DeCarlo Thomas M.

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Thomas M.

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  • Article
    Mineralogy of deep-sea coral aragonites as a function of aragonite saturation state
    (Frontiers Media, 2018-12-10) Farfan, Gabriela A. ; Cordes, Erik E. ; Waller, Rhian G. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Hansel, Colleen M.
    In an ocean with rapidly changing chemistry, studies have assessed coral skeletal health under projected ocean acidification (OA) scenarios by characterizing morphological distortions in skeletal architecture and measuring bulk properties, such as net calcification and dissolution. Few studies offer more detailed information on skeletal mineralogy. Since aragonite crystallography will at least partially govern the material properties of coral skeletons, such as solubility and strength, it is important to understand how it is influenced by environmental stressors. Here, we take a mineralogical approach using micro X-ray diffraction (XRD) and whole pattern Rietveld refinement analysis to track crystallographic shifts in deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa samples collected along a natural seawater aragonite saturation state gradient (Ωsw = 1.15–1.44) in the Gulf of Mexico. Our results reveal statistically significant linear relationships between rising Ωsw and increasing unit cell volume driven by an anisotropic lengthening along the b-axis. These structural changes are similarly observed in synthetic aragonites precipitated under various saturation states, indicating that these changes are inherent to the crystallography of aragonite. Increased crystallographic disorder via widening of the full width at half maximum of the main (111) XRD peaks trend with increased Ba substitutions for Ca, however, trace substitutions by Ba, Sr, and Mg do not trend with crystal lattice parameters in our samples. Instead, we observe a significant trend of increasing calcite content as a function of both decreasing unit cell parameters as well as decreasing Ωsw. This may make calcite incorporation an important factor to consider in coral crystallography, especially under varying aragonite saturation states (ΩAr). Finally, by defining crystallography-based linear relationships between ΩAr of synthetic aragonite analogs and lattice parameters, we predict internal calcifying fluid saturation state (Ωcf = 11.1–17.3 calculated from b-axis lengths; 15.2–25.2 calculated from unit cell volumes) for L. pertusa, which may allow this species to calcify despite the local seawater conditions. This study will ideally pave the way for future studies to utilize quantitative XRD in exploring the impact of physical and chemical stressors on biominerals.
  • Preprint
    Factors affecting B/Ca ratios in synthetic aragonite
    ( 2015-09) Holcomb, Michael ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Gaetani, Glenn A. ; McCulloch, Malcolm
    Measurements of B/Ca ratios in marine carbonates have been suggested to record seawater carbonate chemistry, however experimental calibration of such proxies based on inorganic partitioning remains limited. Here we conducted a series of synthetic aragonite precipitation experiments to evaluate the factors influencing the partitioning of B/Ca between aragonite and seawater. Our results indicate that the B/Ca ratio of synthetic aragonites depends primarily on the relative concentrations of borate and carbonate ions in the solution from which the aragonite precipitates; not on bicarbonate concentration as has been previously suggested. The influence of temperature was not significant over the range investigated (20 – 40°C), however, partitioning may be influenced by saturation state (and/or growth rate). Based on our experimental results, we suggest that aragonite B/Ca ratios can be utilized as a proxy of [CO32-]. Boron isotopic composition (δ11B) is an established pH proxy, thus B/Ca and δ11B together allow the full carbonate chemistry of the solution from which the aragonite precipitated to be calculated. To the extent that aragonite precipitation by marine organisms is affected by seawater chemistry, B/Ca may also prove useful in reconstructing seawater chemistry. A simplified boron purification protocol based on amberlite resin and the organic buffer TRIS is also described.
  • Preprint
    Cleaning and pre-treatment procedures for biogenic and synthetic calcium carbonate powders for determination of elemental and boron isotopic compositions
    ( 2015-01) Holcomb, Michael ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Schoepf, Verena ; Dissard, Delphine ; Tanaka, Kiyoshi ; McCulloch, Malcolm
    In preparing calcium carbonate samples for the measurement of various geochemical proxies, it is often necessary to remove contaminating phases while leaving the phase of interest altered as little as possible. Here we evaluate the effects of some common cleaning protocols (rinsing (H2O), bleach (~3% NaOCl), hydrogen peroxide (30%), sodium hydroxide (0.006 – 0.1 M NaOH), and acid leaching (0.05 N HNO3)) on the elemental (Li, B, Na, Mg, Sr, Ba, Pb, and U) and boron isotope composition of both biogenic and synthetic calcium carbonates formed in marine environments. In untreated samples, the presence of elevated concentrations of Na and Mg, the most abundant cations in seawater, can be reduced with minimal cleaning (e.g. rinsing). Cleaning protocols that cause partial dissolution are problematic, especially for samples that are compositionally heterogeneous because the remaining sample may be biased towards particular phases with distinctive elemental or isotopic compositions. We show that the use of either acid or unbuffered hydrogen peroxide can lead to partial dissolution which was associated with an increase in the U/Ca ratio of the remaining sample. Bleaching or rinsing with water did not result in significant sample dissolution, suggesting these cleaning techniques may be safely used on heterogeneous samples. Cleaning treatments, other than those resulting in significant dissolution of heterogeneous samples, had no significant effect on δ11B, suggesting that boron isotopes are generally robust to the effects of sample pre-treatment.
  • Article
    Comparison of equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature variability and trends with Sr/Ca records from multiple corals
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2016-02-06) Alpert, Alice ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Oppo, Delia W. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Gove, Jamison M. ; Young, Charles W.
    Coral Sr/Ca is widely used to reconstruct past ocean temperatures. However, some studies report different Sr/Ca-temperature relationships for conspecifics on the same reef, with profound implications for interpretation of reconstructed temperatures. We assess whether these differences are attributable to small-scale oceanographic variability or “vital effects” associated with coral calcification and quantify the effect of intercolony differences on temperature estimates and uncertainties. Sr/Ca records from four massive Porites colonies growing on the east and west sides of Jarvis Island, central equatorial Pacific, were compared with in situ logger temperatures spanning 2002–2012. In general, Sr/Ca captured the occurrence of interannual sea surface temperature events but their amplitude was not consistently recorded by any of the corals. No long-term trend was identified in the instrumental data, yet Sr/Ca of one coral implied a statistically significant cooling trend while that of its neighbor implied a warming trend. Slopes of Sr/Ca-temperature regressions from the four different colonies were within error, but offsets in mean Sr/Ca rendered the regressions statistically distinct. Assuming that these relationships represent the full range of Sr/Ca-temperature calibrations in Jarvis Porites, we assessed how well Sr/Ca of a nonliving coral with an unknown Sr/Ca-temperature relationship can constrain past temperatures. Our results indicate that standard error of prediction methods underestimate the actual error as we could not reliably reconstruct the amplitude or frequency of El Niño–Southern Oscillation events as large as ± 2°C. Our results underscore the importance of characterizing the full range of temperature-Sr/Ca relationships at each study site to estimate true error.
  • Article
    Fate of internal waves on a shallow shelf
    (American Geophysical Union, 2020-04-21) Davis, Kristen A. ; Arthur, Robert S. ; Reid, Emma C. ; Rogers, Justin S. ; Fringer, Oliver B. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Cohen, Anne L.
    Internal waves strongly influence the physical and chemical environment of coastal ecosystems worldwide. We report novel observations from a distributed temperature sensing (DTS) system that tracked the transformation of internal waves from the shelf break to the surf zone over a narrow shelf slope region in the South China Sea. The spatially continuous view of temperature fields provides a perspective of physical processes commonly available only in laboratory settings or numerical models, including internal wave reflection off a natural slope, shoreward transport of dense fluid within trapped cores, and observations of internal rundown (near‐bed, offshore‐directed jets of water preceding a breaking internal wave). Analysis shows that the fate of internal waves on this shelf—whether transmitted into shallow waters or reflected back offshore—is mediated by local water column density structure and background currents set by the previous shoaling internal waves, highlighting the importance of wave‐wave interactions in nearshore internal wave dynamics.
  • Preprint
    Coral macrobioerosion is accelerated by ocean acidification and nutrients
    ( 2014-10) DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Barkley, Hannah C. ; Cobban, Quinn ; Young, Charles W. ; Shamberger, Kathryn E. F. ; Brainard, Russell E. ; Golbuu, Yimnang
    Coral reefs exist in a delicate balance between calcium carbonate (CaCO3) production and CaCO3 loss. Ocean acidification (OA), the CO2-driven decline in seawater pH and CaCO3 saturation state (Ω), threatens to tip this balance by decreasing calcification, and increasing erosion and dissolution. While multiple CO2 manipulation experiments show coral calcification declines under OA, the sensitivity of bioerosion to OA is less well understood. Previous work suggests that coral and coral reef bioerosion increase with decreasing seawater Ω. However, in the surface ocean, Ω and nutrient concentrations often covary, making their relative influence difficult to resolve. Here, we exploit unique natural gradients in Ω and nutrients across the Pacific basin to quantify the impact of these factors, together and independently, on macrobioerosion rates of coral skeletons. Using an automated program to quantify macrobioerosion in 3-D computerized tomography (CT) scans of coral cores, we show that macrobioerosion rates of live Porites colonies in both low-nutrient (oligotrophic) and high-nutrient (>1 µM nitrate) waters increase significantly as Ω decreases. However, the sensitivity of macrobioerosion to Ω is ten times greater under high-nutrient conditions. Our results demonstrate that OA (decreased Ω) alone can increase coral macrobioerosion rates, but the interaction of OA with local stressors exacerbates its impact, accelerating a shift toward net CaCO3 removal from coral reefs.
  • Article
    Internal waves influence the thermal and nutrient environment on a shallow coral reef
    (Wiley, 2019-03-26) Reid, Emma C. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Wong, George T. F. ; Lentz, Steven J. ; Safaie, Aryan ; Hall, Austin ; Davis, Kristen A.
    Internal waves can influence water properties in coastal ecosystems through the shoreward transport and mixing of subthermocline water into the nearshore region. In June 2014, a field experiment was conducted at Dongsha Atoll in the northern South China Sea to study the impact of internal waves on a coral reef. Instrumentation included a distributed temperature sensing system, which resolved spatially and temporally continuous temperature measurements over a 4‐km cross‐reef section from the lagoon to 50‐m depth on the fore reef. Our observations show that during summer, internal waves shoaling on the shallow atoll regularly transport cold, nutrient‐rich water shoreward, altering near‐surface water properties on the fore reef. This water is transported shoreward of the reef crest by tides, breaking surface waves and wind‐driven flow, where it significantly alters the water temperature and nutrient concentrations on the reef flat. We find that without internal wave forcing on the fore reef, temperatures on the reef flat could be up to 2.0°C ± 0.2°C warmer. Additionally, we estimate a change in degree heating weeks of 0.7°C‐weeks warmer without internal waves, which significantly increases the probability of a more severe bleaching event occurring at Dongsha Atoll. Furthermore, using nutrient samples collected on the fore reef during the study, we estimated that instantaneous onshore nitrate flux is about four‐fold higher with internal waves than without internal waves. This work highlights the importance of internal waves as a physical mechanism shaping the nearshore environment, and likely supporting resilience of the reef.
  • Article
    Climate modulates internal wave activity in the Northern South China Sea
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2015-02-10) DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Karnauskas, Kristopher B. ; Davis, Kristen A. ; Wong, George T. F.
    Internal waves (IWs) generated in the Luzon Strait propagate into the Northern South China Sea (NSCS), enhancing biological productivity and affecting coral reefs by modulating nutrient concentrations and temperature. Here we use a state-of-the-art ocean data assimilation system to reconstruct water column stratification in the Luzon Strait as a proxy for IW activity in the NSCS and diagnose mechanisms for its variability. Interannual variability of stratification is driven by intrusions of the Kuroshio Current into the Luzon Strait and freshwater fluxes associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. Warming in the upper 100 m of the ocean caused a trend of increasing IW activity since 1900, consistent with global climate model experiments that show stratification in the Luzon Strait increases in response to radiative forcing. IW activity is expected to increase in the NSCS through the 21st century, with implications for mitigating climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems.
  • Article
    Physical processes determine spatial structure in water temperature and residence time on a wide reef flat
    (American Geophysical Union, 2020-11-23) Reid, Emma C. ; Lentz, Steven J. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Davis, Kristen A.
    On coral reefs, flow determines residence time of water influencing physical and chemical environments and creating observable microclimates within the reef structure. Understanding the physical mechanisms driving environmental variability on shallow reefs, which distinguishes them from the open ocean, is important for understanding what contributes to thermal resilience of coral communities and predicting their response to future anomalies. In June 2014, a field experiment conducted at Dongsha Atoll in the northern South China Sea investigated the physical forces that drive flow over a broad shallow reef flat. Instrumentation included current and pressure sensors and a distributed temperature sensing system, which resolved spatially and temporally continuous temperature measurements over a 3‐km cross‐reef section from the lagoon to reef crest. Spectral analysis shows that while diurnal variability was significant across the reef flat—a result expected from daily solar heating—temperature also varied at higher frequencies near the reef crest. These spatially variable temperature regimes, or thermal microclimates, are influenced by circulation on the wide reef flat, with spatially and temporally variable contributions from tides, wind, and waves. Through particle tracking simulations, we find the residence time of water is shorter near the reef crest (3.6 h) than near the lagoon (8.6 h). Tidal variability in flow direction on the reef flat leads to patterns in residence time that are different than what would be predicted from unidirectional flow. Circulation on the reef also determines the source (originating from offshore vs. the lagoon) of the water present on the reef flat.
  • Article
    Validation of the remotely sensed nighttime sea surface temperature in the shallow waters at the Dongsha Atoll
    (Terrestrial, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, 2017-06) Pan, Xiaoju ; Wong, George T. F. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Tai, Jen-Hua ; Cohen, Anne L.
    Fine scale temperature structures, which are commonly found in the top few meters of shallow water columns, may result in deviations of the remotely sensed night-time sea surface temperatures (SST) by the MODIS-Aqua sensor (SSTsat) from the bulk sea surface temperatures (SSTbulk) that they purport to represent. The discrepancies between SSTsat and SSTbulk recorded by temperature loggers at eight stations with bottom depths of 2 - 20 m around the Dongsha Atoll (DSA) between June 2013 and May 2015 were examined. The SSTsat had an average cool bias error of -0.43 ± 0.59°C. The bias error was larger in the warmer (> 26°C) waters which were presumably more strongly stratified. The root mean square error (RMSE) between SSTsat and SSTbulk, ±0.73°C, was 25% larger than that reported in the open northern South China Sea. An operational calibration algorithm was developed to increase the accuracy in the estimation of SSTbulk from SSTsat. In addition to removing the cool bias error, this algorithm also reduced the RMSE to virtually the same level as that found in the open northern South China Sea. With the application of the algorithm, in June 2015, the average SST in the lagoon of the DSA was raised by about 0.5°C to 31.1 ± 0.4°C, and the area of lagoon with SSTbulk above 31°C, the median value of the physiological temperature threshold of reef organisms, was increased by 69% to about three quarters of the lagoon.
  • Article
    The origin and role of organic matrix in coral calcification: insights from comparing coral skeleton and abiogenic aragonite
    (Frontiers Media, 2018-05-15) DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Ren, Haojia ; Farfan, Gabriela A.
    Understanding the mechanisms of coral calcification is critical for accurately projecting coral reef futures under ocean acidification and warming. Recent suggestions that calcification is primarily controlled by organic molecules and the biological activity of the coral polyp imply that ocean acidification may not affect skeletal accretion. The basis for these suggestions relies heavily on correlating the presence of organic matter with the orientation and disorder of aragonite crystals in the skeleton, carrying the assumption that organic matter observed in the skeleton was produced by the polyp to control calcification. Here we use Raman spectroscopy to test whether there are differences in organic matter content between coral skeleton and abiogenic aragonites precipitated from seawater, both before and after thermal annealing (heating). We measured the background fluxorescence and intensity of C-H bonding signals in the Raman spectra, which are commonly attributed to coral polyp-derived skeletal organic matrix (SOM) and have been used to map its distribution. Surprisingly, we found no differences in either fluorescence or C-H bonding between abiogenic aragonite and coral skeleton. Annealing reduced the molecular disorder in coral skeleton, potentially due to removal of organic matter, but the same effect was also observed in the abiogenic aragonites. The presence of organic molecules in the abiogenic aragonites is further supported by measurements of N content and δ15N. Together, our data suggest that some of what has been interpreted in previous studies as polyp-derived SOM may actually be seawater-sourced organic matter or some other signal not unique to biogenic aragonite. Finally, we create a high-resolution Raman map of a Pocillopora skeleton to demonstrate how patterns of fluorescence and elevated calcifying fluid aragonite saturation state (ΩAr) along centers of calcification are consistent with both biological and physico-chemical controls. Our aim is to advance discussion on biological mediation of calcification and the implications for coral resilience in a high-CO2 world.
  • Article
    Twentieth century warming of the tropical Atlantic captured by Sr-U paleothermometry
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2017-02-16) Alpert, Alice ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Oppo, Delia W. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Gaetani, Glenn A. ; Hernandez-Delgado, Edwin A. ; Winter, Amos ; Gonneea, Meagan E.
    Coral skeletons are valuable archives of past ocean conditions. However, interpretation of coral paleotemperature records is confounded by uncertainties associated with single-element ratio thermometers, including Sr/Ca. A new approach, Sr-U, uses U/Ca to constrain the influence of Rayleigh fractionation on Sr/Ca. Here we build on the initial Pacific Porites Sr-U calibration to include multiple Atlantic and Pacific coral genera from multiple coral reef locations spanning a temperature range of 23.15–30.12°C. Accounting for the wintertime growth cessation of one Bermuda coral, we show that Sr-U is strongly correlated with the average water temperature at each location (r2 = 0.91, P < 0.001, n = 19). We applied the multispecies spatial calibration between Sr-U and temperature to reconstruct a 96 year long temperature record at Mona Island, Puerto Rico, using a coral not included in the calibration. Average Sr-U derived temperature for the period 1900–1996 is within 0.12°C of the average instrumental temperature at this site and captures the twentieth century warming trend of 0.06°C per decade. Sr-U also captures the timing of multiyear variability but with higher amplitude than implied by the instrumental data. Mean Sr-U temperatures and patterns of multiyear variability were replicated in a second coral in the same grid box. Conversely, Sr/Ca records from the same two corals were inconsistent with each other and failed to capture absolute sea temperatures, timing of multiyear variability, or the twentieth century warming trend. Our results suggest that coral Sr-U paleothermometry is a promising new tool for reconstruction of past ocean temperatures.
  • Article
    Coral reef drag coefficients – water depth dependence
    (American Meteorological Society, 2017-05-04) Lentz, Steven J. ; Davis, Kristen A. ; Churchill, James H. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M.
    A major challenge in modeling the circulation over coral reefs is uncertainty in the drag coefficient because existing estimates span two orders of magnitude. Current and pressure measurements from five coral reefs are used to estimate drag coefficients based on depth-average flow, assuming a balance between the cross-reef pressure gradient and the bottom stress. At two sites wind stress is a significant term in the cross-reef momentum balance and is included in estimating the drag coefficient. For the five coral reef sites and a previous laboratory study, estimated drag coefficients increase as the water depth decreases consistent with open channel flow theory. For example, for a typical coral reef hydrodynamic roughness of 5 cm, observational estimates, and the theory indicate that the drag coefficient decreases from 0.4 in 20 cm of water to 0.005 in 10 m of water. Synthesis of results from the new field observations with estimates from previous field and laboratory studies indicate that coral reef drag coefficients range from 0.2 to 0.005 and hydrodynamic roughnesses generally range from 2 to 8 cm. While coral reef drag coefficients depend on factors such as physical roughness and surface waves, a substantial fraction of the scatter in estimates of coral reef drag coefficients is due to variations in water depth.
  • Article
    Relationship between water and aragonite barium concentrations in aquaria reared juvenile corals
    (Elsevier, 2017-04-09) Gonneea, Meagan E. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Charette, Matthew A.
    Coral barium to calcium (Ba/Ca) ratios have been used to reconstruct records of upwelling, river and groundwater discharge, and sediment and dust input to the coastal ocean. However, this proxy has not yet been explicitly tested to determine if Ba inclusion in the coral skeleton is directly proportional to seawater Ba concentration and to further determine how additional factors such as temperature and calcification rate control coral Ba/Ca ratios. We measured the inclusion of Ba within aquaria reared juvenile corals (Favia fragum) at three temperatures (∼27.7, 24.6 and 22.5 °C) and three seawater Ba concentrations (73, 230 and 450 nmol kg−1). Coral polyps were settled on tiles conditioned with encrusting coralline algae, which complicated chemical analysis of the coral skeletal material grown during the aquaria experiments. We utilized Sr/Ca ratios of encrusting coralline algae (as low as 3.4 mmol mol−1) to correct coral Ba/Ca for this contamination, which was determined to be 26 ± 11% using a two end member mixing model. Notably, there was a large range in Ba/Ca across all treatments, however, we found that Ba inclusion was linear across the full concentration range. The temperature sensitivity of the distribution coefficient is within the range of previously reported values. Finally, calcification rate, which displayed large variability, was not correlated to the distribution coefficient. The observed temperature dependence predicts a change in coral Ba/Ca ratios of 1.1 μmol mol−1 from 20 to 28 °C for typical coastal ocean Ba concentrations of 50 nmol kg−1. Given the linear uptake of Ba by corals observed in this study, coral proxy records that demonstrate peaks of 10–25 μmol mol−1 would require coastal seawater Ba of between 60 and 145 nmol kg−1. Further validation of the coral Ba/Ca proxy requires evaluation of changes in seawater chemistry associated with the environmental perturbation recorded by the coral as well as verification of these results for Porites species, which are widely used in paleo reconstructions.
  • Article
    Coral Sr-U thermometry
    (John WIley & Sons, 2016-06-11) DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Gaetani, Glenn A. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Foster, Gavin L. ; Alpert, Alice ; Stewart, Joseph A.
    Coral skeletons archive past climate variability with unrivaled temporal resolution. However, extraction of accurate temperature information from coral skeletons has been limited by “vital effects,” which confound, and sometimes override, the temperature dependence of geochemical proxies. We present a new approach to coral paleothermometry based on results of abiogenic precipitation experiments interpreted within a framework provided by a quantitative model of the coral biomineralization process. DeCarlo et al. (2015a) investigated temperature and carbonate chemistry controls on abiogenic partitioning of Sr/Ca and U/Ca between aragonite and seawater and modeled the sensitivity of skeletal composition to processes occurring at the site of calcification. The model predicts that temperature can be accurately reconstructed from coral skeleton by combining Sr/Ca and U/Ca ratios into a new proxy, which we refer to hereafter as the Sr-U thermometer. Here we test the model predictions with measured Sr/Ca and U/Ca ratios of 14 Porites sp. corals collected from the tropical Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea, with a subset also analyzed using the boron isotope (δ11B) pH proxy. Observed relationships among Sr/Ca, U/Ca, and δ11B agree with model predictions, indicating that the model accounts for the key features of the coral biomineralization process. By calibrating to instrumental temperature records, we show that Sr-U captures 93% of mean annual temperature variability (26–30°C) and has a standard deviation of prediction of 0.5°C, compared to 1°C using Sr/Ca alone. The Sr-U thermometer may offer significantly improved reliability for reconstructing past ocean temperatures from coral skeletons.
  • Article
    Repeat bleaching of a central Pacific coral reef over the past six decades (1960–2016)
    (Nature Publishing Group, 2018-11-08) Barkley, Hannah C. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Mollica, Nathaniel R. ; Brainard, Russell E. ; Rivera, Hanny E. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Lohmann, George P. ; Drenkard, Elizabeth J. ; Alpert, Alice ; Young, Charles W. ; Vargas-Ángel, Bernardo ; Lino, Kevin C. ; Oliver, Thomas A. ; Pietro, Kathryn R. ; Luu, Victoria
    The oceans are warming and coral reefs are bleaching with increased frequency and severity, fueling concerns for their survival through this century. Yet in the central equatorial Pacific, some of the world’s most productive reefs regularly experience extreme heat associated with El Niño. Here we use skeletal signatures preserved in long-lived corals on Jarvis Island to evaluate the coral community response to multiple successive heatwaves since 1960. By tracking skeletal stress band formation through the 2015-16 El Nino, which killed 95% of Jarvis corals, we validate their utility as proxies of bleaching severity and show that 2015-16 was not the first catastrophic bleaching event on Jarvis. Since 1960, eight severe (>30% bleaching) and two moderate (<30% bleaching) events occurred, each coinciding with El Niño. While the frequency and severity of bleaching on Jarvis did not increase over this time period, 2015–16 was unprecedented in magnitude. The trajectory of recovery of this historically resilient ecosystem will provide critical insights into the potential for coral reef resilience in a warming world.
  • Article
    Crystallographic and chemical signatures in coral skeletal aragonite
    (Springer, 2021-11-29) Farfan, Gabriela A. ; Apprill, Amy ; Cohen, Anne L. ; DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Post, Jeffrey E. ; Waller, Rhian G. ; Hansel, Colleen M.
    Corals nucleate and grow aragonite crystals, organizing them into intricate skeletal structures that ultimately build the world’s coral reefs. Crystallography and chemistry have profound influence on the material properties of these skeletal building blocks, yet gaps remain in our knowledge about coral aragonite on the atomic scale. Across a broad diversity of shallow-water and deep-sea scleractinian corals from vastly different environments, coral aragonites are remarkably similar to one another, confirming that corals exert control on the carbonate chemistry of the calcifying space relative to the surrounding seawater. Nuances in coral aragonite structures relate most closely to trace element chemistry and aragonite saturation state, suggesting the primary controls on aragonite structure are ionic strength and trace element chemistry, with growth rate playing a secondary role. We also show how coral aragonites are crystallographically indistinguishable from synthetic abiogenic aragonite analogs precipitated from seawater under conditions mimicking coral calcifying fluid. In contrast, coral aragonites are distinct from geologically formed aragonites, a synthetic aragonite precipitated from a freshwater solution, and mollusk aragonites. Crystallographic signatures have future applications in understanding the material properties of coral aragonite and predicting the persistence of coral reefs in a rapidly changing ocean.
  • Article
    Mass coral mortality under local amplification of 2°C ocean warming
    (Nature Publishing Group, 2017-03-23) DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Wong, George T. F. ; Davis, Kristen A. ; Lohmann, George P. ; Soong, Keryea
    A 2°C increase in global temperature above pre-industrial levels is considered a reasonable target for avoiding the most devastating impacts of anthropogenic climate change. In June 2015, sea surface temperature (SST) of the South China Sea (SCS) increased by 2 °C in response to the developing Pacific El Niño. On its own, this moderate, short-lived warming was unlikely to cause widespread damage to coral reefs in the region, and the coral reef “Bleaching Alert” alarm was not raised. However, on Dongsha Atoll, in the northern SCS, unusually weak winds created low-flow conditions that amplified the 2°C basin-scale anomaly. Water temperatures on the reef flat, normally indistinguishable from open-ocean SST, exceeded 6°C above normal summertime levels. Mass coral bleaching quickly ensued, killing 40% of the resident coral community in an event unprecedented in at least the past 40 years. Our findings highlight the risks of 2°C ocean warming to coral reef ecosystems when global and local processes align to drive intense heating, with devastating consequences.
  • Article
    Community production modulates coral reef pH and the sensitivity of ecosystem calcification to ocean acidification
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2017-01-31) DeCarlo, Thomas M. ; Cohen, Anne L. ; Wong, George T. F. ; Shiah, Fuh-Kwo ; Lentz, Steven J. ; Davis, Kristen A. ; Shamberger, Kathryn E. F. ; Lohmann, George P.
    Coral reefs are built of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) produced biogenically by a diversity of calcifying plants, animals, and microbes. As the ocean warms and acidifies, there is mounting concern that declining calcification rates could shift coral reef CaCO3 budgets from net accretion to net dissolution. We quantified net ecosystem calcification (NEC) and production (NEP) on Dongsha Atoll, northern South China Sea, over a 2 week period that included a transient bleaching event. Peak daytime pH on the wide, shallow reef flat during the nonbleaching period was ∼8.5, significantly elevated above that of the surrounding open ocean (∼8.0–8.1) as a consequence of daytime NEP (up to 112 mmol C m−2 h−1). Diurnal-averaged NEC was 390 ± 90 mmol CaCO3 m−2 d−1, higher than any other coral reef studied to date despite comparable calcifier cover (25%) and relatively high fleshy algal cover (19%). Coral bleaching linked to elevated temperatures significantly reduced daytime NEP by 29 mmol C m−2 h−1. pH on the reef flat declined by 0.2 units, causing a 40% reduction in NEC in the absence of pH changes in the surrounding open ocean. Our findings highlight the interactive relationship between carbonate chemistry of coral reef ecosystems and ecosystem production and calcification rates, which are in turn impacted by ocean warming. As open-ocean waters bathing coral reefs warm and acidify over the 21st century, the health and composition of reef benthic communities will play a major role in determining on-reef conditions that will in turn dictate the ecosystem response to climate change.
  • Thesis
    Coral biomineralization, climate proxies and the sensitivity of coral reefs to CO2-driven climate change
    (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2017-02) DeCarlo, Thomas M.
    Scleractinian corals extract calcium (Ca2+) and carbonate (CO2−3) ions from seawater to construct their calcium carbonate (CaCO3) skeletons. Key to the coral biomineralization process is the active elevation of the CO2−3 concentration of the calcifying fluid to achieve rapid nucleation and growth of CaCO3 crystals. Coral skeletons contain valuable records of past climate variability and contribute to the formation of coral reefs. However, limitations in our understanding of coral biomineralization hinder the accuracy of (1) coral-based reconstructions of past climate, and (2) predictions of coral reef futures as anthropogenic CO2 emissions drive declines in seawater CO2−3 concentration. In this thesis, I investigate the mechanism of coral biomineralization and evaluate the sensitivity of coral reef CaCO3 production to seawater carbonate chemistry. First, I conducted abiogenic CaCO3 precipitation experiments that identified the U/Ca ratio as a proxy for fluid CO2−3 concentration. Based on these experimental results, I developed a quantitative coral biomineralization model that predicts temperature can be reconstructed from coral skeletons by combining Sr/Ca - which is sensitive to both temperature and CO2−3 - with U/Ca into a new proxy called “Sr-U”. I tested this prediction with 14 corals from the Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea spanning mean annual temperatures of 25.7-30.1°C and found that Sr-U has uncertainty of only 0.5°C, twice as accurate as conventional coral-based thermometers. Second, I investigated the processes that differentiate reef-water and open-ocean carbonate chemistry, and the sensitivity of ecosystem-scale calcification to these changes. On Dongsha Atoll in the northern South China Sea, metabolic activity of resident organisms elevates reef-water CO2−3 twice as high as the surrounding open ocean, driving rates of ecosystem calcification higher than any other coral reef studied to date. When high temperatures stressed the resident coral community, metabolic activity slowed, with dramatic effects on reef-water chemistry and ecosystem calcification. Overall, my thesis highlights how the modulation of CO2−3, by benthic communities on the reef and individual coral polyps in the colony, controls the sensitivity of coral reefs to future ocean acidification and influences the climate records contained in the skeleton.