, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 949-961
Date: 20 Jul 2013

Rapid fluctuations in flow and water-column properties in Asan Bay, Guam: implications for selective resilience of coral reefs in warming seas

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Abstract

Hydrodynamics and water-column properties were investigated off west-central Guam from July 2007 through January 2008. Rapid fluctuations, on time scales of 10s of min, in currents, temperature, salinity, and acoustic backscatter were observed to occur on sub-diurnal frequencies along more than 2 km of the fore reef but not at the reef crest. During periods characterized by higher sea-surface temperatures (SSTs), weaker wind forcing, smaller ocean surface waves, and greater thermal stratification, rapid decreases in temperature and concurrent rapid increases in salinity and acoustic backscatter coincided with onshore-directed near-bed currents and offshore-directed near-surface currents. During the study, these cool-water events, on average, lasted 2.3 h and decreased the water temperature 0.57 °C, increased the salinity 0.25 PSU, and were two orders of magnitude more prevalent during the summer season than the winter. During the summer season when the average satellite-derived SST anomaly was +0.63 °C, these cooling events, on average, lowered the temperature 1.14 °C along the fore reef but only 0.11 °C along the reef crest. The rapid shifts appear to be the result of internal tidal bores pumping cooler, more saline, higher-backscatter oceanic water from depths >50 m over cross-shore distances of 100 s of m into the warmer, less saline waters at depths of 20 m and shallower. Such internal bores appear to have the potential to buffer shallow coral reefs from predicted increases in SSTs by bringing cool, offshore water to shallow coral environments. These cooling internal bores may also provide additional benefits to offset stress such as supplying food to thermally stressed corals, reducing stress due to ultraviolet radiation and/or low salinity, and delivering coral larvae from deeper reefs not impacted by surface thermal stress. Thus, the presence of internal bores might be an important factor locally in the resilience of select coral reefs facing increased thermal stress.

Communicated by Geology Editor Prof. Bernhard Riegl