Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rise and fall of the Great Barrier Reef

29.05.2018

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

A landmark international study of the Great Barrier Reef has shown that in the past 30,000 years the world's largest reef system has suffered five death events, largely driven by changes in sea level and associated environmental change.


This shows drilling for the fossil reef core at the Great Barrier Reef from the International Ocean Drilling Program Great Ship Maya.

Credit: ECORD/IODP

Usage Restrictions: Use for this story only.

Over millennia, the reef has adapted to sudden changes in environment by migrating across the sea floor as the oceans rose and fell.

The study published today in Nature Geoscience, led by University of Sydney's Associate Professor Jody Webster, is the first of its kind to reconstruct the evolution of the reef over the past 30 millennia in response to major, abrupt environmental change.

The 10-year, multinational effort has shown the reef is more resilient to major environmental changes such as sea-level rise and sea-temperature change than previously thought but also showed a high sensitivity to increased sediment input and poor water quality.

Associate Professor Webster from the University's School of Geosciences and Geocoastal Research Group said it remains an open question as to whether its resilience will be enough for it to survive the current 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 said. "However, we found it is also highly sensitive to increased sediment input, which is of concern given current land-use practices."

The study used data from geomorphic, sedimentological, biological and dating information from fossil reef cores at 16 sites at Cairns and Mackay.

The study covers the period from before the "Last Glacial Maximum" about 20,000 years ago when sea levels were 118 metres below current levels.

History of death events

As sea levels dropped in the millennia before that time, there were two widespread death events (at about 30,000 years and 22,000 years ago) caused by exposure of the reef to air, known as subaerial exposure. During this period, the reef moved seaward to try to keep pace with the falling sea levels.

During the deglaciation period after the Last Glacial Maximum, there were a further two reef-death events at about 17,000 and 13,000 years ago caused by rapid sea level rise. These were accompanied by the reef moving landward, trying to keep pace with rising seas.

Analysis of the core samples and data on sediment flux show these reef-death events from sea-level rise were likely associated with high increases in sediment.

The final reef-death event about 10,000 years ago, from before the emergence of the modern reef about 9000 years ago, was not associated with any known abrupt sea-level rise or "meltwater pulse" during the deglaciation. Rather it appears to be associated with a massive sediment increase and reduced water quality alongside a general rise in sea level.

The authors propose that the reef has been able 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 0.2 and 1.5 metres a year.

Future survival

However, Associate Professor Webster said it was unlikely that this rate would be enough to survive current rates of sea surface temperature rises, sharp declines in coral coverage, year-on-year coral bleaching or decreases in water quality and increased 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 said.

Associate Professor Webster said previous studies have established a past sea surface temperature rise of a couple of degrees over a timescale of 10,000 years. However, current forecasts of sea surface temperature change are around 0.7 degrees in a century.

"Our study shows that as well as responding to sea-level changes, the reef has been particularly sensitive to sediment fluxes in the past and that means, in the current period, we need to understand how practices from primary industry are affecting sediment input and water quality on the reef," he said.

###

Multimedia: download images and video at this link.

Media enquiries: Marcus Strom marcus.strom@sydney.edu.au +61 423 982 485

About the study

The study was made possible due to more than $10 million research investment from countries supporting the International Ocean Drilling Program and from ARC Discover and LEIF grants. The international team includes researchers from University of Granada, Spain; Nagoya University, Japan; University of Edinburgh, UK; LSCE Laboratory, France; University of Tokyo, Japan; the Australian National University; University of Wollongong; University of California, Santa Cruz, US; and others.

Marcus Strom | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht A promising target in the quest for a 1-million-year-old Antarctic ice core
24.05.2018 | University of Washington

nachricht Tropical Peat Swamps: Restoration of Endangered Carbon Reservoirs
24.05.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

12th COMPAMED Spring Convention: Innovative manufacturing processes of modern implants

28.05.2018 | Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Black Holes from an Exacomputer

29.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

EcoSwing Superconducting Generator Proves Itself on the Test Bench

29.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Achema 2018: Researchers improve globule formation for pharmaceutical capsules

29.05.2018 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>