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Press Release

New Research Article from Integral Scientist Reveals Caribbean Reefs Have Been Warming for at Least a Century

By Laura Mudge, Ph.D., Project Scientist

Did you know that heatwaves happen in the ocean too? A recent study coauthored by Integral Project Scientist and primary analyst, Laura Mudge, Ph.D., discusses how significant warming trends in the Caribbean signal great danger to coral reef ecosystems worldwide.

Most marine species are ectothermic, meaning their bodies match the temperature of the surrounding water. The alteration of their body temperature then alters their physiological processes.

The analysis is startling. Caribbean reefs have been warming for at least a century and have increased in the last 20th century at 0.18 °C per decade, thereby setting a path toward an eventual warming pattern of an additional 1.5 °C per decade if this pattern continues.

Increasing marine heatwave (MHW) duration and frequency on Caribbean coral reefs has been discovered. On average, the Caribbean currently experiences five events/year, lasting around two weeks each, compared to one event/year in the 1980s. Dr. Mudge’s study used multiple sea surface temperature data sources to quantify long-term trends in ocean temperatures and MHW events, with the goal of providing an easily interpretable synthesis of the Caribbean ocean warming. Continued ocean warming is alarming for the thermally sensitive species living in these environments. The research team hopes this synthesis can be used to better understand how temperatures are impacting these ecosystems.

Dr. Mudge and coauthors wanted to assess and analyze historical temperature patterns across the Caribbean in a digestible and accessible way. They chose the journal PLOS Climate to publish their paper because it allows for widespread accessibility and dissemination of their findings to anyone who may be interested.

An inability to access information, or to access information that is understood by a general (non-scientist) audience, is an obstacle to climate action. Dr. Mudge and coauthors hope their work will bring attention to the warming patterns of Caribbean, as well as worldwide coral reefs that will worsen with time unless action is taken globally.