Coral Bleaching Forecasts for Google Earth

Scientists predict that warming ocean temperatures will cause more frequent episodes of coral bleaching in the future. But how warm temperatures become—and thus, how frequently corals will bleach—depends on future emissions of greenhouse gases. In this Google Earth file, a companion to the video Warm Forecast for Coral Reefs, explore five forecasts of coral bleaching based on various emissions scenarios (called RCPs) outlined by the 2013 IPCC report.

RCP 8.5 is a "business as usual" scenario, in which only modest future progress is made to reduce emissions. RCP 6 shows a linear reduction in future emissions, while RCP 2.6 and 4.5 show stabilization later in the century—each is more of an emissions "arc" than an incline. For each of these scenarios, the rate of change in emissions would affect how soon corals in different locations will experience frequent bleaching.

If corals experience severe bleaching about twice in one decade—which is about how often they currently bleach—they can recover. But if bleaching occurs on an annual basis, corals are not likely to be able to recover and survive. This Google Earth file includes forecasts for both twice-a-decade and annual bleaching for the RCP 8.5 scenario. For the other three scenarios, it only includes a projection of annual bleaching. For more information, click on "About these images" in the Google Earth file.