In late December 2021, satellite data analyses by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program detected a significant build-up of heat in the waters surrounding the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. And by March 2022, a mass coral bleaching event was well underway. This was the sixth such widespread bleaching event of the reef since 1998, and the first to occur during La Niña conditions, which are typically cooler.
As the summer advances in the northern hemisphere, will the coral reefs around the U.S. and its territories experience similar heat stress and bleaching? As of June 2021, some of the coral ecosystems in these regions are just starting to ‘feel the heat’, so to speak, as ocean temperatures begin to rise above normal. No coral bleaching has been observed yet, though bleaching events are possible later in the summer if ocean temperatures continue to increase through summer and fall.
If you teach about climate change impacts in your classrooms, check out Data in the Classroom's Investigating Coral Bleaching module. Bleaching events can be good anchor phenomena, and the lessons and data tools in the module can help students carry out meaningful data driven investigations.