Climate change will have a devastating effect on coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef, a study has found.
Research by The University of Queensland published on Tuesday found coral dissolved rapidly when exposed to warmer and more acidic water caused by rising carbon dioxide levels.
Co-author Associate Professor Sophie Dove, from the university’s School of Biological Sciences, said even low emission levels caused the coral to bleach and die.
“Given corals are essential to coral reefs, this is not good news,” she said.
“This has serious implications for the role of coral reefs in providing habitat for thousands of species and their role in protecting coastlines from wave impacts.”
The nine-month study used computers to control carbon dioxide levels and the temperature of water flowing over small patches of coral reef at a research centre on Queensland’s Heron Island.
Prof Dove says the study will likely be considered alongside others by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The first of three major reports by the IPCC will be released next month.
Study co-author Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg says one of the key messages from the research is that coral reefs are under greater threat from climate change than first thought.
“This sounds gloomy,” he said.
“But our study also emphasises the fact that there is time and that a small amount of effort today can have a huge impact on what happens in the future.”
Prof Hoegh-Guldberg stressed the importance of scientific research in understanding and solving problems brought on by climate change.