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El-Nino, rising ocean temperatures mean more coral bleaching

Digital writers

Saturday, December 27, 2014, 11:10 AM - In 1998, a year associated with one of the most powerful El Nino events on record, rising ocean temperatures resulted in almost 20 per cent of the world's coral reefs suffering significant bleaching.

Now, over a decade and a half later, scientists are warning of another major coral bleaching in 2014/15, despite the absence of the same super El Nino that triggered the previous incident.

In July of 2014, Scott Sutherland of The Weather Network wrote how any chance for a 'super El Niño' to develop this winter has faded over time, and the latest word is that the pattern seems to be settling onto a course towards a weak El Niño by year's end. 

However, what's developing in the equatorial Pacific Ocean now is not exactly what forecasters typically see in this kind of situation, and it could result in some very interesting and unexpected weather in the coming seasons. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons /Acropora [License]

In September of 2014 the absence of a super El Nino was reiterated by Sutherland, with fellow meteorologist Dr. Doug Gilham adding that the winter models point to a weak El Nino and a pattern of cooler temperature

That said; this year is virtually guaranteed to set the record for the warmest year since instrumental records began in 1880, largely due to record high global ocean temperatures. 

Both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agreed that the penultimate calendar month, November, as the warmest on record, lock-step with the  results released on both September and October.

All this leads to coral reefs, the vital marine ecosystems which 25 per cent of the world’s marine life call home, facing one of the largest coral bleaching events. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons /Acropora [License]

The term 'bleaching', in relation to the oceans and its coral, refers to the sudden act of expelling the algae that lives in the tissue of the invertebrates. It is the expelled algae which gives coral its vibrant colours

In a conversation with Mashable, a pair of biologists stated how the bleaching event so far this year was "fairly substantial" and added that how "mass mortality" was observed from a bleaching event in late summer and early fall between the islands of Pagan and Saipan.

The bleaching has already affected coral near Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii and Florida. And computer models show widespread coral bleaching is likely throughout the tropics in the next several months, threatening ecosystems from Madagascar to Australia.

The findings are based on NOAA's Coral Reef Watch product, which uses ocean temperatures to determine where the bleaching is expected to occur. An up-to-date view of the areas currently under watch and warning can be found at the NOAA Coral Reef Watch homepage.

Editor's note: The video playing at the top of the page was taken by The Weather Network's Dayna Vettese during a recent trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

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