The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, is subject to many environmental stressors. This study utilizes remotely sensed Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) chlorophyll a concentration data to explore statistically significant relationships between local-scale tropical cyclone disturbance and relative water quality between 2004–2014. The study reveals that tropical cyclone activity reduces water quality at 8- and 16-day time lags. Relationships suggest that at early stages (during and just after cyclone activity) algal response is induced primarily through wind-driven sediment re-suspension. However, wind speed in isolation only increases minimum levels of chlorophyll a, rather than mean or extreme upper values. At greater time lags (16-day), it is suggested that nutrient runoff from rainfall (and perhaps storm surge) increase phytoplankton activity, leading to detrimental ecological effects. The analyses systematically demonstrate the dominance of tropical cyclone size on mean and extreme values of chlorophyll a during and after tropical cyclone activity (at 0-, 8-, and 16-day time lags). Both the total area affected and the area from which nutrients can be extracted have more impact on chlorophyll a concentrations than either the duration or intensity of the cyclone. Findings indicate that efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment leaching into the reef lagoon from the Queensland coastal lands need to be continued and improved. This will be particularly important in the context of climate change, since tropical cyclone frequency, dynamics and characteristics are likely to change.

Document Type

Pre-print Article

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

This article first appeared in Biogeosciences Discussions (2017), 1-35.

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.