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New evidence of major impacts of climate change on coral reef growth

New evidence of major impacts of climate change on coral reef growth

Chagos coral reefs post bleaching, March 2018 (credit Chris Perry)

The window of opportunity to save the world’s coral reefs is still open but time is running out, new research shows.

An international study involving University of Exeter marine scientist Professor Chris Perry, and jointly led by marine biologist Dr Christopher Cornwall from Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington and Dr Steeve Comeau from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, has calculated how coral reefs are likely to react to ocean acidification and warming under three different climate-change carbon dioxide scenarios – low, medium and worst-case.

The study, just published in the journal PNAS, has some good news to offer amid a grim outlook, but only if rapid action is taken on global CO2 emissions.

Dr Cornwall, a Rutherford Discovery Fellow, says if the world can reduce carbon dioxide emissions drastically, coral-reef growth will be reduced “but many reefs will still be able to grow”.

“Some of them will even keep pace with sea-level rise,” he added.

“Even if we fail with those reductions but do keep within the intermediate emissions scenario, some coral reefs will still keep growing for a short while, but by the end of the century they will all be eroding.

“If we hit the worst-case scenario, then very shortly all coral reefs will be eroding.”

The research, by an interdisciplinary group of academics formed initially as a working group led by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in 2016, breaks new ground.

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