Using Data to Identify Hot Spots and Predict Bleaching Events

Part C: Degree Heating Weeks

Degree heating week map for North America on April 14, 2016. Image source: NOAA.

Heat stress on corals will accumulate if the SST stays above the bleaching threshold for an extended period of time. So, in addition to measuring how far above the bleaching threshold the SST is, scientists also measure how long the SST stays above the threshold. These measurements are know as degree heating weeks (DHWs). DHWs tell us how much thermal stress has built up in a given area over the last 12 weeks.

  1. Go to NOAA's Coral Reef Watch home page. Click on the Degree Heating Week (DHW) icon in the left-hand navigation bar to access the most up-to-date DHW data. The Coral Reef Watch DHW maps highlight those areas around the world where corals have been under thermal stress for extended periods of time.
  2. Data are updated daily. Click on the Global link in the row of Regional Images to see a larger global map of current DHW data.
  3. Examine the map to familiarize yourself with how the data are reported.

    Checking In

    Answer the following question about the DHW map.

    • Using the dotted line grid as a way of dividing the map into smaller regions, how many regions were experiencing thermal stress?

    Stop and Think

    3: Did you identify any areas where you would expect to see significant or widespread bleaching? Explain.

  4. Use your browser's back button to return to the main DHW map page. Click on the lower Animations (90d) link 45ns for a view of DHW 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 accumulated thermal stress than is seen in the most current data.

    Checking In

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

    • How do the current levels of accumulated thermal stress compare to those over the last 3 months?
    • Do certain regions appear to experience prolonged thermal stress more often than others? (i.e., Do certain regions appear more at risk than others?)