Air pollution stunts coral growth, research shows

Apr 07, 2013
A new study has found that pollution from fine particles in the air -- mainly the result of burning coal or volcanic eruptions -- can shade corals from sunlight and cool the surrounding water resulting in reduced growth rates. Credit: Lester Kwiatkowski, University of Exeter

A new study has found that pollution from fine particles in the air – mainly the result of burning coal or volcanic eruptions – can shade corals from sunlight and cool the surrounding water resulting in reduced growth rates.

Although coral reefs grow under the sea it seems that they have been responding to changes in the concentration of in the atmosphere, according to a paper published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience by a team of and coral ecologists from the UK, Australia and Panama. Corals are colonies of simple animal cells but most rely on for their energy and nutrients.

Lead author Lester Kwiatkowski, a PhD student from Mathematics at the University of Exeter, said: "Coral reefs are the most diverse of all with up to 25% of ocean species depending on them for food and shelter. They are believed to be vulnerable to climate change and ocean acidification, but ours is the first study to show a clear link between coral growth and the concentration of particulate pollution in the atmosphere."

Dr Paul Halloran of the Met Office Hadley Centre explained: "Particulate pollution or 'aerosols' reflect and make clouds brighter. This can reduce the light available for coral photosynthesis, as well as the temperature of surrounding waters. Together these factors are shown to slow down coral growth."

The authors used a combination of records retrieved from within the , observations from ships, and statistical modelling. Their analysis shows that coral growth rates in the Caribbean were affected by volcanic aerosol emissions in the early 20th century and by aerosol emissions caused by humans in the later 20th century.

The researchers hope that this work will lead to a better understanding of how coral growth may change in the future, taking into account not just future carbon dioxide levels, but also localised sources of aerosols such as industry or farming.

Professor Peter Mumby of the University of Queensland put the study in the context of global environmental change: "Our study suggests that coral ecosystems are likely to be sensitive to not only the future global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration but also the regional aerosol emissions associated with industrialisation and decarbonisation."

Explore further: Environmentalists and industry duke it out over plastic bags

More information: Kwiatkowski, L., Cox, P.M., Economou, T., Halloran, P.R., Mumby, P.J., Booth, B.B.B., Carilli, J. and Guzman, H.M. 2013. Caribbean coral growth influenced by anthropogenic aerosol emissions. Nature Geoscience. dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1780

Related Stories

Scientist creates new hypothesis on ocean acidification

Aug 30, 2011

A Researcher at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, an organized research unit in the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology has come up with a new explanation for the effects ...

Viruses linked to algae that control coral health

Jul 12, 2012

Scientists have discovered two viruses that appear to infect the single-celled microalgae that reside in corals and are important for coral growth and health, and they say the viruses could play a role in ...

CO2 hurts reef growth

Jul 11, 2007

Coral reefs are at risk of going soft, quite literally turning to mush as rising carbon dioxide levels prevent coral from forming tough skeletons, according to UQ research.

Recommended for you

Environmentalists and industry duke it out over plastic bags

1 hour ago

Campaigns against disposable plastic shopping bags and their environmental impact recently scored a major win. In August, California lawmakers passed the first statewide ban on the bags, and Governor Jerry Brown is expected ...

Global change: Trees continue to grow at a faster rate

2 hours ago

Trees have been growing significantly faster since the 1960s. The typical development phases of trees and stands have barely changed, but they have accelerated—by as much as 70 percent. This was the outcome ...

Cape Cod saltmarsh recovery looks good, falls short

2 hours ago

After decades of decline, grasses have returned to some once-denuded patches of Cape Cod's saltmarshes. To the eye, the marsh in those places seems healthy again, but a new study makes clear that a key service ...

Manure offsets fertiliser's nano-scale changes

2 hours ago

A UWA study has shown how long-term use of chemical fertilisers changes the soil on a nanoparticle scale and how these changes can be avoided by adding organic matter such as manure.

User comments : 0