The 2015/16 ENSO event increased the temperature of waters surrounding northeast Australia to above 30 °C, with large patches of water reaching 32 °C, for over two months, which led to severe bleaching of corals of the Northern Great Barrier Reef (NGBR). This study provides evidence gained from remote-sensing data, oceanographic data and oceanographic modeling, that three factors caused this excessive heating, namely: 1) the shutdown of the North Queensland Coastal Current, which would otherwise have flushed and cooled the Northern Coral Sea and the NGBR through tidal mixing 2) the advection of warm (>30 °C) water from the Gulf of Carpentaria eastward through Torres Strait and then southward over the NGBR continental shelf, and 3) presumably local solar heating. The eastward flux of this warm water through Torres Strait was driven by a mean sea level difference on either side of the strait that in turn was controlled by the wind, which also generated the southward advection of this warm water onto the NGBR shelf. On the NGBR shelf, the residence time of this warm water was longer inshore than offshore, and this may explain the observed cross-shelf gradient of coral bleaching intensity. The fate of the Great Barrier Reef is thus controlled by the oceanography of surrounding seas.
Bibliographical noteAuthor Accepted Manuscript
- Coral bleaching
- Heat advection
- Water circulation