Ocean currents magnify upwelling and deliver nutritional subsidies to reef-building corals during El Niño heatwaves

Michael D. Fox, Robin Guillaume-Castel, Clinton B. Edwards, J. Glanz, Jamison M. Gove, J. A. Mattias Green, E. Juhlin, Jennifer E. Smith, Gareth J. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Marine heatwaves are triggering coral bleaching events and devastating coral populations globally, highlighting the need to identify processes promoting coral survival. Here, we show that acceleration of a major ocean current and shallowing of the surface mixed layer enhanced localized upwelling on a central Pacific coral reef during the three strongest El Niño–associated marine heatwaves of the past half century. These conditions mitigated regional declines in primary production and bolstered local supply of nutritional resources to corals during a bleaching event. The reefs subsequently suffered limited post-bleaching coral mortality. Our results reveal how large-scale ocean-climate interactions affect reef ecosystems thousands of kilometers away and provide a valuable framework for identifying reefs that may benefit from such biophysical linkages during future bleaching events.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number24
StatePublished - Jun 14 2023

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-06-22
Acknowledgements: M.D.F. was supported by KAUST Baseline Research Funding, the U.S. National Science Foundation (OCE-2049567), a WHOI Postdoctoral Scholarship, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, the Atlantic Charter Donor Advised Fund, and a NOAA Nancy Foster Scholarship. We also thank the Scripps Family Foundation the Bohn Family and several other private donors for financial support. This is Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium (PARC) contribution PARC-165. We thank The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for logistical support and access to the refuge. This research was conducted under special use permit nos. 12533-14016 and 12533-14012. We thank Z. Caldwell, S. Clements, M. Johnson, S. Sandin, and B. Zgliczynski for assistance in the field.


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