What can a buoy in the ocean do in the fight against the effects of climate change? A lot, as I found out last week in the Coral Triangle — the most biodiverse marine region in the world.

I visited Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea with three scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Dr. Mark Eakin, who leads their Coral Reef Watch Program; Dr. Rusty Brainard, who leads their Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED); and Danny Merritt, who is an ocean engineer (also with CRED).

NOAA is a world leader in monitoring climate change and its impacts on coral reefs, and we were there to include Kimbe Bay in their global monitoring program through the deployment of buoys equipped with sea-surface temperature sensing equipment.

In particular, NOAA monitors global sea-surface temperatures using satellite-derived data and uses this information to predict coral bleaching, which occurs when ocean temperatures are higher than normal in coral reef areas.

Sea-surface temperature (SST) buoys measure the actual water temperature at a site and beam the information back to NOAA via satellite. This information is used to calibrate and validate the accuracy of their satellite-derived data.

About 30 SST buoys have been deployed on coral reefs in the Caribbean and across the Pacific Ocean, and this week we installed the first SST buoy in the Coral Triangle (see photo below).


Once the SST buoy is fully operational, the information it provides will help NOAA refine their satellite monitoring system and provide us with a near real-time record of SST in Kimbe Bay.

Since the SST buoy only measures the water temperature at the surface, we also deployed nine subsurface temperature recorders (STRs) on coral reefs at a range of sites and depths. Together with STRs already deployed by the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies), we now have an array of 22 instruments in place at six sites and six depths (0 to 35m) to monitor sea temperatures in Kimbe Bay.

These instruments, in conjunction with monitoring of corals and reef fishes by the ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies, will help us understand the conditions that cause coral bleaching — and the response by corals and reef fishes — in the bay.

In my next post from Kimbe Bay,  I’ll talk about how NOAA is now monitoring cryptic coral reef organisms there that you can’t normally see — and why that’s important for climate change science and coral reef health.

(Images: SST buoy on dock (above) and deployed in Kimbe Bay (below). Credit: Alison Green/TNC.)

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  1. We can’t be sure how important coral reefs are to the oceans as a whole, until we do we should be doing everything to protect them.

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