#Expert Research: Stunning New Study Shows Tropical Reefs Grow Faster in Cooler Waters

Feb 7, 2023

2 min

Richard Aronson, Ph.D.


Coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panamá may not be able to keep up with projected sea-level rise over the next century. Upwelling of cool waters will provide temporary relief. Photo by Jennifer Hobbs Wills/Florida Tech.


For thousands of years, cold waters in tropical upwelling zones have hindered the growth and survival of coral species which thrived in warm seas. Stunning new research from Florida Tech shows that corals living in cooler waters are now building reefs faster than nearby corals living in warmer waters.


As climate change continues to heat up the oceans, conditions are now becoming too hot for corals to grow and survive, jeopardizing their ability to continuously build the three-dimensional structures that protect coastlines from storms and provide shelter for marine life. Cooler waters are now helping corals survive the heat stress caused by climate change by lowering the sea temperatures and offering a much-needed reprieve from the heat.


The study, “Upwelling, climate change, and the shifting geography of reef development,” published online today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, was led by Victor Rodriguez-Ruano, a Ph.D. candidate at Florida Tech, and his advisor Richard Aronson, Ph.D. The study is part of Rodriguez-Ruano’s doctoral research and was conducted in collaboration with colleagues at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Researchers used ecological surveys of coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panamá to show that reefs exposed to strong upwelling events—when deep, cold water rises to the surface—are building the reef structure at a faster rate than reefs that do not receive the stress-relief of cool waters.



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Dr. Aronson is a a department head and professor of marine biology at Florida Tech and a go-to expert on corals, Antarctica and global warming. He is available to speak with media regarding this and related topics. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview.

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Richard Aronson, Ph.D.

Richard Aronson, Ph.D.

Department Head | Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences

Dr. Aronson's research combines paleontology and ecology to reconstruct the response of marine communities to environmental changes.

Marine BiologyCoral-Reef EcologyEcologyPaleobiologyAntarctica

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