Climatic Change

, Volume 109, Issue 3–4, pp 375–397 | Cite as

Modeling regional coral reef responses to global warming and changes in ocean chemistry: Caribbean case study

  • R. W. Buddemeier
  • Diana R. LaneEmail author
  • J. A. Martinich
Open Access


Climatic change threatens the future of coral reefs in the Caribbean and the important ecosystem services they provide. We used a simulation model [Combo (“COral Mortality and Bleaching Output”)] to estimate future coral cover in the part of the eastern Caribbean impacted by a massive coral bleaching event in 2005. Combo calculates impacts of future climate change on coral reefs by combining impacts from long-term changes in average sea surface temperature (SST) and ocean acidification with impacts from episodic high temperature mortality (bleaching) events. We used mortality and heat dose data from the 2005 bleaching event to select historic temperature datasets, to use as a baseline for running Combo under different future climate scenarios and sets of assumptions. Results suggest a bleak future for coral reefs in the eastern Caribbean. For three different emissions scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; B1, A1B, and A1FI), coral cover on most Caribbean reefs is projected to drop below 5% by the year 2035, if future mortality rates are equivalent to some of those observed in the 2005 event (50%). For a scenario where corals gain an additional 1–1.5°C of heat tolerance through a shift in the algae that live in the coral tissue, coral cover above 5% is prolonged until 2065. Additional impacts such as storms or anthropogenic damage could result in declines in coral cover even faster than those projected here. These results suggest the need to identify and preserve the locations that are likely to have a higher resiliency to bleaching to save as many remnant populations of corals as possible in the face of projected wide-spread coral loss.


Coral Reef Coral Cover Ocean Acidification Coral Bleaching Bleaching Event 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© The Author(s) 2011

Open AccessThis is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. W. Buddemeier
    • 1
  • Diana R. Lane
    • 2
    Email author
  • J. A. Martinich
    • 3
  1. 1.Kansas Geological SurveyLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Stratus Consulting Inc.BoulderUSA
  3. 3.Climate Change Division (6207-J)U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyWashingtonUSA

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