Prof. Terry P. Hughes

Speaker Bio

Terry Hughes is one of the world’s most distinguished coral reef scientists. He received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara before moving to Australia and James Cook University. Terry was subsequently elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2001. A recurrent theme in his studies is the application of new scientific knowledge towards improving management of marine environments. In 2008, he received the prestigious quadrennial Darwin Medal of the International Society for Reef Studies. In 2014, he was awarded an Einstein Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Science, and in December 2016 he was recognized by Nature magazine as one of the Ten people who mattered this year for his work on climate change and coral bleaching.


Global warming and coral reefs

Terry P. Hughes

Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

Tropical reef systems are increasingly threatened by global warming, especially by heatwaves that stress, bleach and often kill corals. Increasingly we are transitioning to a new era in which the interval between recurrent bouts of coral bleaching is too short for a full recovery of mature assemblages.  Throughout the tropics, the median return-time between pairs of severe bleaching events has diminished steadily since 1980, and is now only six years. As global warming has progressed, tropical sea surface temperatures are warmer now during current La Niña conditions than they were in El Niño events three decades ago. Consequently, as we transition to the Anthropocene, coral bleaching is occurring more frequently in all El Niño Southern Oscillation phases, increasing the likelihood of annual bleaching in coming decades.  A case study is the Great Barrier Reef, which has now bleached four times since 1998, including the unprecedented back-to-back bleaching in 2016 and 2017 that has transformed the ecology of the world’s largest reef system.

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