Global Change and Modern Coral Reefs: New Opportunities to Understand Shallow-Water Carbonate Depositional Processes

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carbon dioxide, carbonate sediment, cyanobacteria, foraminifera, global warming, nutrients, ozone depletion

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Human activities are impacting coral reefs physically, biologically, and chemically. Nutrification, sedimentation, chemical pollution, and overfishing are significant local threats that are occurring worldwide. Ozone depletion and global warming are triggering mass coral-bleaching events; corals under temperature stress lose the ability to synthesize protective sunscreens and become more sensitive to sunlight. Photo-oxidative stress also reduces fitness, rendering reef-building organisms more susceptible to emerging diseases. Increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2 has already reduced CaCO3 saturation in surface waters by more than 10%. Doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration over pre-industrial concentration in the 21st century may reduce carbonate production in tropical shallow marine environments by as much as 80%.

As shallow-water reefs decline worldwide, opportunities abound for researchers to expand understanding of carbonate depositional systems. Coordinated studies of carbonate geochemistry with photozoan physiology and calcification, particularly in cool subtropical-transition zones between photozoan-reef and heterotrophic carbonate-ramp communities, will contribute to understanding of carbonate sedimentation under environmental change, both in the future and in the geologic record. Cyanobacteria are becoming increasingly prominent on declining reefs, as these microbes can tolerate strong solar radiation, higher temperatures, and abundant nutrients. The responses of reef-dwelling cyanobacteria to environmental parameters associated with global change are prime topics for further research, with both ecological and geological implications.

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Sedimentary Geology, v. 175, issue 1-4, p. 19-33