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NCAR Scientist Studies How Climate Change Affects Coral Reefs

"Coral reef ecosystems are going to be significantly impacted by climate change," says NCAR scientist Joanie Kleypas, who studies the future of coral reef health. Scientists like Joanie are finding that extra greenhouse gasses are a danger to coral reefs.

Global warming is the major reason for a coral health problem called bleaching. Bleaching is a process that turns coral white when the algae that live within the coral’s body are released out into the ocean water. A reef that has bleached is not dead but the coral animals become very weak without the algae. Some bleached corals recover and some do not. Corals will bleach if global warming heats the ocean water.

The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is also a direct threat to coral reefs. As more carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere, more of it becomes dissolved in the oceans. This decreases the amount of material in the ocean water that corals need to make their skeletons. If corals can’t grow their skeletons, then reefs cannot grow larger.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans is expected to continue to increase. What will this mean for the coral reefs? The "coral reef crisis" is expected to worsen with future climate change.