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Global warming refuge discovered near at-risk Pacific island nation of Kiribati
Date:4/30/2012

t as you gaze west, chlorophyll levels fade like a comet tail, giving scientists little reason to look closely at scattered low-lying coral atolls in that direction.

These islands are easy to overlook because they are tiny, remote, and lie at the far left edge of standard global satellite maps that place continents in the center.

Karnauskas, a climate scientist, was working with coral scientist Cohen to explore how climate change would affect central equatorial Pacific reefs.

When he changed the map view on his screen in order to view the entire tropical Pacific at once, he saw that chlorophyll concentrations jumped up again exactly at the Gilbert Islands on the equator.

Satellite maps also showed cooler sea surface temperatures on the west sides of these islands, part of Kiribati.

"I've been studying the tropical Pacific Ocean for most of my career, and I had never noticed that," he said. "It jumped out at me immediately, and I thought, 'there's probably a story there.'"

So Karnauskas and Cohen began to investigate how the EUC would affect the equatorial islands' reef ecosystems, starting with global climate models that simulate effects in a warming world.

Global-scale climate models predict that ocean temperatures will rise nearly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the central tropical Pacific.

Warmer waters often cause corals to bleach, a process in which they lose the tiny symbiotic algae that live in them and provide vital nutrition.

Bleaching has been a major cause of coral mortality and loss of coral reef area during the last 30 years.

Even the best global models, with their planet-scale views and lower resolution, cannot predict conditions in areas as small as these small islands, Karnauskas said.

So the scientists combined global models with a fine-scale regional model to focus on much smaller areas around minuscule islands scattered along the equa
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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