Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 31 Issue 04

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Volume 31, No. 4
Pages 184 - 188


HANDS-ON OCEANOGRAPHY • How Do Upwelling and El Niño Impact Coral Reef Growth? A Guided, Inquiry-Based Lesson

By Philip M. Gravinese , Lauren T. Toth, Carly J. Randall, and Richard B. Aronson 
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PURPOSE OF ACTIVITY. This lesson uses real-world data to guide students toward understanding how climate and ocean variables impact coral reef growth. To begin this activity, students hypothesize how changes in environmental conditions could affect coral reef growth. They then compare metrics for reef growth (linear growth and percent coral cover) between two reefs in Pacific Panamá that are located in oceanographically and environmentally different embayments, or gulfs. A discussion following the first two activities allows the students to explore possible reasons for the observed differences between the reefs. Students then use their data to calculate a carbonate budget to estimate the rate of reef growth in each gulf. The purpose of calculating a carbonate budget is to provide students with an opportunity to estimate how variables such as coral growth rates, percent coral cover, and bioerosion contribute to the long-term potential for accretion or deterioration of coral reefs.


Gravinese, P.M., L.T. Toth, C.J. Randall, and R.B. Aronson. 2018. How do upwelling and El Niño impact coral reef growth? A guided, inquiry-based lesson. Oceanography 31(4):184–188, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2018.424.

Supplementary Materials

Notes for the Instructor (38 KB pdf)
Student Activity Sheet (1.4 MB pdf)
Handout S1 (9.0 MB pdf)
Handout S2 (10.3 MB pdf)
Handout S3 (2.5 MB pdf)
Handout S4 (3.9 MB pdf)
> Answer Key (2.4 MB pdf)


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