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Reef Emissions Affect Climate

Image of reef

Reefs produce aerosols that affect rainfall locally.

By Graham Jones & Zoran Ristovski

Coral reefs produce a natural aerosol that creates clouds over the ocean and keeps sea surface temperatures stable – with implications for both reefs and rainforests.

Graham Jones is an Associate Professor in climate science at Southern Cross University, Lismore. Zoran Ristovski is an Associate Professor in atmospheric science at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

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In the 1970s, researchers from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology found very large concentrations of aerosol particles in the air above the Great Barrier Reef. At the time they guessed that the coral of the reef was responsible, but just what the aerosols were composed of was a complete mystery.

When we first read this research paper we knew we had to start some research on the climate aerosol dimethylsulfide (DMS) in coral reefs. Previous research indicated that the coral algae contained the DMS precursor substance DMSP.

Our first study was onboard a voyage through the Great Barrier Reef led by Dr John Church of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research. The ship’s Master set anchor as close as he could to Bait Reef and Old Reef, and we detected high levels of atmospheric DMS.

This led to a major study at the Orpheus Island Marine Station, north of Townsville, where we measured the first seasonal variation of dissolved DMS in coral reef waters at Pioneer Bay fringing reef. We measured atmospheric DMS over this reef, and also found that Acropora species (staghorn coral), the most common coral in the Indo-Pacific, contains the highest concentration of DMSP of all corals.

We then went on to do further studies at the Nelly Bay fringing reef at Magnetic Island, which is more stressed by nutrients than the other reefs we studied. We found that less...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.