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Success Story: Coral Reef Watch

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW) is a free, online tool that provides a global analysis of sea surface temperature (SST), and outlooks, to identify coral reefs that are at risk of bleaching. Coral reefs are very sensitive to temperature changes and when temperatures reach a certain point, they begin to bleach, or turn white. Bleaching occurs when the tiny creatures that live in coral reefs become stressed and leave, exposing the white skeleton. 

Among other data sources, the CRW products utilize near-real-time and historical satellite measurements of SST to determine the temperature threshold of coral reefs across the globe. Historical satellite measurements of SST come from the NCEI’s Pathfinder Climate Data Record (CDR), a 28-year long record of SST data. This record of SST is an essential data input to CRW, as it serves as the baseline, or climatology, against which differences in daily temperatures are measured. CRW products depend on these anomalies, or differences, to provide coral bleaching alerts.

Image of Anne RosinkiCRW inforgraphic“In 2015 Hawaii experienced a second coral bleaching event. We knew about this months before because of Coral Reef Watch … we were starting to see that temperatures were going to rise specifically in one area of the state along the western coast of Hawaii Island. We bought this to the managers at the Division of Aquatic Resources, and we actually used this to prioritize our monitoring and management strategies for that year.” —Anne Rosinki, Rapid Response Manager 2014 & 2015, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

CRW is a tremendous resource to coral reef managers, allowing them to better protect and manage the planet's most diverse aquatic resources. As coral reefs are often located in distant and remote regions, coral reef managers need satellite tools to help monitor the reefs. NCEI’s data plays a central role in supporting CRW, and the global coral reefs that this product monitors.

The climate risk management company, Acclimatise delivered their third NCEI Case Story that showcases the value of CWC data. NCEI’s Pathfinder Seas Surface Temperature (SST) Climate Data Record (CDR) is an essential input to the Coral Reef Watch (CRW) 5-km product suite. Without a long-term and high-resolution baseline temperature record, CRW would not be able to compute a SST anomaly that alerts coral reef manages to bleaching events. Without Pathfinder, the transition from the 50-km suite to the 5-km suite may not have been possible and reef managers would be lesser informed. As the world stands at risk of losing more and more coral reefs, this timeliness and value of the CRW cannot be overstated.


Image of Scuba Driver
Diver swims over bleached corals

Map -Global Sea Surface Temperatures
Global Sea Surface Temperature (SST).
Coral Reef Watch relies on a long-term
record of SST from NCEI's Pathfinder Climate Data 
Record (CDR)
, to determine coral reefs that are
at risk of bleaching.