Simon Donner

“ Climate matters ”

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography

University of British Columbia

[Audio] My parents claim I slept better outside as a baby, no trivial matter in a Canadian winter. Maybe that's why I've been fascinated by the climate my entire life.

Today, I study why the climate matters to people and to aquatic ecosystems, like rivers, estuaries and coral reefs.

Why would a kid who used to sleep in a snow-covered carriage study coral reefs? Coral reefs are a canary in the climatic coal mine. They are more sensitive to climate change than almost any other ecosystem on the planet. The reason is that corals get most of their energy from these colourful microscopic algae living in coral tissue. But the arrangement is very sensitive to the water temperature. When the water gets too hot, the corals expel the algae and literally turn white. If the hot water persists, the corals can starve to death.

These episodes of coral "bleaching" are becoming more common because of climate change. They threaten not just the long-term survival of coral reefs, but the livelihoods of the millions of people across the tropics that depend on fish and other coral reef resources for food and for income.

My students and I use field measurements and computer modeling to evaluate how historical climate variability affects the resilience of ecosystems like coral reefs to climate change. This work helps us develop effective strategies for adaptation and mitigation. Our projects include examining coral reef resilience in the central equatorial Pacific; developing global tools for predicting coral bleaching, and developing adaptation strategies for people in the Pacific; the effect of climate variability on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to coastal waters; and the related environmental trade-offs of food, feed and fuel production.

To learn more, try my group's climate science and policy blog Maribo