Research ArticleOCEANOGRAPHY

Nutrient-supplying ocean currents modulate coral bleaching susceptibility

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Science Advances  21 Aug 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 34, eabc5493
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc5493


With predictions that mass coral bleaching will occur annually within this century, conservation efforts must focus their limited resources based on an accurate understanding of the drivers of bleaching. Here, we provide spatial and temporal evidence that excess nutrients exacerbate the detrimental effects of heat stress to spark mass coral bleaching in the Red Sea. Exploiting this region’s unique oceanographic regime, where nutrients and heat stress vary independently, we demonstrate that the world’s third largest coral reef system historically suffered from severe mass bleaching only when exposed to both unusually high temperature and nutrients. Incorporating nutrient-supplying ocean currents and their variability into coral bleaching forecasts will be critical for effectively guiding efforts to safeguard the reefs most likely to persist in the Anthropocene.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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