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Global warming good news for coral reefs: research

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Coral reefs around the world could expand in size by up to a third in response to increased ocean warming and the greenhouse effect, according to Australian scientists.

"Our analysis suggests that ocean warming will foster considerably faster future rates of coral reef growth that will eventually exceed pre-industrial rates by as much as 35 per cent by 2100," says Dr Ben McNeil, an oceanographer from the University of News South Wales.

"Our finding stands in stark contrast to previous predictions that coral reef growth will suffer large, potentially catastrophic, decreases in the future," says McNeil, who led and published the research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, with colleagues Dr Richard Matear of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and Dr David Barnes from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville.

Previous research has predicted a decline of between 20 and 60 percent in the size of coral reefs by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels due to increasing CO2 levels in ocean surface waters. The new research suggests that present coral reef calcification rates are not in decline and are equivalent to late 19th century levels.

Coral reefs are built from calcium carbonate when red algae cement together a framework of coral skeletons and sediments. Seawater surface temperatures and the quantity of carbonate in seawater dictate their growth rate.

The Australian scientists have observed the calcification-temperature relationship at significant reef-building colonies around the world in the Indo-Pacific and at massive Porites reef colonies in Australia, Hawaii, Thailand, the Persian Gulf and New Ireland.

The predicted increase in the rate of coral reef calcification is most likely due to an enhancement in coral metabolism and/or increases in photosynthetic rates of red algae, according to the scientists. They used p
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Contact: Dr Ben McNeil, Centre for Environmental Modelling and Predic
b.mcneil@unsw.edu.au
61-2-9385-7068
University of New South Wales
9-Dec-2004


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