Scientists splash cold water on wonderful sunsets

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson Sunset over the Pacific at Manuel Antonio

Talk about wet blankets. Those spectacular ocean sunsets have a downside, according to scientists associated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panamá.

Particles in the air that enhance those sunsets also may have an adverse effect on coral and other ocean life.

A research team, including staff scientist Héctor Guzmán from the institute, linked airborne particles caused by volcanic activity and air pollution to episodes of slow coral-reef growth. Their data came from several coral cores drilled in reefs near the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal and also at reefs in Belize.

Particles from air pollution, primarily sulfate, reflect incoming sunlight and make clouds brighter, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the sea surface, said the institute in a summary.

Coral growth corresponded closely to sea surface temperatures and light levels, it added, noting that growth fluctuations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were largely driven by volcanic activity.

Researchers said a dive in surface temperatures and coral growth in the 1960s by increased air pollution associated with post-World War II industrial expansion in North America and to a lesser extent in Central and South America. The influence of human aerosol emissions was more pronounced in coral cores from Belize, perhaps because Belize is closer to sources of industrial emissions, said the summary.

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