Heat budget and thermal microenvironment of shallow-water corals: Do massive corals get warmer than branching corals?

Jimenez, Isabel M., Michael Kühl, A. W. D. Larkum, P. J. Ralph

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(4), 2008, 1548-1561 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.4.1548

ABSTRACT: Coral surface temperature was investigated with multiple temperature sensors mounted on hemispherical and branching corals under (a) artificial lighting and controlled flow; (b) natural sunlight and controlled flow; and (c) in situ conditions in a shallow lagoon, under naturally fluctuating irradiance, water flow, and temperature. Under high irradiance and low flow conditions, hemispherical corals were 0.6°C warmer than the surrounding water. Hemispherical corals reached higher temperatures than branching corals, by a measure of 0.2°C to 0.4°C. Microsensor temperature measurements showed the presence of a thermal boundary layer (TBL). The TBL thickness was flow dependent, and under low flow conditions, a TBL up to 3 mm thick limited heat transfer to the ambient water. Combined microsensor measurements of temperature and oxygen showed that the TBL was approximately four times thicker than the diffusive boundary layer, as predicted from heat and mass transfer theory. A simple conceptual model describes coral surface temperature as a function of heat fluxes between coral tissue, skeleton, and surroundings. The slope of the predicted linear relationship between coral temperature and solar irradiance is fixed by the efficiencies of light absorption and the heat losses to the skeleton and the water. Although spectral absorptivity may play a significant role in coral warming, shape-related differences in thermal properties can cause hemispherical corals to reach higher temperatures than branching corals. Shape-related differences in thermal histories may thus help explain differences in susceptibility to coral bleaching between branching and hemispherical coral species.

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