern. Coral reefs harbor an incredible diverse life and radical changes in this biodiversity could affect our economy. Over the years, scientists have been intensively studying how coral reefs respond to environmental stresses and how quickly they can recover. It is now clear that greenhouse gas emissions severely impair coral reef growth.

"Now more than ever, we must limit global greenhouse gas emissions. Our predictions, even under the best case scenarios, suggest that by 2100 the inundation of reefs will expose coastal communities to significant threats of shoreline change," said co-author Professor Peter Mumby from University of Queensland. "Healthier coral reefs will reduce the rate of seawater inundation."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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