Climate Science

A Peek at Cold Corals

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Science  15 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6040, pp. 269
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6040.269-c
CREDIT: NOAA/OER

The lush, warm-water corals that have become a pervasive example of species threatened by climate change are not the only such organisms so affected: Cold water corals, which live at greater depths and at higher latitudes than their more tropical relatives, are just as susceptible even if they are not as visible. Frank et al. studied the distribution of cold water corals living off the coasts of northwest Africa and Europe over the past 400,000 years, as determined radiometrically, and found that they had markedly different ranges during cold and warm times. At the peaks of glacial periods, these corals grew only as far north as 50°N latitude, whereas during warm interglacials like the present their ranges expanded northward to around 70°N latitude. This climate effect might mean that deep-water corals in the northeastern Atlantic could continue to colonize higher latitudes as global warming continues, although ocean acidification and deep-water trawling may interfere with that migration.

Geology 39, 743 (2011).

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