Circulation and Exchange on Coral Reefs
In the Coastal Dyanmics Lab, we are interested in understanding the role of hydrodynamics in shaping the physical environment on coral reefs. We take measurements of currents, temperature, and meterological conditions, and look at wave-driven circulation and construct heat budgets for reefs. Additionally, we are working closely with coral biologists to understand how spatial patchiness in coral bleaching and mortality is related to the spatial variability in water temperature and the types of symbionts.
One of the major challenges in understanding ecological processes is quantifying physical and biological patterns at appropriate scales. For example, rising sea surface temperatures threaten coral reefs on a global scale, but sub-meter scale patterns in temperature and flow fields can shape an individual coral colony's thermal tolerance and influence recovery from an extreme thermal event. Coral reefs are widely considered to be thermally sensitive, yet during mass bleaching events there is commonly patchy survival of a small number of colonies and reef sections. Much of the focus of thermal observations on coral reefs has been from satellite products at spatial scales larger than 4 km and temporal scales of weeks to months, but in situ observations reveal that extremely different thermal microclimates can exist within a single reef flat (at spatial scales of 100's of m) and diurnal temperature fluctuations on reefs can be as large as seasonal ranges.
What are we missing when we assess the environmental conditions on coral reefs from large-scale remote sensing products?
Davis, KA, SJ Lentz, JP Pineda, JT Farrar, VR Starczak, JH Churchill. (2011). Observations of the thermal environment on Red Sea platform reefs: A heat budget analysis. Coral Reefs v. 30, p. 25-36.