From the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society:

Human-induced climate change increased ocean temperatures in the early months of 2016, making a significant contribution to the worst bleaching event on record for the Great Barrier Reef. The heat killed about a quarter of the coral, with 93 per cent of the reef affected by bleaching – a situation that may become commonplace within a generation.

“As the seas warm because of our effect on the climate, bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef and other areas within the Coral Sea are likely to become more frequent and more devastating,” said Dr Andrew King from the University of Melbourne.

Dr King and his colleagues analysed recent and historic ocean temperature measurements and completed a series of climate model simulations.

“The year 2016 represented the worst Great Barrier Reef bleaching event on record. It would be virtually impossible for that level of bleaching and damage to occur without human-caused climate change,” Dr King said.

“Our results also suggest that this kind of event will become commonplace in the next few decades. Climate change damage to the reef has implications for the reef’s ecosystems as well as for industries like tourism.”

During March 2016, the Coral Sea was the warmest on record. 

 “The 2016 warmth associated with the bleaching was unprecedented in at least 350 years,” Dr King said. 

“As the effects of climate change worsen we expect this warming effect to increase.”

Dr King is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. He presented his results on Tuesday at the 2017 conference of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society in Canberra.

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