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Climate Change Drives Coral Reefs Toward Ecosystem Collapse

Coral reefs could be on the verge of a total ecosystem collapse lasting thousands of years, according to a paper published recently in Science. The paper shows how natural climatic shifts stalled reef growth in the eastern Pacific for 2,500 years. The stall-out, which began 4,000 years ago, corresponds to a period of dramatic swings in the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Richard Aronson, a biology professor at Florida Institute of Technology and Lauren Toth, a doctoral student led the study of how past episodes of climate change influenced tropical reefs of the eastern Pacific. Toth, Aronson and a multi-institutional research team drove 17-foot, small-bore aluminum pipes deep into the dead frameworks of coral reefs along the Pacific coast of Panama and pulled out cross-sections of the reefs. By analyzing the corals in the cores, they were able to reconstruct the history of the reefs over the past 6,000 years.

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