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Heat may outpace corals’ ability to cope

Ever warmer waters could eliminate chance to prepare for protection against bleaching

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2:00pm, April 14, 2016
corals

WHITEOUT  When waters get too hot too quickly, corals can bleach, losing their symbiotic (and colorful) bacteria. Periods of less intense heating, followed by cooling, often help corals prepare for and withstand temperature surges — but such prep time might soon disappear, a new study suggests.  

Corals are in hot water — and may soon lose their ability to handle the heat.

In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, most past bouts of warming allowed many corals to adjust their physiology and avoid serious damage. But as waters warm even more, corals could run out of wiggle room, researchers report in the April 15 Science.

“One of the things that we have been striving for is trying to figure out the rate and limit of … physiological adjustments that corals have, how far you can push them,” says marine biologist Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University, who was not involved with the study. Corals may not be able to cope with much more ocean warming, Palumbi says. “I would take this paper as being the first real indication that we have half a degree at most.”

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