Optimising cool-water injections to reduce thermal stress on coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef
Coral bleaching driven by ocean warming is one of the most visible ecological impacts of climate change and perhaps the greatest threat to the persistence of reefs in the coming decades. In the absence of returning atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to those compatible with ocean temperatures below the mass coral bleaching temperature thresholds, the most straightforward means to reduce thermal-stress induced bleaching is to cool water at the seabed. The feasibility of reducing the seabed temperature through cool-water injections is considered first by analysing the feasibility of doing so on 19 reefs with differing physical environments using a simple residence time metric in 200 m resolution hydrodynamic model configurations. We then concentrate on the reefs around Lizard Island, the most promising candidate of the 19 locations, and develop a 40 m hydrodynamic model to investigate the effect of the injection of cool water at differing volumetric rates. Injecting 27°C seawater at a rate of 5 m3 s−1 at 4 sites in early 2017 cooled 97 ha of the reef by 0.15°C or more. The power required to pump 5 m3 s−1 through a set of pipes over a distance of 3 km from a nearby channel is ∼466 kW. This power applied at 4 sites for 3 months achieves a 2 Degree Heating Weeks (DHWs) reduction on 97 ha of reef. A more precise energy costing will require further expert engineering design of the pumping equipment and energy sources. Even for the most physically favourable reefs, cool-water transported through pipes and injected at a reef site is energy expensive and cannot be scaled up to any meaningful fraction of the 3,100 reefs of the GBR. Should priority be given to reducing thermal stress on one or a few high value reefs, this paper provides a framework to identify the most promising sites.