Opposite polarities of ENSO drive distinct patterns of coral bleaching potentials in the southeast Indian Ocean.
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Episodic anomalously warm sea surface temperature (SST) extremes, or marine heatwaves (MHWs), amplify ocean warming effects and may lead to severe impacts on marine ecosystems. MHW-induced coral bleaching events have been observed frequently in recent decades in the southeast Indian Ocean (SEIO), a region traditionally regarded to have resilience to global warming. In this study, we assess the contribution of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to MHWs across the mostly understudied reefs in the SEIO. We find that in extended summer months, the MHWs at tropical and subtropical reefs (divided at ~20°S) are driven by opposite ENSO polarities: MHWs are more likely to occur at the tropical reefs during eastern Pacific El Niño, driven by enhanced solar radiation and weaker Australian Monsoon, some likely alleviated by positive Indian Ocean Dipole events, and at the subtropical reefs during central Pacific La Niña, mainly caused by increased horizontal heat transport, and in some cases reinforced by local air-sea interactions. Madden-Julian Oscillations (MJO) also modulate the MHW occurrences. Projected future increases in ENSO and MJO intensity with greenhouse warming will enhance thermal stress across the SEIO. Implementing forecasting systems of MHWs can be used to anticipate future coral bleaching patterns and prepare management responses.
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