‘Cloud brightening’ experiment may help cool Great Barrier Reef

Part of the Great Barrier Reef

Researchers trying to save the Great Barrier Reef are attempting to cool the unusually warm sea temperatures using ‘cloud brightening’, a geo-engineering technique designed to reflect more of the sun’s rays away from the Earth

The team are spraying microscopic sea water droplets into the air over the reef, which creates more cloud cover and more shade in an effort to save the health of one of the world’s most important marine ecosystems.

If we can brighten the clouds just a little bit over the whole summer, then we can cool down the water enough to stop some of the coral bleaching

Project leader and Southern Cross University Senior Lecturer Dr Daniel Harrison.

In the last few weeks, and for the third time in five years, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered a mass bleaching event where stress from unusually warm water temperatures bleach the coral white and can kill it.

A turtle

Just before the coronavirus lockdown, the researchers managed to deploy two boats to a site over the Great Barrier Reef, 100km west of Townsville, but without the international researchers who had planned to join them.

“When we did all the analysis cloud brightening came out as really one of the better ideas that we’d found because there’s very high energetic leverage,” Harrison said.

“If we find out that this technology works as well as we hope then one day we could have these machines scattered all through the Great Barrier Reef,” Harrison said.

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10 facts about coral…

  1. Coral reefs protect wildlife
    ‘Barrier’ reefs get their name because they protect shallow warm waters from the open sea. This protection creates an important habitat for many types of tropical fish and rare plants.

2. There are three different types of coral reef Coral reefs can be divided into three types:

  • fringing reefs
  • barrier reefs
  • atolls.

Fringing reefs are close to shore, whereas a barrier reef will lie further out to sea. Often, atolls will be mistaken for islands because they are so large and generally appear on the rim of a lagoon.

3. Coral needs sunlight to grow
Coral needs sunlight to grow, which is why they thrive in shallow water. As a result, you’re unlikely to find a coral reef deeper than 45 feet. Furthermore, they also tend to prefer tropical seas, as the sea water is warmer and clearer.

4. Large reefs are thousands of years old
Large, visible reefs like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia are between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. Over time, the Great Barrier Reef has grown to include 900 smaller reefs and cover 2,600 miles crossing 500 islands.

5. Coral reefs make the sea bed more stable
Coral reefs improve the structural integrity of the sea bed. This is because they encourage the growth of seagrasses and other sea plants. The more plant life there is on the sea bed, the better it is held together. This reduces the impact of storms and tidal surges, preventing the erosion of the shoreline.

A coral reef

6. Coral cleans the water
Coral reefs also promote better water quality. The plants, animals, and organisms act as a filter, trapping debris that makes the surrounding environment cleaner. Subsequently, coral reefs tend to grow larger in areas with stronger currents as the wave patterns deliver more nourishment to the ecosystem.

7. Reefs are important nesting grounds
The calm, warm waters around coral reefs mean they are an important mating habitat for fish and other sea creatures. These protected environments create a safe-haven for eggs, keeping them safe from predators. Furthermore, the abundance of seagrass makes coral reefs important nurseries for marine mammals like dugongs.

8. The algae on a coral reef is an animal The algae that usually covers the surface of coral isn’t a plant, it’s a living organism. There are many different types of algae, from microscopic creatures to varieties with brightly-colored leaf-like tendrils. Furthermore, a microscopic variety of algae called Benthic Diatoms contribute a significant proportion to a reef’s dense biomass.

9. Coral reefs can treat cancer
Scientists have discovered that organisms within coral reefs can be used to treat cancer and other illnesses. For example, by studying coral reefs, scientists have been able to develop proteins that attack cancer cells.

10. Reefs can help to manage global warming
The last of our fun facts about coral reefs concerns their vital role in managing the planet’s carbon dioxide levels. As a giant, living, breathing organism, they are essential to regulating carbon dioxide levels in the ocean. Therefore, these ecosystems play an important role in managing the effects of global warming.

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What you can do to help protect coral reefs…

How to protect coral reefs infographic


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