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Rising Sea Levels Could Actually Benefit Coral Reefs, Scientists Say

Aug 22, 2016 06:25 AM EDT
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While rapid rise in sea levels pose a threat to people and coastal habitats, it could be beneficial to other valuable residents in the planet, particularly coral reefs.

Researchers at the University of Western Australia have discovered that rising sea levels could reduce water temperature extremes among reefs that have strong tidal conditions.

"Temperature is widely recognized as a key environmental driver of reefs and temperature extremes are known to be one of the key stressors to coral reef communities around the world," Ryan Lowe from the University of Western Australia Oceans Institute and School of Earth and Environment who led the research, said in a statement.

Ocean warming, which is caused by climate change, is a serious threat to coral reefs, especially for coral reefs in shallower waters. Increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could also significantly alter ocean temperatures and chemistry over the next century, which could lead to increased and more severe mass bleaching and other stressors on coral reefs.

Lowe and his team studied the remote marine environment of the Kimberley coast and the factors behind the variations in local temperature within the reef systems. They created a model to determine how temperatures of ocean waters could change shallow reef systems when sea levels rise and climate warms in the future.

The researchers found that over a 15-day period, the water temperatures were most extreme when the low tide period drifted to align with maximum sun heat during noon, and these conditions caused the warming of the shallow water on the reefs.

"These temperatures are particularly extreme in regions when the tidal range is large when compared to the water depth over a reef, which can cause shallow water to 'pond' within reefs for extended periods of time each day," Lowe said in a statement.

According to Lowe, even a modest rise in sea level could lower the water temperature of the reef, which will reduce temperature extremes and coral bleaching.

The study was published in the international journal Science Advances.

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