Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Scientific Reports




44586 (9 pages)


A 2 °C increase in global temperature above pre-industrial levels is considered a reasonable target for avoiding the most devastating impacts of anthropogenic climate change. In June 2015, sea surface temperature (SST) of the South China Sea (SCS) increased by 2 °C in response to the developing Pacific El Nino. On its own, this moderate, short-lived warming was unlikely to cause widespread damage to coral reefs in the region, and the coral reef "Bleaching Alert" alarm was not raised. However, on Dongsha Atoll, in the northern SCS, unusually weak winds created low-flow conditions that amplified the 2 °C basin-scale anomaly. Water temperatures on the reef flat, normally indistinguishable from open-ocean SST, exceeded 6 C-degrees above normal summertime levels. Mass coral bleaching quickly ensued, killing 40% of the resident coral community in an event unprecedented in at least the past 40 years. Our findings highlight the risks of 2 °C ocean warming to coral reef ecosystems when global and local processes align to drive intense heating, with devastating consequences.


© The Author(s) 2017

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit

Data Availability

Article states: "Ecological survey data are provided in the Supplementary Materials, temperature data will be archived in the data repository of the Biological & Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office, and weather data are available from DARS [Dongsha Atoll Research Station]."

Supplementary materials are available online at

Temperature data with related publication matching article citation are located online at:

Original Publication Citation

DeCarlo, T. M., Cohen, A. L., Wong, G. T. F., Davis, K. A., Lohmann, P., & Soong, K. (2017). Mass coral mortality under local amplification of 2 °C ocean warming. Scientific Reports, 7, 44586. doi:10.1038/srep44586


Article Location