Climate Variability and Change: Monitoring Data and Evidence for Increased Coral Bleaching Stress

  • C. M. EakinEmail author
  • J. M. Lough
  • S. F. Heron
  • G. Liu
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 233)


Coral reefs live within a fairly narrow envelope of environmental conditions constrained by water temperatures, light, salinity, nutrients, bathymetry, and the aragonite saturation state of seawater. While many environmental extremes can cause coral to expel their symbiotic microalgae and bleach on local scales, only elevated ocean temperature has been shown to cause the widespread “mass” bleaching spanning hundreds of kilometers or more. Corals have, over millions of years, evolved strategies to cope with temperature extremes, but anthropogenic climate change has been increasing temperature much faster than corals have been able to adapt. As mass bleaching has increased in frequency and severity, the connection to unusually warm ocean temperature has become clear, and modeling shows that this will increase in the future as atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise. This chapter focuses on records of these rising ocean temperatures that are responsible for basin- to global-scale coral bleaching events. We use long-term climatic datasets over the last 146 years and satellite records since the 1980s to document temperature and heat stress changes near coral reefs and the influence of large-scale climate patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Since the 1980s, satellite-based observations of the oceans have dramatically increased our capability to observe ocean variations globally and synoptically and provide the basis for identifying recent changes in heat stress and patterns of coral bleaching. Furthermore, the latest advances in satellite-based sea surface temperature analysis and other products provide unprecedented means to detect and monitor, in near real time, environmental conditions related to coral bleaching events.



C.M.E. thanks NOAA, including Coral Reef Watch and the Coral Reef Conservation Program, for work that contributed to this manuscript. C.M.E. thanks D. Gledhill for providing figures and text for this chapter. The scientific results and conclusions, as well as any views or opinions expressed herein, are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or the Department of Commerce.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. M. Eakin
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. M. Lough
    • 2
    • 3
  • S. F. Heron
    • 1
  • G. Liu
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coral Reef WatchCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine ScienceTownsville MCAustralia
  3. 3.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Global Science and Technology Inc.GreenbeltUSA

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