Science

Climate change severely affecting the population of coral reefs that protect shores from cyclones

A unique technique to prevent the coral reefs

Coral reefs that increase the beauty of seashore also play a major role in protecting them from the wrath of tropical cyclones, reveals a new study. According to the researchers, coral reefs help in maintaining the ecological balance by slowing the waves heading towards shore that might create havoc.

“Reefs can effectively protect shorelines because of their ability to cause waves to break offshore, thus limiting the energy impacting the coastline,” said Dr. Michael Cuttler, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at The University of Western Australia (UWA).

Scientists observed Australia’s largest reef system called Ningaloo Reef. The site was largely affected by the Category 3 Tropical Cyclone Olwyn in 2015. The horrifying cyclone wrecked western coast of Australia. Apparently, scientists were stunned to see that shoreline that had the protection of coral reefs remained mostly unaffected.

“The large waves generated by the cyclone were effectively dissipated by the reef situated offshore,” Dr. Cuttler explained. “The little erosion that did occur was due to smaller waves that were generated by wind within the lagoon.” Study authors also observed that shores without the coral reefs suffered ten times more damage.

Despite several benefits of the coral reefs, they are dying to human intervention.Previous studies have suggested that climate change may have catastrophic results on land but it has already begun eroding and dissolving coral reefs in the oceans. Earlier subjected to bleaching and eroding, a recent study published in the journal Science confirms that the reefs across five chosen study points are dissolving at an exponential rate and might dissolve completely by the end of this century. Scientists believe that it is the effect of ongoing acidification which increases the pH level of water and makes the reef weaken and dissolve right from the root. Few of the marine organisms that are most likely to be hit are planktons such as shellfish, coral is endangered due to the acidification.

According to the latest study conducted by scientists on coral reefs, climate change is the reason behind acidification of water. The process, in general, occurs when the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mixes with the water thereby lowering its pH level. This turns the water acidic and therefore, it has been touted as the evil twin of climate change. This phenomenon will affect planktons and other marine organisms greatly such as coral, shellfish, etc who are dependent on their shell to survive. As per the study, the organisms and animals with shell-like covering use calcium carbonate which is a chemical compound available in the water to make their shells. This covering protects the organisms from predator and host of other dangers.

Calcium Carbonate is linked to the building block of the shell. Acidification of water has been discovered as the main cause that lowers the level of calcium carbonate in the water, therefore, inhibiting these animals to create their shell. In recent times, scientists concluded a number of researchers on these building blocks, however, very little was known about the acidification which causes dissolution. When the level of calcium carbonate drops, these coral structures lose their ability to build shells around themselves that will possibility dissolve these structures in the water. In fact, the data has shown that the rate of dissolution of the coral structure is ten times stronger than the rate of building shells depicting the sensitivity of this matter.

According to Chris Langdon, University of Miami, these findings are instrumental towards the research on the extent of coral dissolution that will elongate further with a chaotic and catastrophic increase in climate change. The researchers conducted a thorough study and monitored over 57 locations at five major coral reef systems including Bermuda, Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Australia. They found striking resemblance in the effects of acidification on coral as well as the correlation between building process called as calcification and its inverse counterpart, dissolving process called as dissolution. This is when the researchers came up with the results that the dissolution takes place ten times stronger than the calcification which is a matter of concern and high sensitivity.

Although the calcification rate is higher than dissolution, scientists were able to predict a ‘tipping point’ from where the rate of dissolution increases exponentially while the rate of calcification dwindles due to lack of calcium carbonate. It has been predicted based on the data collected and on the model based on the tipping point, by the end of 2080, major coral reef systems will dissolve completely. Although the effects of dissolution can vary based on the various parameters such as organic matter, pollution, influence of acidification, etc which can either speed up or slow down the process of dissolution in the coral structures

Bradley D. Eyre, the co-author of the study stated that slowing down the rate of acidification and taking measures to control climate changes are few precautions that can slow down the process. The study published in the journal Science is co-authored by Eric Heinen De Carlo, Patrick Drupp, Tyler Cyronak, Bradley D. Eyre, Andreas J. Andersson, Julian P. Sachs, and others.

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