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Climate Change Could Wipe Out Deep-Sea Coral Population in North Atlantic

Nov 28, 2016 05:03 AM EST
Coral reef
Climate change poses a great threat in the long-term survival of deep-sea coral population in the North Atlantic region.
(Photo : Eternal Reefs/Getty Images)

A new study revealed that climate change poses a great threat in the long-term survival of deep-sea coral population in the North Atlantic region.

The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, showed that any changes in the winter weather conditions can negatively affect the coral populations.

For the study, the researchers focused on a cold-water coral, known as Lophelia pertusa. These corals grow in deep waters maintained by tiny, fragile coral larvae. By drifting and swimming in the ocean currents, these larvae travel hundreds of miles between reefs where they attach and begin to grow.

"We can't track larvae in the ocean, but what we know about their behavior allows us to simulate their epic journeys, predicting which populations are connected and which are isolated," explained lead author Dr Alan Fox, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, in a press release. "In less well connected coral networks, populations become isolated and cannot support each other, making survival and recovery from damage more difficult."

Using computer models to simulate the migration of larvae across the vast stretches of ocean, the researchers were able to predict potential effects of weather changes to the long-term survival of Lophelia pertusa populations in the North Atlantic.

The researchers found that a possible shift in average weather conditions in Western Europe could greatly threaten the coral population. Additionally, changing wind patterns could alter ocean currents, driving larvae away from key sites in a network of marine areas established to help protect coral populations.

Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in Scotland appears to be weakly connected, increasing the risk of death due to climate change. While the MPA of Scotland appears to be weakly connected, the coral population on Rosemary Bank seems to maintain the Scotland's network.

On the other hand, the gap in the MPA network between the coral population in the North Atlantic and along the coast of Norway can be connected with the help corals thriving in the oil and gas platforms in the North Sea and west of Shetland.

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