Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles


Temporal and Spatial Variabilities of Chemical and Physical Parameters on the Heron Island Coral Reef Platform

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Aquatic Geochemistry


Coral reef, Ocean acidification, Carbonate chemistry, Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Metabolism



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Globally, coral reefs are threatened by ocean warming and acidification. The degree to which acidification will impact reefs is dependent on the local hydrodynamics, benthic community composition, and biogeochemical processes, all of which vary on different temporal and spatial scales. Characterizing the natural spatiotemporal variability of seawater carbonate chemistry across different reefs is critical for elucidating future impacts on coral reefs. To date, most studies have focused on select habitats, whereas fewer studies have focused on reef scale variability. Here, we investigate the temporal and spatial seawater physicochemical variability across the entire Heron Island coral reef platform, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, for a limited duration of six days. Autonomous sensor measurements at three sites across the platform were complemented by reef-wide boat surveys and discrete sampling of seawater carbonate chemistry during the morning and evening. Variability in both temporal and spatial physicochemical properties were predominantly driven by solar irradiance (and its effect on biological activity) and the semidiurnal tidal cycles but were influenced by the local geomorphology resulting in isolation of the platform during low tide and rapid flooding during rising tides. As a result, seawater from previous tidal cycles was sometimes trapped in different parts of the reef leading to unexpected biogeochemical trends in space and time. This study illustrates the differences and limitations of data obtained from high-frequency measurements in a few locations compared to low-frequency measurements at high spatial resolution and coverage, showing the need for a combined approach to develop predictive capability of seawater physicochemical properties on coral reefs.


We would like to thank the Heron Island Research Station staff for their help with facilitating this project. We are also grateful for the constructive feedback by two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor that significantly improved this manuscript. The research was supported by funding from NSF OCE 12-55042 (AJA) and Australian Council Discovery Grant 150102092 (BDE and AJA).





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