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Stormy days ahead for coral reefs

The increasing violence of storms under global climate change will have major effects on coral reefs ?and has important implications for their future management.

A scientific team from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University has produced the world's first engineering model to predict how much damage a reef is likely to suffer when confronted with might of an angry sea.

In a paper in the international scientific journal Nature, Dr Joshua Madin and Dr Sean Connolly use mathematical models to calculate the forces that coral is subjected to by wave, storm surge or tsunami, and the probability of the colonies being ripped from the sea-bed.

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, the researchers say.

"Coral reef experts have long had a general sense of which coral shapes are more vulnerable during storms than others," says the study's lead author, Dr. Madin, who now works at the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in California, USA. "However, to really predict how these events impact the dynamics of coral reefs we needed a way to quantify these vulnerabilities."

"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 force of the waves as they move across the reef.

"This enables us to predict the likely changes in composition of the coral in response to present and future storms or tsunamis."

This understanding, in turn, can be used by managers to better understand how the world’s coral reefs might change under a more unpredictable climate, the researchers say. "The predictive tool we have developed allo
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Source:James Cook University


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