Beyond bleaching: thermal stress changes the atomic structure of a shallow-water coral skeleton

Published: 6 April 2023| Version 3 | DOI: 10.17632/7g5nzwcztt.3


Supplementary data (Data S1-S8) for manuscript submitted to Science Advances titled "Beyond bleaching: thermal stress changes the atomic structure of a shallow-water coral skeleton". ABSTRACT: Anthropogenic warming is linked to more frequent coral bleaching events across the globe. Previous work has shown that marine heatwaves cause the expulsion of photosynthetic symbionts from coral tissue (i.e., bleaching) and alter the geochemistry of the coral skeleton, calling into question the reliability of skeletal trace element-based reconstructions of past climate through periods of stress. Here we show– for the first time – that the atomic-scale properties of a Porites sp. coral from Butaritari atoll (3°N, 173°E) reflect the coral's health and are linked to measured trace-element concentrations through time. Furthermore, we find that while trace-element content alone can partially explain the changes in coral aragonite crystal structure, other related factors such as skeletal organic material are also likely contributors. Our findings indicate that marine heatwaves can alter the properties of the fundamental building blocks of the coral's aragonite skeleton, with potential implications for the structural integrity of the reef.



University of Arizona Department of Geosciences, National Museum of Natural History Department of Mineral Sciences, University of Arizona, Smithsonian Institution


Geochemistry, Marine Ecosystem, Paleoclimate Proxy, Pacific Ocean, Climate, Coral Reef, Paleoclimate, Climate Change, Thermal Stress, Pacific Region, Central Pacific


National Museum of Natural History

Robert D. Hevey, Jr. and Constance M. Filling Fellowship in Mineral Sciences, 2020

National Science Foundation