Landmark international study examines reef's ability to recover from abrupt environmental change over millennia

Landmark international study examines reef’s ability to recover from abrupt environmental change over millennia

Drilling for the fossil reef core on the Great Barrier Reef from the International Ocean Drilling Program Great Ship Maya. Credit: ECORD/IODP

A landmark international study of the Great Barrier Reef has proven that previously 30,000 years the world’s largest reef system has suffered 5 dying occasions, largely pushed by modifications in sea degree and related environmental change.


Over millennia, the has tailored to sudden modifications in setting by migrating throughout the ocean flooring because the oceans rose and fell.

The study printed at present in Nature Geoscience, led by University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Jody Webster, is the primary of its sort to reconstruct the evolution of the reef over the previous 30 millennia in response to main, abrupt environmental change.

The 10-year, multinational effort has proven the reef is extra resilient to main environmental modifications reminiscent of and sea-temperature change than beforehand thought but additionally confirmed a excessive sensitivity to elevated enter and poor .

Associate Professor Webster from the University’s School of Geosciences and Geocoastal Research Group stated it stays an open query as to whether or not its resilience shall be sufficient for it to survive the present worldwide decline of coral reefs.

“Our study shows the reef has been able to bounce back from past death events during the last glaciation and deglaciation,” he stated. “However, we found it is also highly sensitive to increased sediment input, which is of concern given current land-use practices.”

Associate Professor Jody Webster on board the Great Ship Maya with a fossil core from the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: ECORD/IODP

The study used knowledge from geomorphic, sedimentological, organic and relationship data from fossil reef cores at 16 websites at Cairns and Mackay.

The study covers the interval from earlier than the “Last Glacial Maximum” about 20,000 years in the past when sea ranges have been 118 metres beneath present ranges.

History of dying occasions

As sea ranges dropped within the millennia earlier than that point, there have been two widespread dying occasions (at about 30,000 years and 22,000 years in the past) brought on by publicity of the reef to air, often called subaerial publicity. During this era, the reef moved seaward to strive to maintain tempo with the falling sea ranges.

During the deglaciation interval after the Last Glacial Maximum, there have been an extra two reef-death occasions at about 17,000 and 13,000 years in the past brought on by speedy sea degree rise. These have been accompanied by the reef transferring landward, attempting to maintain tempo with rising seas.

Analysis of the core samples and knowledge on sediment flux present these reef-death occasions from sea-level rise have been probably related to excessive will increase in sediment.

The remaining reef-death occasion about 10,000 years in the past, from earlier than the emergence of the trendy reef about 9000 years in the past, was not related to any recognized abrupt sea-level rise or “meltwater pulse” through the deglaciation. Rather it seems to be related to an enormous sediment enhance and lowered water high quality alongside a normal rise in sea degree.

The authors suggest that the reef has been in a position to re-establish itself over time due to continuity of reef habitats with corals and coralline-algae and the reef’s ability to migrate laterally at between zero.2 and 1.5 metres a yr.

Future survival

However, Associate Professor Webster stated it was unlikely that this fee could be sufficient to survive present charges of sea floor temperature rises, sharp declines in coral protection, year-on-year coral bleaching or decreases in water high quality and elevated sediment flux since European settlement.

“I have grave concerns about the ability of the reef in its current form to survive the pace of change caused by the many current stresses and those projected into the near future,” he stated.

Associate Professor Webster stated earlier research have established a previous sea floor temperature rise of a few levels over a timescale of 10,000 years. However, present forecasts of change are round zero.7 levels in a century.

“Our study exhibits that in addition to responding to modifications, the reef has been significantly delicate to sediment fluxes previously and meaning, within the present interval, we’d like to perceive how practices from main business are affecting sediment enter and water high quality on the reef,” he stated.


Explore additional:
Untangling the role of climate on sediment and reef evolution over millennial timescales

More data:
Jody M. Webster et al, Response of the Great Barrier Reef to sea-level and environmental modifications over the previous 30,000 years, Nature Geoscience (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-018-0127-3

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