Effect of multi-scale oceanographic processes on coral reefs in the Andaman Sea

Rubao Ji, Biology
Cabell Davis, Biology
Anne Cohen, Geology & Geophysics


2014 OLI Funded Project


Coral reef ecosystems are being threatened worldwide due to increased ocean warming, acidification, and hypoxia.  The Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand represents a natural laboratory for studying the multi-scale processes impacting tropical coral reef systems.  These reefs are among the world’s most biologically diverse systems and support important fisheries and eco-tourism industries.  Yet they are facing multiple threats under a changing climate and increasing human activities.  The oceanography of Andaman Sea is relatively under-studied, thus limiting our capability to unravel the impact of climate and anthropogenic stressors on coral reefs.  A recent visit by two of the PIs (Ji and Davis) to Thailand’s prestigious Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) has generated an unprecedented opportunity to develop a collaborative research program on coral reefs in the Andaman Sea.  Interesting scientific questions and hypotheses regarding the effect of multi-scale oceanographic processes on coral reefs in the Andaman Sea were discussed during the visit.  The core question that emerged is: how is coral growth influenced by temperature and oxygen variability in the region, which is modulated by unique multi-scale processes ranging from large-scale atmospheric and oceanographic forcing (e.g.  Indian Ocean Dipole, ENSO and monsoon), to coastal trapped Kelvin waves and internal waves, and local circulation and mixing regimes? The PMBC has offered significant support in ship time, lab facilities and international travel and local expenses for the PIs to begin to tackle this question.  In addition, the proximity of the PMBC laboratory and research vessel to the study area will greatly facilitate our proposed research.  Leveraged by this great opportunity, we propose to conduct a pilot study with the following three major tasks: 1) join a PMBC-sponsored cruise across the Andaman Sea shelf in later 2014 to identify key oceanographic processes driving the fluctuation of the regional environmental condition; 2) collect samples of the dominant species of reef-building coral from key selected coral reefs on the Andaman Sea shelf to enable quantification of spatial and temporal variability in coral growth and the links to oceanographic variability; and 3) establish a framework for an Andaman Sea regional biological-physical coupled model by compiling and synthesizing newly acquired and existing oceanographic datasets.

The support from Ocean Life Institute is critical to the success of this proposed study.  Although the PMBC has offered significant support, supplemental funds for the PIs and research assistants to conduct fieldwork and lab measurements are needed.  The success of this project will establish a solid foundation for pursuing external funding opportunities including NSF and private foundations.  This proposed study is an important component of International Indian Ocean Expedition–II, a large international research initiative that is currently being promoted by a team of scientists (including PIs) from the Indian Ocean rim countries and other international programs such as IMBER (Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research).  The proposed activities will be invaluable for WHOI’s visibility and future research project development on coral reef studies in the Southeast Asian countries and beyond.