Are Corals Alive

Christina Perez
• Saturday, 16 January, 2021
• 32 min read

A coral polyp is an invertebrate that can be no bigger than a pinhead to up to a foot in diameter. Each polyp has a saclike body and a mouth that is encircled by stinging tentacles.

corals soft hard sulawesi north coral
(Source: www.planetstillalive.com)


The polyp uses calcium carbonate (limestone) from seawater to build a hard, cup-shaped skeleton. Corals are sessile animals that “take root” on the ocean floor.

When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. Corals are sessile, which means that they permanently attach themselves to the ocean floor, essentially “taking root” like most plants do.

Corals actually comprise an ancient and unique partnership, called symbiosis, that benefits both animal and plant life in the ocean. Corals have tiny, tentacle-like arms that they used to capture their food from the water and sweep into their inscrutable mouths.

Because of this cycle of growth, death, and regeneration among individual polyps, many coral colonies can live for a very long time. More than merely a clever collaboration that has endured between some of the tiniest ocean animals and plants for some 25 million years, this mutual exchange is the reason why coral reefs are the largest structures of biological origin on Earth, and rival old-growth forests in the longevity of their ecological communities.

Bamboo corals like this one spotted during Dive 04 of the 2019 Southeastern U.S. Deep-sea Exploration are colonial, which means that each polyp is a separate animal. Because corals are attached, taking root to the seafloor, people often think they are plants.

corals hard soft sulawesi north coral part
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However, unlike plants, corals do not make their own food using photosynthesis. They are invertebrates (animals lacking a backbone) belonging to the phylum Cnidaria, class Anthony.

The polyp uses calcium carbonate (limestone) from seawater to build a hard, cup-shaped skeleton. A coral “group” is a colony of myriad genetically identical polyps.

Each polyp is a sac-like animal typically only a few millimeters in diameter and a few centimeters in height. A set of tentacles surround a central mouth opening.

Over many generations, the colony thus creates a skeleton characteristic of the species which can measure up to several meters in size. Individual colonies grow by asexual reproduction of polyps.

Corals also breed sexually by spawning : polyps of the same species release gametes simultaneously overnight, often around a full moon. Although some corals are able to catch plankton and small fish using stinging cells on their tentacles, most corals obtain the majority of their energy and nutrients from photosyntheticunicellulardinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium that live within their tissues.

coral corals fluorescence morphologic nightsea
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These are commonly known as zooxanthellae and gives the coral color. Such corals require sunlight and grow in clear, shallow water, typically at depths less than 60 meters (200 feet; 33 fathoms).

Corals are major contributors to the physical structure of the coral reefs that develop in tropical and subtropical waters, such as the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. These corals are increasingly at risk of bleaching events where polyps expel the zooxanthellae in response to stress such as high water temperature or toxins.

Other corals do not rely on zooxanthellae and can live globally in much deeper water, such as the cold-water genus Ophelia which can survive as deep as 3,300 meters (10,800 feet; 1,800 fathoms). Some have been found as far north as the Darwin Mounds, northwest of Cape Wrath, Scotland, and others off the coast of Washington state and the Aleutian Islands.

The classification of corals has been discussed for millennia, owing to having similarities to both plants and animals. Aristotle's pupil Theophrastus described the red coral, medallion, in his book on stones, implying it was a mineral, but he described it as a deep-sea plant in his Inquiries on Plants, where he also mentions large stony plants that reveal bright flowers when underwater in the Gulf of Heroes.

Pliny the Elder stated boldly that several sea creatures including sea nettles and sponges “are neither animals nor plants, but are possessed of a third nature (Serbia natural)”. Petrus Gallium copied Pliny, introducing the term zoophyte for this third group in his 1535 book On the French and Latin Names of the Fishes of the Marseilles Region ; it is popularly but wrongly supposed that Aristotle created the term.

sea anemone north corals sulawesi coral
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Gallium further noted, following Aristotle, how hard it was to define what was a plant and what was an animal. The Persian polymath Al-Biruni (d.1048) classified sponges and corals as animals, arguing that they respond to touch.

Nevertheless, people believed corals to be plants until the eighteenth century, when William Herschel used a microscope to establish that coral had the characteristic thin cell membranes of an animal. Stony coral, also known as hard coral, polyps produce a skeleton composed of calcium carbonate to strengthen and protect the organism.

This is deposited by the polyps and by the coenosarc, the living tissue that connects them. The polyps sit in cup-shaped depressions in the skeleton known as corallines.

Colonies of stony coral are very variable; a single species may adopt an encrusting, plate-like, bushy, columnar or massive solid structure, the various forms often being linked to different types of habitat, with variations in light level and water movement being significant. The body of the polyp may be roughly compared in a structure to a sac, the wall of which is composed of two layers of cells.

Between October and encoder is a supporting layer of gelatinous substance termed resole, secreted by the cell layers of the body wall. The resole can contain skeletal elements derived from cells migrated from October.

coral hard plate sulawesi north corals part
(Source: www.planetstillalive.com)

At the center of the upper end of the sac lies the only opening called the mouth, surrounded by a circle of tentacles which resemble glove fingers. The tentacles are organs which serve both for the tactile sense and for the capture of food.

Polyps extend their tentacles, particularly at night, often containing coiled stinging cells (adipocytes) which pierce, poison and firmly hold living prey paralyzing or killing them. Polyp prey includes plankton such as cope pods and fish larvae.

Longitudinal muscular fibers formed from the cells of the October allow tentacles to contract to convey the food to the mouth. Similarly, circularly disposed muscular fibers formed from the encoder permit tentacles to be protracted or thrust out once they are contracted.

In both stony and soft corals, the polyps can be retracted by contracting muscle fibers, with stony corals relying on their hard skeleton and adipocytes for defense. Soft corals generally secrete terpenoid toxins to ward off predators.

In most corals, the tentacles are retracted by day and spread out at night to catch plankton and other small organisms. Shallow water species of both stony and soft corals can be zooxanthellae, the corals supplementing their plankton diet with the products of photosynthesis produced by these symbionts.

coral soft sarcophyton corals sulawesi north hard
(Source: www.planetstillalive.com)

The polyps interconnect by a complex and well-developed system of gastrovascular canals, allowing significant sharing of nutrients and symbionts. The external form of the polyp varies greatly.

The column may be long and slender, or may be so short in the vertical direction that the body becomes disk-like. The tentacles may number many hundreds or may be very few, in rare cases only one or two.

The mouth may be level with the surface of the periscope, or may be projecting and trumpet-shaped. However, their tissues are often reinforced by small supportive elements known as “sclerites” made of calcium carbonate.

Soft corals vary considerably in form, and most are colonial. A few soft corals are stolon ate, but the polyps of most are connected by sheets of tissue called coenosarc, and in some species these sheets are thick and the polyps deeply embedded in them.

Some soft corals encrust other sea objects or form lobes. Others are tree-like or whip-like and chem a central axial skeleton embedded at its base in the matrix of the supporting branch.

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These branches are composed either of a fibrous protein called gorgon in or of a calcified material. In some tropical species these are reduced to mere stubs and in some they are fused to give a paddle-like appearance.

Coral skeletons are biocomposites (mineral + organics) of calcium carbonate, in the form of calcite or aragonite. In scleractinian corals, “centers of calcification” and fibers are clearly distinct structures differing with respect to both morphology and chemical compositions of the crystalline units.

The organic matrices extracted from diverse species are acidic, and comprise proteins, sulfate sugars and lipids; they are species specific. The soluble organic matrices of the skeletons allow differentiating zooxanthellae and non-zooxanthellae specimens.

Discharge mechanism of a stinging cell (nematocyst) Polyps feed on a variety of small organisms, from microscopic zooplankton to small fish. The polyp's tentacles immobilize or kill prey using stinging cells called nematocysts.

These cells carry venom which they rapidly release in response to contact with another organism. A dormant nematocyst discharges in response to nearby prey touching the trigger (Codicil).

zombie agave seduction palythoa cb corals soft
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A flap (operculum) opens and its stinging apparatus fires the barb into the prey. Once the prey is digested the stomach reopens allowing the elimination of waste products and the beginning of the next hunting cycle.

Many corals, as well as other cnidarian groups such as sea anemones form a symbiotic relationship with a class of dinoflagellatealgae, zooxanthellae of the genus Symbiodinium, which can form as much as 30% of the tissue of a polyp. Young corals are not born with zooxanthellae, but acquire the algae from the surrounding environment, including the water column and local sediment.

The main benefit of the zooxanthellae is their ability to photosynthesize which supplies corals with the products of photosynthesis, including glucose, glycerol, and amino acids, which the corals can use for energy. In addition to the soft tissue, microbiomes are also found in the coral's mucus and (in stony corals) the skeleton, with the latter showing the greatest microbial richness.

The zooxanthellae benefit from a safe place to live and consume the polyp's carbon dioxide, phosphate and nitrogenous waste. Stressed corals will eject their zooxanthellae, a process that is becoming increasingly common due to strain placed on coral by rising ocean temperatures.

Ejection increases the polyp's chance of surviving short-term stress and if the stress subsides they can regain algae, possibly of a different species, at a later time. If the stressful conditions persist, the polyp eventually dies.

corals cultured unique sgreefclub
(Source: www.sgreefclub.com)

Zooxanthellae are located within the coral cytoplasm and due to the algae's photosynthetic activity the internal pH of the coral can be raised; this behavior indicates that the zooxanthellae are responsible to some extent for the metabolism of their host corals. Corals can be both gonochoristic (unisexual) and hermaphroditic, each of which can reproduce sexually and asexually.

Reproduction also allows coral to settle in new areas. The gametes fertilize at the water's surface to form a microscopic larva called a Paula, typically pink and elliptical.

This synchrony is essential so male and female gametes can meet. Corals rely on environmental cues, varying from species to species, to determine the proper time to release gametes into the water.

The cues involve temperature change, lunar cycle, day length, and possibly chemical signalling. Synchronous spawning may form hybrids and is perhaps involved in coral speciation.

The spawning event can be visually dramatic, clouding the usually clear water with gametes. Brooders Brooding species are most often ahermatypic (not reef-building) in areas of high current or wave action.

found fossil extinct alive zealand
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Brooders release only sperm, which is negatively buoyant, sinking on to the waiting egg carriers who harbor unfertilized eggs for weeks. Synchronous spawning events sometimes occur even with these species.

After fertilization, the corals release Paula that are ready to settle. Generalized life cycle of corals via sexual reproduction: Colonies release gametes in clusters (1) which float to the surface (2) then disperse and fertilize eggs (3).

They then metamorphose into a juvenile polyp (6) which then matures and reproduces asexually to form a colony (7, 8). Plane The time from spawning to larval settlement is usually two to three days, but can occur immediately or up to two months.

Broadcast-spawned Paula larvae develop at the water's surface before descending to seek a hard surface on the bent hos to which they can attach and begin a new colony. The larvae often need a biological cue to induce settlement such as specific fructose coralline algae species or microbial biofilms.

High failure rates afflict many stages of this process, and even though thousands of eggs are released by each colony, few new colonies form. The larvae metamorphose into a single polyp and eventually develops into a juvenile and then adult by asexual budding and growth.

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Basal plates (chalices) of Torricelli annular is showing multiplication by budding (small central plate) and division (large double plate)Within a coral head, the genetically identical polyps reproduce asexually, either by budding (gestation) or by dividing, whether longitudinally or transversely. Budding involves splitting a smaller polyp from an adult.

As the new polyp grows, it forms its body parts. The distance between the new and adult polyps grows, and with it, the coenosarc (the common body of the colony).

Budding can be intraventricular, from its oral discs, producing same-sized polyps within the ring of tentacles, or extratentacular, from its base, producing a smaller polyp. Division forms two polyps that each become as large as the original.

Longitudinal division begins when a polyp broadens and then divides its coelenterate (body), effectively splitting along its length. The two polyps thus created then generate their missing body parts and exoskeleton.

This means one has the basal disc (bottom) and the other has the oral disc (top); the new polyps must separately generate the missing pieces. Asexual reproduction offers the benefits of high reproductive rate, delaying senescence, and replacement of dead modules, as well as geographical distribution.

coral hawaii sunscreen reefs oxybenzone unbleached does why ban mikhail dudarev istockphoto alive getty
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The possible mechanisms include fission, bailout and fragmentation. Fragmentation involves individuals broken from the colony during storms or other disruptions.

Top-down and bottom-up control of microbiota structure in the coral holobiont Stable microbes may be introduced to the holobiont through horizontal or vertical transmission and persist in ecological niches within the coral polyp where growth (or immigration) rates balance removal pressures from biophysical processes and immune or ecological interactions.

Transient microbes enter the holobiont from environmental sources (e.g., seawater, prey items, or suspension feeding) and removal rates exceed growth/immigration rates such that a dynamic and high diversity microbiota results. Transient and stable populations compete for resources including nutrients, light and space and the outcome of resource-based competition (bottom up control) ultimately determines population growth rate and thus ability to persist when subject to removal.

Locations of coral reefs around the Goldman corals in the order Scleractinia are hermetic, meaning that they are involved in building reefs. Most such corals obtain some of their energy from zooxanthellae in the genus Symbiodinium.

These are symbiotic photosynthetic dinoflagellates which require sunlight; reef-forming corals are therefore found mainly in shallow water. They secrete calcium carbonate to form hard skeletons that become the framework of the reef.

coral pitchfork
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However, not all reef-building corals in shallow water contain zooxanthellae, and some deep water species, living at depths to which light cannot penetrate, form reefs but do not harbor the symbionts. Staghorn coral (Corpora cervicogenic) is an important hermetic coral from the CaribbeanThere are various types of shallow-water coral reef, including fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls; most occur in tropical and subtropical seas.

The Great Barrier Reef is thought to have been laid down about two million years ago. Over time, corals fragment and die, sand and rubble accumulates between the corals, and the shells of clams and other mollusks decay to form a gradually evolving calcium carbonate structure.

Coral reefs are extremely diverse marine ecosystems hosting over 4,000 species of fish, massive numbers of cnidarians, mollusks, crustaceans, and many other animals. Tabulate corals occur in limestones and calcareous sales of the Ordovician and Silurian periods, and often form low cushions or branching masses of calcite alongside rose corals.

Their numbers began to decline during the middle of the Silurian period, and they became extinct at the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago. The rose corals existed in solitary and colonial forms, and were also composed of calcite.

The currently ubiquitous stony corals filled the niche vacated by the extinct rose and tabulate species. The skeletons of stony corals are composed of a form of calcium carbonate known as aragonite.

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Although they are geologically younger than the tabulate and rose corals, the aragonite of their skeletons is less readily preserved, and their fossil record is accordingly less complete. At certain times in the geological past, corals were very abundant.

Like modern corals, these ancestors built reefs, some of which ended as great structures in sedimentary rocks. Fossils of fellow reef-dwellers algae, sponges, and the remains of many schizoids, brachiopods, bivalves, gastropods, and trilobites appear along with coral fossils.

Coral fossils are not restricted to reef remnants, and many solitary fossils are found elsewhere, such as Cyclocyathus, which occurs in England's Fault clay formation. Timeline of the major coral fossil record and developments from 650 m.y.a.

In particular, coral mining, agricultural and urban runoff, pollution (organic and inorganic), overfishing, blast fishing, disease, and the digging of canals and access into islands and bays are localized threats to coral ecosystems. Broader threats are sea temperature rise, sea level rise and pH changes from ocean acidification, all associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

In 1998, 16% of the world's reefs died as a result of increased water temperature. Approximately 10% of the world's coral reefs are dead.

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About 60% of the world's reefs are at risk due to human-related activities. Over 50% of the world's coral reefs may be destroyed by 2030; as a result, most nations protect them through environmental laws.

In the Caribbean and tropical Pacific, direct contact between ~40–70% of common seaweeds and coral causes bleaching and death to the coral via transfer of lipid -soluble metabolites. Seaweed and algae proliferate given adequate nutrients and limited grazing by herbivores such as parrot fish.

Submarine springs found along the coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula produce water with a naturally low pH (relatively high acidity) providing conditions similar to those expected to become widespread as the oceans absorb carbon dioxide. Surveys discovered multiple species of live coral that appeared to tolerate the acidity.

The colonies were small and patchily distributed, and had not formed structurally complex reefs such as those that compose the nearby Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. While local action such as habitat restoration and herbivore protection can reduce local damage, the longer-term threats of acidification, temperature change and sea-level rise remain a challenge.

Protecting networks of diverse and healthy reefs, not only climate Refugio, helps ensure the greatest chance of genetic diversity, which is critical for coral to adapt to new climates. A variety of conservation methods applied across marine and terrestrial threatened ecosystems makes coral adaption more likely and effective.

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To assess the threat level of coral, scientists developed a coral imbalance ratio, Log(Average abundance of disease associated taxa / Average abundance of healthy associated taxa). The lower the ratio the healthier the microbial community is.

This ratio was developed after the microbial mucus of coral was collected and studied. Local economies near major coral reefs benefit from an abundance of fish and other marine creatures as a food source.

Reefs also provide recreational scuba diving and snorkeling tourism. These activities can damage coral but international projects such as Green Fins that encourage dive and snorkel centers to follow a Code of Conduct have been proven to mitigate these risks.

In general, it is inadvisable to give coral as gifts since they are in decline from stressors like climate change, pollution, and unsustainable fishing. Always considered a precious mineral, “the Chinese have long associated red coral with auspiciousness and longevity because of its color and its resemblance to deer antlers (so by association, virtue, long life, and high rank”.

It reached its height of popularity during the Manchu or Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when it was almost exclusively reserved for the emperor's use either in the form of coral beads (often combined with pearls) for court jewelry or as decorative Pending (decorative miniature mineral trees). The “early-modern 'coral network' the Mediterranean Sea to Qing China via the English East India Company “.

There were strict rules regarding its use in a code established by the Qianlong Emperor in 1759. In medicine, chemical compounds from corals can potentially be used to treat cancer, AIDS, pain, and for other therapeutic uses.

Coral skeletons, e.g. Iodide are also used for bone grafting in humans. Coral Call, known as Naval Plasma in Sanskrit, is widely used in traditional system of Indian medicine as a supplement in the treatment of a variety of bone metabolic disorders associated with calcium deficiency.

In classical times ingestion of pulverized coral, which consists mainly of the weak base calcium carbonate, was recommended for calming stomach ulcers by Galen and Discords. Healthy coral reefs absorb 97 percent of a wave’s energy, which buffers shorelines from currents, waves, and storms, helping to prevent loss of life and property damage.

Coastlines protected by coral reefs are also more stable in terms of erosion than those without. Coastal communities near coral reefs rely heavily on them.

Certain species form communities called microatolls, which are colonies whose top is dead and mostly above the water line, but whose perimeter is mostly submerged and alive. Average tide level limits their height.

By analyzing the various growth morphologies, microatolls offer a low resolution record of sea level change. Such methods can help to reconstruct Holocene sea levels.

Increasing sea temperatures in tropical regions (~1 degree C) the last century have caused major coral bleaching, death, and therefore shrinking coral populations since although they are able to adapt and acclimate, it is uncertain if this evolutionary process will happen quickly enough to prevent major reduction of their numbers. Though coral have large sexually-reproducing populations, their evolution can be slowed by abundant asexual reproduction.

Gene flow is variable among coral species. According to the biogeography of coral species gene flow cannot be counted on as a dependable source of adaptation as they are very stationary organisms.

However, adaptation to climate change has been demonstrated in many cases. These are usually due to a shift in coral and zooxanthellae genotypes.

These shifts in allele frequency have progressed toward more tolerant types of zooxanthellae. Scientists found that a certain scleractinian zooxanthella is becoming more common where sea temperature is high.

Symbionts able to tolerate warmer water seem to photosynthesize more slowly, implying an evolutionary trade-off. In the Gulf of Mexico, where sea temperatures are rising, cold-sensitive staghorn and elk horn coral have shifted in location.

Not only have the symbionts and specific species been shown to shift, but there seems to be a certain growth rate favorable to selection. Some reefs in current shadows represent a Refugio location that will help them adjust to the disparity in the environment even if eventually the temperatures may rise more quickly there than in other locations.

This separation of populations by climatic barriers causes a realized niche to shrink greatly in comparison to the old fundamental niche. Geochemistry Corals are shallow, colonial organisms that integrate oxygen and trace elements into their skeletal aragonite (poly morph of calcite) crystalline structures as they grow.

Geochemical anomalies within the crystalline structures of corals represent functions of temperature, salinity and oxygen isotopic composition. Such geochemical analysis can help with climate modeling.

Strontium/calcium ratio anomalyOxygen isotope anomaly The comparison of coral strontium/calcium minimums with sea surface temperature maximums, data recorded from NIÑO 3.4 SSA, time can be correlated to coral strontium/calcium and 18 O variations. To confirm accuracy of the annual relationship between Sr/Ca and 18 O variations, a perceptible association to annual coral growth rings confirms the age conversion.

El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is directly related to climate fluctuations that influence coral 18 O ratio from local salinity variations associated with the position of the South Pacific convergence zone (SPCA) and can be used for ENSO modeling. Sea surface temperature and sea surface salinity Global sea surface temperature (SST) Limited climate research on current species Climate research on live coral species is limited to a few studied species.

Studying Pyrites coral provides a stable foundation for geochemical interpretations that is much simpler to physically extract data in comparison to Playgirl species where the complexity of Playgirl species skeletal structure creates difficulty when physically sampled, which happens to be one of the few multidecadal living coral records used for coral paleoclimate modeling. This dragon-eye loathed is a popular source of color in reef tanks. The saltwater fish keeping hobby has expanded, over recent years, to include reef tanks, fish tanks that include large amounts of live rock on which coral is allowed to grow and spread.

These tanks are either kept in a natural-like state, with algae (sometimes in the form of an algae scrubber) and a deep sand bed providing filtration, or as “show tanks”, with the rock kept largely bare of the algae and microfauna that would normally populate it, in order to appear neat and clean. The most popular kind of coral kept is soft coral, especially mantids and mushroom corals, which are especially easy to grow and propagate in a wide variety of conditions, because they originate in enclosed parts of reefs where water conditions vary and lighting may be less reliable and direct.

More serious fish keepers may keep small polyp stony coral, which is from open, brightly lit reef conditions and therefore much more demanding, while large polyp stony coral is a sort of compromise between the two. Aquaculture is showing promise as a potentially effective tool for restoring coral reefs, which have been declining around the world.

The process bypasses the early growth stages of corals when they are most at risk of dying. Coral fragments known as “seeds” are grown in nurseries then replanted on the reef.

Coral is farmed by coral farmers who live locally to the reefs and farm for reef conservation or for income. It is also farmed by scientists for research, by businesses for the supply of the live and ornamental coral trade and by private aquarium hobbyists.

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“Symbiont diversity may help coral reefs survive moderate climate change” (PDF). “Effects of Climate and Seawater Temperature Variation on Coral Bleaching and Morality”.

^ Melbourne, K. Alameda; Quinn, Terrence M.; Taylor, Frederick W.; Delacroix, Thierry; Touring, Yves (2004). “El Niño-Southern Oscillation-related salinity variations recorded in the skeletal geochemistry of a Pyrites coral from Spirit Santa, Vanuatu”.

^ Men, Lei; Lindsay, Braddock K.; Wellington, Gerard M.; Scrag, Daniel P.; Hoegh-guldberg, One (2003). “Devolving the 18 O seawater component from subseasonal coral 18 O and Sr/Ca at Saratoga in the southwestern subtropical Pacific for the period 1726 to 1997”.

^ Wu, Henry C.; Lindsay, Braddock K.; Cassie, Emilie P.; Chiral, Benedetto; dementia, Peter B. “Oceanographic variability in the South Pacific Convergence Zone region over the last 210 years from multi-site coral Sr/Ca records”.

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