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This wiki is for tracking ideas that address a specific technical problem: how can we preserve tropical coral reefs if anthropogenic emissions continue growing unabated?

The forecast for tropical corals is pretty dire under RCP 8.5, the business-as-usual emissions scenario. Within this century, maybe even within the next few decades, reefs could be wiped off the earth by waters that are warming and acidifying to levels that the corals simply can't survive.

There is some uncertainty in this forecast. While climate change is settled science, the emissions trajectory which humanity will take is unknowable, and work to understand how corals will respond in different climate scenarios is ongoing. The more aggressively humanity acts to counteract climate change, the better things will be for corals. Still, it's worthwhile to consider what can be done if we assume the worst.

This is not a hopeless situation. Coral reefs are largely self contained ecosystems, oases of life in the middle of otherwise barren, nutrient poor regions of the ocean. A reef could be cut up, shipped anywhere in the world and then reassembled in an aquarium, and as long as suitable environmental conditions were present its ecosystem would continue functioning, mostly unchanged. This would be awfully expensive and difficult, but it does establish that no matter how bad things get, it will always be possible to preserve pieces of these reefs for the future.

Unicornfish tuamotus reef.jpg

Reef Model

This section constructs a model of what reefs are expected to look like in several decades under RCP 8.5.

  • Climate describes existing research and model predictions into how the climate will change under RCP 8.5 through the rest of this century, and the effect of that climate change on sea surface temperatures and pH in areas with coral reefs.
  • Corals describes existing research into how corals are expected to respond to changing temperatures and pH.
  • Reefs describes the physical structure of coral reefs and their surrounding environment, which must be considered carefully by any approach which modifies that environment.

Approaches

This section describes systems that can be used to preserve, or help preserve, corals that are subjected to the conditions modeled above. Systems that are being looked at elsewhere:

  • The Biorock method has been used for several decades to develop fast-growing and resilient artificial reefs.
  • Cloud brightening is a theoretical technique for making clouds more reflective and reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching areas with reefs.
  • Surface films can be sprayed onto water to reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the corals beneath.
  • Assisted evolution can speed up the natural processes by which corals acclimate and adapt to the changing climate.

Systems being looked at here:

  • While electrolysis is the basis of the Biorock method, it could be used in other ways to alkalize seawater.
  • Project Makemo is a lightly sketched theoretical system for irrigating corals with cooled, alkalized seawater.

The experiments page describes experiments that have been performed to study these systems.

The planning page describes upcoming work to study these systems.

None of these systems can exist in isolation, and will need substantial support and coordination with other efforts to have any chance of success at even a small scale. In particular, preserved reefs must be free from other negative effects from humans, particularly pollution, runoff, and overfishing.

This wiki focuses on just one part of the picture, the systems and technology needed to preserve reefs in severe climate scenarios. The more time and energy that is invested in designing these systems the more efficient they will be, and the more efficient these systems are, the cheaper and easier they will be to scale up to larger and larger swaths of reef.

About This Wiki

While this wiki describes experiments that have been performed and could be performed, this wiki itself is also an experiment. Can principles of open source software development be applied to other areas of research? Any work done in relation to this wiki should include all data gathered and descriptions of methods used, and all content should be presented in a way that non-experts can understand and check. All content generated for this wiki may be freely reused for any purpose, with attribution to the authors of this wiki. Graphs and other content derived from external sources (e.g. climate models) may have different licensing terms.

This wiki is open to editing by anyone who's interested. A (free) account is required, though, see the 'Create account' link above.

The source for scripts used to compute data for this wiki is stored at https://github.com/bhackett1024/coral, submit a pull request there to make any changes.

Note (bhackett): Thus far, I have produced all content on this wiki. I am an amateur in all of the areas under consideration here. While I'm using the development of this wiki as a lever to learn about these areas, all content on this wiki is potentially error prone.