, Volume 15, Issue 3-4, pp 121-126

Importance of tropical coastal environments

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Abstract

On a global basis, a very large fraction (>50%) of the mass flux from land to the marine environment enters from tropical rivers. A broad range of processes active in the adjacent coastal ocean determines the fate of this material. The tropical setting causes many of the coastal processes to be fundamentally distinct from those operating in temperate and polar regions. Therefore, their operation cannot necessarily be understood by extrapolation from empirical observations at higher latitudes. Other coastal processes are influenced by the extremely large water, particulate, and solute discharges from tropical rivers. Further complexity is added by the diverse range of geographic settings through which tropical rivers flow and into which they empty. In summary, coastal—ocean processes in the wet tropics are: globally important, fundamentally different than at higher latitudes, and diverse in operation. Many recent advances have been made in the understanding of the tropical coastal ocean, and it is hoped these will continue into the future. Such understanding is important for predicting processes of river—ocean interaction and terrestrial fluxes to the global ocean, which affect and are affected by human populations. It also can be combined with knowledge of temperate and polar settings to provide a comprehensive understanding of the coastal ocean.