The Rarity of Depth Refugia from Coral Bleaching Heat Stress in the Western and Central Pacific Islands

December 23, 2019

Some researchers have suggested that corals living in deeper reefs may escape heat stress experienced by shallow corals; however, results of analyzing in situ temperature records suggest otherwise.

Some researchers have suggested that corals living in deeper reefs may escape heat stress experienced by shallow corals. We evaluated the potential of deep coral reef refugia from bleaching stress by leveraging a long record of satellite-derived sea surface temperature data with a temporal, spatial, and depth precision of in situ temperature records. We calculated an in situ stress metric using a depth bias-adjusted threshold for 457 coral reef sites among 49 islands in the western and central Pacific Ocean over the period 2001–2017. Analysis of 1,453 heating events found no meaningful depth refuge from heat stress down to 38 m, and no significant association between depth and subsurface heat stress. Further, the surface metric underestimated subsurface stress by an average of 39.3%, across all depths. Combining satellite and in situ temperature data can provide bleaching-relevant heat stress results to avoid misrepresentation of heat stress exposure at shallow reefs.


Venegas RM, Oliver T, Liu G, Heron SF, Clark SJ, Pomeroy N, Young C, Eakin CM, Brainard RE. 2019. The Rarity of Depth Refugia from Coral Bleaching Heat Stress in the Western and Central Pacific Islands. Sci Rep. 9:19710. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-56232-1

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 12/30/2019