Using an experimental algorithm developed from satellite monitoring of sea surface temperatures, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are able to predict (often with some accuracy) the coral bleaching outlook for the upcoming season (for more information on the model itself, see this link).The forecast for the Austral summer (Nov ’08 – Feb ’09) is intensifying, with potential ‘severe bleaching’ predicted in the Northern sectors of the GBR – so much so that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is concerned about the rising sea temperatures.

The area most likely to suffer thermal stress with the potential for severe bleaching during the next 15 weeks is a region spanning Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Far Northern section of the GBR. Less severe thermal stress is a expected in a broader region including all of the Cairns section of the GBR. To the west, the model currently predicts a threat of moderate levels of thermal stress from southern Borneo across through Timor-Leste to southern Papua New Guinea and Torres Strait. This level of potential stress then picks up in the central GBR and east extending across Vanuatu and New Caledonia to the east-southeast of Fiji. Some mild stress may be seen around Madagascar. The greatest warming is expected to begin from late January through February.

It seems that the northern GBR is likely to be affected with the occurence of localised bleaching, but the impact across broader scales (i.e southern GBR) looks less severe. Given that the Bureau of Meterology are predicting a cyclone season “on the upper side of normal“, the impacts of cyclones passing through the coral sea could potentially dissapate the thermal stress build up that triggers coral bleaching (read more). We will keep posting updates on the 2008/2009 season as the bleaching outlook changes.

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