Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Kendall L. Carder

Co-Major Professor

John J. Walsh


CDOM, Coral bleaching, Ocean color, Remote sensing, Time series, UVR


The variability of water-column absorption due to colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) and phytoplankton in coral reef regions is the focus of this study. Hydrographic and CDOM absorption measurements made on the Bahamas Banks and in Exuma Sound during the spring of 1999 and 2000 showed that values of salinity and CDOM absorption at 440nm were higher on the banks (37.18 psu, 0.06 m^-1), compared to Exuma Sound (37.04 psu, 0.03 m^-1). Spatial patterns of CDOM absorption in Exuma Sound revealed that plumes of CDOM-rich water flow into Exuma Sound from the surrounding banks. To examine absorption variability in reef regions throughout the world, a thirteen-year time series of satellite-derived estimates of water-column absorption due to CDOM and phytoplankton were created from Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. Time series data extracted adjacent to coral reef regions showed that variability in absorption depends on oceanographic conditions such as circulation patterns and winds as well as proximity to sources of light-absorbing materials that enter the water column, such as from terrestrial runoff. Waters near reef regions are generally clear, exhibiting a lower "baseline" level of CDOM absorption of approximately 0.01 m^-1 at 443nm. The main differences between regions lie in the periods during the year when increased levels of absorption are observed, which can be triggered by inputs of terrestrially-derived material, as in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, or wind-driven upwelling as in the Andaman Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean near Panama. The lowest CDOM absorption levels found were approximately 0.003 m^-1 at 443nm near the islands of Palau and Yap, which are removed from sources of colored materials. The highest absorption levels near reefs were associated with wind-driven upwelling during the northeast monsoon on the Andaman coast of Thailand where values of CDOM absorption at 443nm reached 0.7 m^-1. Simulations of the underwater light field based on satellite-derived absorption values revealed that changes in absorption have a strong influence on light levels to which corals are exposed, particularly in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum, where CDOM is the primary absorber of light. Episodes of coral bleaching during 1998 and 2002 were found to be associated with elevated seawater temperatures as well as decreased levels of CDOM absorption, indicating that corals were exposed to light stress along with thermal stress during periods of bleaching.