Elevated sea surface temperatures caused by global warming is one of the major threats to coral reefs. Corals survive within a small temperature range and at their upper temperature threshold require efficient heat transfer with the overlying water column to support key biological processes for survival. Continued heat stress typically leads to coral bleaching and in many cases, coral death. In many reef areas, it has been found that certain species of coral can survive elevated heat levels for substantially longer than other species. Although many biological processes play a role in coral bleaching, the ability for corals to dissipate heat along its surface is a main factor. Heat transfer rates are primarily determined by flow conditions, coral morphology, and the physics of the resulting fluid-structure interaction, which remains poorly understood.

To investigate the interrelationship of these factors on fluxes of heat, this project measures how water and coral surfaces interact to regulate changes in coral temperature. This work will be conducted at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station in Bocas del Toro, Panama and/or the Bermuda Biological Laboratory in Bermuda. Both of these locations have active research partnerships with faculty at the University of Virginia.