Using Data to Identify Hot Spots and Predict Bleaching Events

Part B: Bleaching Hot Spots

Bleaching hot spot map for Eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans on April 14, 2016. Image source: [link 'NOAA' new]

Scientists have found that corals begin to get stressed when the sea surface temperature (SST) gets just 1°C warmer than the highest expected temperature for the warmest month of the year. This temperature is called the bleaching threshold. SST can be monitored using Earth-orbiting satellites, which are able to keep a continuous watch on the state of the oceans around the globe. Data from these satellites are vital for predicting and fighting coral bleaching.

  1. To identify areas at risk for bleaching, start by looking for places where SSTs are warmer than normal. Go to NOAA's Coral Reef Watch home page. Click on the HotSpot icon in the left-hand navigation bar to access the most up-to-date bleaching hot spot data. The Coral Reef Watch HotSpot maps highlight those areas around the world where sea surface temperatures are above the maximum monthly mean (MMM).
  2. Data are updated daily. Click on the Global link in the row for Regional Images to see a larger global map of hot spot data.
  3. Examine the map to familiarize yourself with how the data are reported.
  4. Use your browser's back button to return to the main HotSpot map page. Click on the lower Animations (90d) link 45ns for a view of hot spot progression over the last 3 months.
  5. Watch the animation at least once all the way through, noting which months appear to have more or less thermal stress than is seen in the most current data.

    Checking In

    Answer the following question about thermal stress over the last 3 months.

    • How do the current levels of thermal stress compare to those over the last 3 months?
    • Do certain regions appear to experience thermal stress more often than others?