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Variation beneath the surface: Quantifying complex thermal environments on coral reefs in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 02:43 authored by Leichter, JJ, Helmuth, BST, Andrew FischerAndrew Fischer
Analysis of in situ temperature records collected on six coral reefs in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Florida Keys reveal significant variability across a range of temporal and spatial scales from minutes to seasons, across depths, and among sites. Subsurface variability occurring at daily and faster frequencies is prevalent across the region, likely driven by combinations of diurnal heating and cooling, wind driven advection, and internal waves at tidal and faster frequencies. This high frequency variability is not detected in records of remotely-sensed sea surface temperature alone. Diurnal variability likely caused by diurnal solar heating and cooling and possibly by advection associated with diurnal winds (daily sea breeze) was significant at all sites and showed greatest magnitude of variation at shallowest depths. Temperature fluctuations at tidal and faster frequencies were common at 5 out of the 6 sites. The magnitude of this variability is not well explained by measured vertical temperature stratification combined with oscillations of the water column associated with barotropic surface tides. Rather, the magnitude and nature of the temperature changes point to the presence of internal waves generated at tidal and faster frequencies, Power spectra calculated seasonally show greatest variability within both diurnal and semi-diurnal frequency bands in Spring and Summer at Florida, Bahamas, Jamaica, and St. Croix. Variability within the semi-diurnal frequency band at Belize and Bonaire was greatest in Winter. Warming in Summer estimated as degree-hours per day above 29.0°C increased with increasing latitude and varied significantly among sites and depths in a manner not predictable from remotely sensed SST data alone. Site latitude was directly related to the amplitude of the seasonal thermal variability, but was not tightly related to variability at daily and faster frequencies which was greatest at the highest and lowest latitude sites. The interactions of depth, site, and season across the study region are associated with distinct signals of thermal variability, and have significant implications for the physiology and ecology of corals and other reef organisms.


Publication title

Journal of Marine Research










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Sears Foundation Marine Research

Place of publication

Yale Univ, Kline Geology Lab, 210 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, USA, Ct, 06520-8109

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Oceanic processes (excl. in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean)

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