Novel research examining the effects of solar radiation

New research by Swansea University which examines the effects of solar radiation on the natural environment has been published by leading US science journal PLoS ONE.

The study, entitled “Solar radiation and tidal exposure as environmental drivers of Enhalus Acorodides dominated seagrass meadows”  investigated the influence of  environmental and climate related factors, particularly solar radiation, on the abundance of seagrass, a valuable ecosystem resource that is globally threatened.

The study was conducted  by Dr Richard Unsworth, Research Officer at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research, College of Science, Swansea University in collaboration with researchers at the Northern Fisheries Centre, Cairns, Australia.   

Explaining the background to the study the author Dr Richard Unsworth said:  “Given the concern about high levels of solar radiation and interest in the recent solar storms, these findings will be of interest to a wide audience. 

“Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are dependent upon the food resources that seagrasses help to supply, yet the drivers of change within these systems are poorly understood, particularly within the Indo-Pacific region. These issues have enormous importance for the continued supply of productive fisheries, and therefore food security in the coastal zone”.

Dr Unsworth explains in the paper that there is strong evidence of a global-decline in seagrass meadows related to human activity. Specific causes of this decline have been linked to a range of factors including reduced water quality, dredging and coastal and port development. While it is accepted that human activities do affect seagrass health, seagrasses are also impacted by a range of natural drivers, including variability in climate and environmental conditions.

 Dr Unsworth said; “Separating natural from human causes of seagrass change is important for developing strategies that effectively mitigate and manage the human impacts on seagrass and promote coastal ecosystems resilient to future environmental change.

 “The objective of this study was to examine the long-term dynamics of intertidal seagrass in NE Australia to determine whether environmental factors related to solar radiation and tidal exposure correlate to changes in sea-grass growth and at what scale these factors most influence the seagrass”.

 Dr Unsworth said that the study conducted in a relatively pristine environment in North East Australia had concluded that a 54% reduction in seagrass over an 11 year period was the result of elevated solar radiation and cycles of tidal exposure. Seagrass meadows are impacted by long-term natural environmental variability, and that such factors need to be considered when examining the loss of seagrass due to human activity.

The paper is now available online at . Members of the public worldwide, as well as the scientific community, are able to access this paper for free, and will be able to add comments at that site and engage in discussion with the authors and with other readers of the article, as part of the Open Access mission of the US Public Library of Science (PLoS).

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