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Impacts from Climate Change and Ocean Acidification

Bleached corals
Bleached coral in Hawaii. Photo Credit: NOAA

Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. Scientific evidence now clearly indicates that the Earth's atmosphere and oceans are warming, and that these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases derived from human activities.

As temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent. Additionally, carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean from the atmosphere has already begun to reduce calcification rates in reef-building and reef-associated organisms by altering seawater chemistry through decreases in pH. This process is called ocean acidification.

Climate change will affect coral reef ecosystems, through sea level rise, changes to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and altered ocean circulation patterns. When combined, all of these impacts dramatically alter ecosystem function, as well as the goods and services coral reef ecosystems provide to people around the globe.

Scientists studying climate and corals
Scientists collect data in the Florida Keys. Photo Credit: NOAA
What We Are Doing

The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program is actively working with its partners to address the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. Our focus is to support effective resilience-based management as the best means to achieve ecosystem-based management goals in a changing climate. Science and research to understand the impacts of these phenomena on coral reef ecosystems form the foundation of our work. We also provide cutting-edge, targeted tools, products, and services to inform on-the-ground management of coral reef ecosystems.