As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, scientists are trying to use climate models to identify reef communities that will be most vulnerable to storm damage.
In the current study, however, experts warn that climate models are not yet reliable enough to determine which reefs will be most at risk from cyclone damage.
Cyclones produce destructive waves that can break up or flatten coral reefs. The most damaging weather conditions are found near the eye of a cyclone.
“It can take decades to centuries for coral communities to recover from damage caused by extreme weather events – and it is important that conservationists target their limited resources at the reefs most likely to survive the change. climate,” explained study co-author Dr Marji Puotinen, a scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
“To do this, they need to assess the vulnerability of coral reefs to more extreme weather conditions. But currently, we urge caution when it comes to predicting the damage that could be done to a coral reef by future cyclones.
Researchers analyzed the accuracy of climate models by examining how well they predicted recent extreme weather events. The study found that the models did not take into account all the characteristics of a cyclone that lead to damaging waves.
While climate models predicted the average cyclone to be more intense in the future with medium to high confidence, the models were less certain about the impact of tropical cyclone wave damage on coral reefs.
“Our investigation has identified the advantages and disadvantages of using climate models in coral reef conservation work,” explained Adele Dixon, a PhD student at the University of Leeds who led the study.
“The models are accurate in projecting on a global scale that future cyclones will most likely be more intense due to climate change. But they are less accurate in projecting how these cyclones will affect individual coral reefs. – this is the result of more localized conditions such as pounding waves.
According to the study authors, more research is needed to better understand the impacts of climate change on tropical cyclones and the damage they cause to coral reefs.
The study is published in the journal Earth’s future.