Seminar Details

Sun, sand and the energy balance of a coral reef




Prof. Hamish McGowan, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, Australia


Coral reefs, the rainforests of the oceans, cover only 0.10 to 0.25% of the marine environment, and yet are home to around 25% of marine species and support the livelihoods of more 500 million people. They face a wide range of threats with the impact of global warming gaining most attention due to its frequently claimed causal link to coral bleaching, and the subsequent “death” of coral reefs. In this seminar, I will present a review of research to quantify through direct measurement the energy balance of a coral reef and the role of large scale synoptic weather patterns in reef – atmosphere energy and trace gas exchanges. The research conducted on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia found that at present reef scale hydro-meteorological processes primarily determine the thermal environment of a coral reef and not gradual background ocean warming linked to anthropogenic climate change. Results also indicate that regions where hot dry airmasses blow over coral reefs such as in northwest Australia and the Red Sea, may provide refuge for corals through evaporative cooling of the surface waters. As the impacts of global warming gain pace and the rate of ocean warming increases, then these potential refugia may need additional protection from the stressors of tourism, pollution, fishing and runoff to ensure future generations can experience the wonders of the oceans rainforests. Biography: Hamish McGowan is Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia where he has conducted research into the micrometeorology of coral reefs and the role of the background climate state for the past 15 yrs. His work has resulted in the first direct measurements of reef – atmosphere energy exchanges using pontoon mounted eddy covariance systems including concurrent quantification of CO2 fluxes. He made the first measurements of the surface energy balance of a coral reef during coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia – the world’s largest coral reef system. This work has been used recently to shed light on the relative roles of reef scale meteorology and hydrodynamics versus El Niño Southern Oscillation and global warming in contributing to coral bleaching.

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