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Climate change is killing the world's coral reefs. But it's not the only factor turning them into white, dead husks. According to a new study, all the chemicals humans are dumping into the ocean are making it easier for the hotter weather to do its deadly work.
The research paper, published online Monday (July 15) in the journal Marine Biology, is based on data collected over three decades from the Looe Key Sanctuary Preservation Area in the Florida Keys. Coral coverage declined from 33% in 1984 to just 6% in 2008 in that sanctuary. Even as temperatures have trended upward globally, average local temperatures didn't change much during the study period. This allowed researchers to disentangle a number of different problems sickening (or "bleaching") the reef.
Ratio - Nitrogen - Phosphorus - Water - Factor
Second, and significantly, the ratio of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water turned out to be a key factor in determining when and to what extent coral bleached. When Florida rains caused agricultural fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous to run off into the ocean, coral death was more common. Those increased nutrients in the water caused algae blooms, which in turn seemed to predict mass coral deaths. Nitrogen, in particular, turned out to be the most important factor related to mass coral bleaching.
This study didn't examine the mechanism by which nitogren leads to bleaching, said Brian Lapointe, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the Harbor Branch of Florida Atlantic University. But other research by scientists studying the Great Barrier Reef has shown why and how it happens, he told Live Science.
Balance - Ocean - Whack - Membranes - Coral
As the nitrogen-phosphorous balance in the ocean gets out of whack, certain membranes in the coral...
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