Christmas Island sits about as close to the middle of the Pacific as you can get. The main island of Kiribati, a small island nation, is 3,300 miles from San Francisco, 3,800 miles from Brisbane and just 140 miles north of the equator. Its closest neighbor of note is Hawaii, which is still 1,250 miles away.
Some might say it’s as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get. But it’s at the center of one of the biggest climate events in decades. A super El Niño has raised water temperatures to unprecedented levels and it’s causing a massive coral die off.
Researchers are racing to track the impacts the warming is having on coral as well as what happens to the reefs when the waters cool. The work has implications well beyond an island in the middle of nowhere. How coral respond to this year’s El Niño offers a preview of what the rest of the world’s coral will face as the world continues to warm.