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Tests Prove Rising Water Temperatures to Blame for Reef Destruction

U.S. Green Technology | Where Main Street Meets Green Street
Two images showing the relationship of water temperature to coral bleaching along the Great Barrier Reef. Warm pink and yellow tones show where sea surface temperatures were warm in the top image. The warmest waters are the shallow waters over the reef near the coast, where coral bleaching was most severe in the summer. The lower image shows chlorophyll concentrations, where high concentrations (yellow) generally point to a high concentration of phytoplankton in surface waters of the ocean. In this image, the bright yellow dots actually represent the coral reefs, and not surface phytoplankton. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Corals are microscopic organisms that process calcium to build hard, external skeletons, forming reefs over thousands of years. They’re extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Marine biologists are using green technology to study how climate change impacts coral growth.

When oceans absorb the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, acidification results. The more acidic environment is toxic to coral, and can cause bleaching. Despite the growing popularity of green technology, scientists speculate that tens of thousands of years may pass for oceans to fully recover.

But rising ocean temperatures may be a bigger issue.

Using green technology, scientists have taken samples from reefs that demonstrate growth cycles. In colder waters, like the Indian Ocean off the southwest Australian coast, coral growth has increased since the ocean temperatures began to rise. The higher temperatures encouraged calcification.

However, in waters that are already warm, rising temperatures have had a different impact. The slight temperature increase proved too intense for coral in these areas. Huge swathes of irreplaceable reef have bleached.

The findings suggest that, while acidification is an issue, it’s the rising water temperatures that have a bigger impact on growth.

Many coral reefs began growing roughly 50 million years ago. Most modern reefs are between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. Since corals are so sensitive to temperature change, this indicates that oceans haven’t seen a temperature increase on this level in over ten thousand years.

There is no green technology to solve the issue. We can create all the marine protected ocean parks we like, but we can’t immediately stop the progression of climate change and acidification. If we hope to save a portion of our world’s reefs, the global community must invest more in green technology and lifestyles.

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