It’s no secret that Australia is in for a scorching summer, with an El Niño weather pattern active over the Pacific and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) developed, temperatures are forecast to soar. This rings alarm bells for our terrestrial environments with a black summer of bushfires looming, but also our marine environments as marine heatwave conditions are indisputable.

This year alone we have seen record breaking conditions in our marine environments. In July, the hottest ever sea-surface temperature was recorded at 38°C in waters near Florida, pushing scientists to undergo damage control rather than preventative measures, and relocating corals to cooler waters or preserving them in aquariums on land.

Forecasted Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly (SSTA) from the Bureau of Meteorology.
Cheng testing the marine cloud brightening system in Coffs Harbour.

It’s clear that with things looking so dire for our marine environments, scientists are prepared to try anything to provide relief for our reefs. This is true for our own Dr. Cheng Chen, who you might recall is currently working on marine cloud brightening to cool and shade the Great Barrier Reef and reduce coral bleaching as part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP).⁠

The project uses sea spray to increase the amount of light and heat that clouds deflect from the sun, providing shading to protect the corals below, and allowing clouds to remain over the reef for more hours of sunlight. The team are also able to generate a sea fog from microscopic sea water droplets.This fog also deflects solar energy and helps to seed the clouds above and increase their deflection capability.⁠

Cheng recently returned from a trip to Southern Cross University (SCU) in Coffs Harbour, where he set out to prepare and test the marine cloud brightening system for an upcoming fieldwork campaign. ⁠

Cheng and his colleagues at SCU have successfully fixed and tested the system, making it ready for the important February campaign that aims to provide some relief for the reef from imminent marine heat waves.⁠

The team creating sea fog on the Great Barrier Reef.