A century of warming on Caribbean reefs Public Deposited

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  • Bove, Colleen B.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
  • Mudge, Laura
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
  • Bruno, John F.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
  • The world’s oceans are warming at an unprecedented rate, causing dramatic changes to coastal marine systems, especially coral reefs. We used three complementary ocean temperature databases (HadISST, Pathfinder, and OISST) to quantify change in thermal characteristics of Caribbean coral reefs over the last 150 years (1871–2020). These sea surface temperature (SST) databases included in situ and satellite-derived measurements at multiple spatial resolutions. We also compiled a Caribbean coral reef database identifying 5,326 unique reefs across the region. We found that Caribbean reefs have been warming for at least a century. Regionally reef warming began in 1915, and for four of the eight Caribbean ecoregions we assessed, significant warming was detected for the latter half of the nineteenth century. Following the global mid-twentieth century stasis, warming resumed on Caribbean reefs in the early 1980s in some ecoregions and in the 1990s for others. On average, Caribbean reefs warmed by 0.18°C per decade during this period, ranging from 0.17°C per decade on Bahamian reefs (since 1988) to 0.26°C per decade on reefs within the Southern and Eastern Caribbean ecoregions (since 1981 and 1984, respectively). If this linear rate of warming continues, these already threatened ecosystems would warm by an additional ~1.5°C on average by 2100. We also found that marine heatwave (MHW) events are increasing in both frequency and duration across the Caribbean. Caribbean coral reefs now experience on average 5 MHW events annually, compared to 1 per year in the early 1980s, with recent events lasting on average 14 days. These changes in the thermal environment, in addition to other stressors including fishing and pollution, have caused a dramatic shift in the composition and functioning of Caribbean coral reef ecosystems.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Article
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Attribution 4.0 International
Journal title
  • PLOS Climate
Journal volume
  • 1
Journal issue
  • 3
Page start
  • e0000002
  • English
  • Publisher
  • 2767-3200

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