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Coral reefs are increasingly vulnerable to angry oceans

Size and shape may predict the survival of corals around the world when the weather churns the oceans in the years to come, according to a new model that relies on engineering principles.

The increasing violence of storms associated with global climate change, as well as future tsunamis, will have major effects on coral reefs, according to a paper published this week in the international scientific journal Nature. Shape and size of the corals are key variables, according to the authors.

"Coral reef experts have long had a general sense of which coral shapes are more vulnerable during storms than others," said first author Joshua Madin, a scientist with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "However, to really predict how these events impact the dynamics of coral reefs we needed a way to quantify these vulnerabilities."

The authors created the world's first engineering model to predict how much damage a reef is likely to suffer when confronted with the might of an angry sea. They used mathematical models to calculate the forces that coral is subjected to –?events such as waves, storm surges, or tsunamis –?and the probability of the colonies being ripped from the seabed.

Working with co-author Sean Connolly, Madin developed the model at the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University, Australia. Connolly is also a senior lecturer at James Cook University.

How coral assemblages respond to the power of the sea is essential for understanding the natural distribution of coral types on present-day reefs as well as for projecting how they will change in response to more violent or frequent storms, according to the researchers.

"Our study offers a solution to this longstanding problem by factoring in the shape of different coral colonies, the strength of the sea-bed to which they attach, and the change in for
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Source:University of California - Santa Barbara


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