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Free Content Variation beneath the surface: Quantifying complex thermal environments on coral reefs in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida

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Analysis of in situ temperature records collected on six coral reefs in the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Florida Keys reveal significant variability across a range of temporal and spatial scales from minutes to seasons, across depths, and among sites. Subsurface variability occurring at daily and faster frequencies is prevalent across the region, likely driven by combinations of diurnal heating and cooling, wind driven advection, and internal waves at tidal and faster frequencies. This high frequency variability is not detected in records of remotely-sensed sea surface temperature alone. Diurnal variability likely caused by diurnal solar heating and cooling and possibly by advection associated with diurnal winds (daily sea breeze) was significant at all sites and showed greatest magnitude of variation at shallowest depths. Temperature fluctuations at tidal and faster frequencies were common at 5 out of the 6 sites. The magnitude of this variability is not well explained by measured vertical temperature stratification combined with oscillations of the water column associated with barotropic surface tides. Rather, the magnitude and nature of the temperature changes point to the presence of internal waves generated at tidal and faster frequencies. Power spectra calculated seasonally show greatest variability within both diurnal and semi-diurnal frequency bands in Spring and Summer at Florida, Bahamas, Jamaica, and St. Croix. Variability within the semi-diurnal frequency band at Belize and Bonaire was greatest in Winter. Warming in Summer estimated as degree-hours per day above 29.0°C increased with increasing latitude and varied significantly among sites and depths in a manner not predictable from remotely sensed SST data alone. Site latitude was directly related to the amplitude of the seasonal thermal variability, but was not tightly related to variability at daily and faster frequencies which was greatest at the highest and lowest latitude sites. The interactions of depth, site, and season across the study region are associated with distinct signals of thermal variability, and have significant implications for the physiology and ecology of corals and other reef organisms.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2006

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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