, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 695-701

Predictability of coral bleaching from synoptic satellite and in situ temperature observations

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Abstract

Satellite and compiled in situ observations of sea surface temperatures have greatly increased the ability to detect anomalous and persistent warm water and are being widely used to predict climate change, coral bleaching and mortality. A field-based synoptic view of coral bleaching spanning eight countries and ∼35° of latitude in the western Indian Ocean tested the accuracy of synoptic temperature data derived from satellites and shipboard data to detect and predict bleaching during 2005. The ability to predict the degree of bleaching based on degree heating weeks data was moderate, but increased when past temperature anomalies and coral community susceptibility were included. It is estimated that slightly more than half of the bleaching response is due to anomalous warm water and nearly half due to taxa and community level acclimation or adaptation, where these two factors have opposing effects. Cumulative temperature anomalies do identify general areas with bleaching but both large over and underestimates of bleaching intensity were observed. Consequently, field observations are needed to confirm the synoptic satellite predictions for particular reefs, particularly where acclimation and reorganization of the coral community have occurred due to past bleaching events.

Communicated by Ecology Editor P.J. Mumby.