Coral reefs are complex underwater ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable to climate extremes. In this chapter, we review the meteorological processes that influence corals and their growth, illustrate a number of methods for growth rate modeling, and show how climate extremes can affect growth rates. We then provide two examples of detailed modeling of coral colony growth as a function of climate in the Caribbean, for reefs off the coasts of Jamaica and Curaçao. For the Jamaican reefs, non-branching coral recruitment was inversely correlated with storm severity. For the reefs off Curaçao, the only significant correlation, which was negative, was the maximum daily temperature with a 30-day moving average applied (p-value of 0.002), suggesting that during the measurement period, temperatures rose to values higher than optimum for growth, but not sufficiently high to cause bleaching.
Our results show that hurricanes and severe storms can limit the recruitment and survival of massive coral colonies, and that small changes in temperature can significantly influence branching coral growth rates. Even for the simple exponential growth models, it is possible to introduce parameters for climate variables and climate change that should be useful predictively. Future studies will link climate modeling with environmental genetics and studies on symbiont diversity.
The deeps have music soft and low
When winds awake the airy spry,
It lures me, lures me on to go
And see the land where corals lie.
The land, the land where corals lie.(Text by Richard Garnett (1835–1906). Set by Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934), Op. 37, first performance 1899, from Sea Pictures, no. 4.)