Influence of global warming and industrialization on coral reefs: A 600-year record of elemental changes in the Eastern Red Sea

Chunzhi Cai*, Nicholas Matthew Hammerman, John M. Pandolfi, Carlos M. Duarte, Susana Agusti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Red Sea has been recognized as a coral reef refugia, but it is vulnerable to warming and pollution. Here we investigated the spatial and temporal trends of 15 element concentrations in 9 coral reef sediment cores (aged from the 1460s to the 1980s AD) to study the influence of global warming and industrialization on the Eastern Red Sea coral reefs. We found Na, Ca, Cr, Fe, Co, Ni, and Sr concentrations were higher in the northern Red Sea (i.e., Yanbu), whereas Mg, P, S, Mn, and Cd concentrations were higher in the southern Red Sea (i.e., Thuwal & Al Lith) reef sediments. In the central (i.e., Thuwal) to southern (i.e., Al Lith) Red Sea, the study revealed diverse temporal trends in element concentrations. However, both reef sedimentation rates (−36.4 % and −80.5 %, respectively) and elemental accumulation rates (−49.4 % for Cd to −12.2 % for Zn in Thuwal, and −86.2 % for Co to −61.4 % for Cu in Al Lith) exhibited a declining pattern over time, possibly attributed to warming-induced thermal bleaching. In the central to northern Red Sea (i.e., Yanbu), the severity of thermal bleaching is low, while the reef sedimentation rates (187 %), element concentrations (6.7 % for S to 764 % for Co; except Na, Mg, Ca, Sr, and Cd), and all elemental accumulation rates (190 % for Mg to 2697 % for Co) exponentially increased from the 1970s, probably due the rapid industrialization in Yanbu. Our study also observed increased trace metal concentrations (e.g., Cu, Zn, and Ni) in the Thuwal and Al Lith coral reefs with severe bleaching histories, consistent with previous reports that trace metals might result in decreased resistance of corals to thermal stress under warming scenarios. Our study points to the urgent need to reduce the local discharge of trace metal pollutants to protect this biodiversity hotspot.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number169984
JournalScience of The Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024


  • Coral bleaching
  • Coral reef sediments
  • Heavy metals
  • Red Sea
  • Trace metals
  • Uranium–thorium dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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