Potential role of the ocean thermostat in determining regional differences in coral reef bleaching events

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Abstract

[1] Several negative feedback mechanisms have been proposed by others to explain the stability of maximum sea surface temperature (SST) in the western Pacific warm pool (WPWP). If these “ocean thermostat” mechanisms effectively suppress warming in the future, then coral reefs in this region should be less exposed to conditions that favor coral reef bleaching. In this study we look for regional differences in reef exposure and sensitivity to increasing SSTs by comparing reported coral reef bleaching events with observed and modeled SSTs of the last fifty years. Coral reefs within or near the WPWP have had fewer reported bleaching events relative to reefs in other regions. Analysis of SST data indicate that the warmest parts of the WPWP have warmed less than elsewhere in the tropical oceans, which supports the existence of thermostat mechanisms that act to depress warming beyond certain temperature thresholds.

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