This theme encompasses many different facets of research across STEMM, the social sciences and humanities, including the sustainability of natural and modified ecosystems in the face of societal development and climate change, climate change science, adaptation and mitigation, mining and its corresponding global environmental challenges, sustainability and the circular economy.

PhD projects

2. Coral reef futures under climate change and ocean acidification

UQ academic lead 

Professor Peter Mumby, Vice-Chancellor's Research and Teaching Fellowship, School of Biological Sciences

Exeter academic lead

Dr Paul Halloran, Senior Lecturer, College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Project description

Coral reefs are biologically and societally critical ecosystems, which are perhaps uniquely sensitive to climate change (Perry et al. 2012). Tools to monitor and understand contemporary drivers of reef change are becoming increasingly sophisticated (e.g. eReefs, ReefMod), yet our ability to predict coral reef futures – fundamental to planning protection strategies - remain extremely limited. The challenge of linking contemporary reef monitoring and modelling to future climate projections arises from the spatial-scale and complexity disconnect between the information that state-of-the-art climate models provide (e.g., Kwiatkowski et al. 2013, 2014, 2015), and that required to model individual coral reefs (e.g. Kennedy et al., 2013; Mumby et al. 2014).

Project aims

  1. Take statistical downscaling techniques typically applied to terrestrial precipitation questions, and translate them to provide reef-scale climatic and biogeochemical data from the IPCC-focused CMIP5/6 (Climate Model Intercomparison Project) model projections.    
  2. Build a simple ocean carbon-chemistry (ocean acidification) model to account for the local scale (e.g. reef lagoon) chemical buffering/amplification of the open-ocean chemical conditions simulated by the IPCC-focused models.
  3. Build a novel set of 21st Century climate-change driven coral reef projections, and identify potential hotspots/refugia.

This project would be undertaken in two parts, first at the University of Exeter with a focus on climate modelling and carbon chemistry, then at the University of Queensland with a focus on reef-scale modelling and pioneering new coral reef projections which build on existing carbonate budget data (ReefBudget). Frequent Australia/UK visits would be required throughout the project.

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