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Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00057

Predicting Heat Stress to Inform Reef Management: NOAA Coral Reef Watch's Four-Month Coral Bleaching Outlook

 Gang Liu1, 2*,  C. M. Eakin1, Mingyue Chen3,  Arun Kumar3,  Jacqueline L. De La Cour1, 2,  Scott F. Heron2, 4, Erick F. Geiger1, 2,  William J. Skirving2, 4, Kyle V. Tirak1, 2 and Alan E. Strong1, 2
  • 1NOAA/NESDIS/STAR, United States
  • 2Global Science & Technology, Inc., United States
  • 3NOAA/NWS/NCEP, United States
  • 4NOAA/NESDIS/STAR, Australia

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch (CRW) operates a global Four-Month Coral Bleaching Outlook system for shallow-water coral reefs in collaboration with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The Outlooks are generated by applying the algorithm used in CRW’s operational satellite coral bleaching heat stress monitoring, with slight modifications, to the sea surface temperature (SST) predictions from NCEP’s operational Climate Forecast System Version 2 (CFSv2). Once a week, the probability of heat stress capable of causing mass coral bleaching is predicted for four months in advance. Each day, CFSv2 generates an ensemble of 16 forecasts, with nine runs out to 45 days, three runs out to three months, and four runs out to nine months. This results in 28-112 ensemble members produced each week. A composite for each predicted week is derived from daily predictions within each ensemble member. The probability of each of four heat stress ranges (Watch and higher, Warning and higher, Alert Level 1 and higher, and Alert Level 2) is determined from all the available ensemble members for the week to form the weekly probabilistic Outlook. The probabilistic Four-Month Outlook is the highest weekly probability predicted among all the weekly Outlooks during a four-month period for each of the stress ranges. An initial qualitative skill analysis of the Outlooks for 2011-2015, compared with CRW’s satellite-based coral bleaching heat stress products, indicated the Outlook has performed well with high hit rates and low miss rates for most coral reef areas. Regions identified with high false alarm rates will guide future improvements. This Outlook system, as the first and only freely available global coral bleaching prediction system, has been providing critical early warning to marine resource managers, scientists, and decision makers around the world to guide management, protection, and monitoring of coral reefs since 2012. This has been especially valuable during the third global coral bleaching event that started in mid-2014 and extended into mid-2017. The Outlook system is an integrated component of CRW’s global decision support system for coral bleaching. Recent management actions taken in light of this system are discussed.

Keywords: coral, sea surface temperature, thermal stress, Heat stress, Outlook, prediction, Coral Reef Watch, Coral Bleaching

Received: 08 Mar 2017; Accepted: 07 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Mark R. Payne, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

Reviewed by:

Shivanesh A. Rao, Canberra, University of New South Wales, Australia
Michael Alexander, Earth System Research Laboratory (NOAA), United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Liu, Eakin, Chen, Kumar, De La Cour, Heron, Geiger, Skirving, Tirak and Strong. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Gang Liu, NOAA/NESDIS/STAR, 5830 University Research Court, College Park, 20740, Maryland, United States, gang.liu@noaa.gov