Friday, April 28, 2017

Sea Floor Erosion Causes Coral Reefs to Sink

Five US coral reefs are sinking beneath the waves due to the erosion of the sea floor, robbing coastal communities of their natural storm barrier.

Antler coral at the Molokini crater, near the Hawaiian island of Maui, where the sea floor is being scoured of sand and sediments. (Image Credit: Yury Velikanau via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s coral reefs are not just in hot water and under threat from acid attack; they may even be getting out of their depth.  New research around five US coral reefs shows that even as sea levels rise, the sea floor around the reefs is being eroded.

And coral growth simply may not be fast enough to keep up, which means that coastal communities in Florida, the Caribbean, and Hawaii could become increasingly at risk from storms, waves and erosion.

The news comes close after revelations that great tracts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, like other coral colonies, have been devastated by bleaching, as ocean temperatures rise above the levels that corals – animals that live in symbiosis with algae – can tolerate, and researchers have warned that this could soon be happening to reefs almost everywhere, every year.

Coral under threat
There is already widespread alarm among marine scientists as the seas become measurably more acidic due to an increase in levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and this too poses a threat to corals everywhere.

But while researchers in the tropics had monitored the living reefs of the surface waters, hardly anybody had paid attention to the sea floor around the reefs.

Now, scientists of the US Geological Survey report in Biogeosciences that – possibly as a consequence of the degradation of the reefs of the Florida Keys, the US Virgin Islands, and the Hawaiian island of Maui – the sea floor is being scoured of sand and sediments, just as sea levels continue to creep to a predicted rise of up to a meter by 2100.

Around Maui, they report, they measured the loss enough sand, rock and shell to fill the Empire State Building in New York 81 times over.

This means that the seas along those coasts have become unexpectedly deep.  Since tropical corals depend for nourishment on light photosynthesized by their algal partners at the surface, this raises yet another hazard:  if the sea floor is falling at the same time as the seawater ceiling is going up, can corals grow fast enough to keep up?

“Our measurements show that seafloor erosion has already caused water depths to increase to levels not predicted to occur until near the year 2100,” says Kimberly Yates, a biogeochemist at the USGS’s St Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, who led the research.

“At current rates, by 2100 sea floor erosion could increase water depths by two to eight times more than what has been predicted from sea level rise alone.”

Healthy coral reefs are among the richest and most diverse habitats on the planet.  They represent an immediate asset to human communities:  they underwrite tourism and fisheries, and they deliver protection against storm surge and tsunami for around 200 million people in low-lying coastal communities.

Sea level rise presents a threat to communities along the coasts of all the inhabited continents, and coastal flooding could by 2100 be costing the world $100 trillion a year.

One group has calculated that money spent on protecting and restoring reefs would represent a bargain, at about one-twentieth the cost of artificial breakwaters.

Read more at Sea Floor Erosion Causes Coral Reefs to Sink

No comments:

Post a Comment