First evidence of ocean warming around Galápagos corals

Gloria Jimenez, Senior Scientist at Haley & Aldrich and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arizona (UA), was the lead author on a UA-led team that studied the natural temperature archives stored in coral and found the ocean around the Galápagos Islands has been warming since the 1970s. The finding surprised the research team because the sparse instrumental records for sea surface temperature for that part of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean did not show warming. 

"People didn’t know that the Galápagos or eastern Pacific was warming. People theorized or suggested it was cooling," said Jimenez, who studied cores taken from coral heads in the uninhabited northern part of Ecuador's Galápagos National Park. The cores represented the years 1940 to 2010. Corals lay down seasonal growth layers that serve as a natural archive of ocean temperatures. Her analysis revealed that from 1979 to 2010, regional ocean temperatures increased almost 0.4 degrees F (0.2 degrees C) per decade — about 1.1 degrees F (0.6 degrees C) overall.

"The Galápagos National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site because it's a special and unique place," Jimenez said. "Losing the corals would be an enormous blow to the underwater biodiversity." Jimenez's next project involves analyzing an 8-foot-long Galápagos coral core she collected in 2015 that goes back to about 1850.

Read more about the research in the article by Mari N. Jansen on the University of Arizona website and read the full report in Geophysical Research Letters.

Photo: Jenifer Suarez, courtesy of the Cole lab