Coral reefs are synonymous with biotic beauty, grace, and biodiversity; typically they're one of the most fauna-populated ecosystems in our biosphere. But, in the wake of spiking global temperatures, we're seeing something strange happening in warmer seas. Coral bleaching, essentially the mass death of coral complexes, are popping up marked by vivid white corals once filled with color and life. And the number one culprit for coral bleaching is the same problem that other ecosystems are facing in an age of climate change―excessive temperatures.
One of the potential threats facing the coral systems are tropical storms. El Niño storms are famous for creating such temperature spikes. In fact, the El Niño of 1998 nearly wiped-out many pacific reef systems, some of which have yet to completely recover from the thermal episode. But while these "Super Niños" are temporal in nature, coming-and-going in their oceanic upsets―global warming is here to stay.
Ideally, a coral reef system thrives in 73 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with some extreme coral species able to tolerate temperatures as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. But with the average "global warmed" reef system now finding itself one- or two-degrees warmer than average, the reef systems find themselves on the latter-end of the temperature gauge and facing death. And what's even worse is that, in the next century or so, we very well may see ocean temperatures rise by four-degree Fahrenheit. This foreseeable temperature rise would, therefore, put over two-thirds of our ocean's coral reef systems at danger of degradation.
But what does coral bleaching tell us about the state of our terrestrial world? Well, it's not all too great. Because of saltwater's high density, surface to mid-water column temperature spikes often spell even proportionally higher land-based temperatures. For example, in the same time-frame that we're expected to experience a four-degree increase in our oceanic temperatures, we're more than likely to experience a terrestrial spike of seven or more degrees Fahrenheit―that's almost unfathomable. The Amazon would become nothing more than a hydrophobic prairie, our port-cities would, essentially, become modern-day Atlantean archetypes, and the dreary list goes on for far too long.
"We're going to continue to see a pattern of high thermal stress that really follows the same sort of time sequence and movement of 1998 [El Niño] major event" says Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch program. " Everything we're seeing says that same pattern is going to happen again this year."