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Georgia Southern professor co-authors new paper on hypoxia in coral reefs brought on by global warming

A new faculty member in the Institute for Coastal Plain Science, Tyler Cyronak, Ph.D., an assistant professor teaching Sustainability Research Methods and Biogeography, is a co-author on a manuscript that was created based on extensive studies at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and it has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

Tyler Cyronak, Ph.D.

Cyronak along with Scripps Oceanography scientists and colleagues from around the globe have conducted the first examinations of the oxygen lost on global coral reefs undergoing ocean warming. This project brought together many different field deployments of dissolved oxygen sensors that helped determine the fluctuations of oxygen on shallow coral reefs.

Cyronak explained that he has always been interested in the modern environmental conditions on coral reefs and how they are benthic organisms that cannot escape harmful conditions. 

“I am interested in the ‘ocean weather’ that marine organisms experience. Animals that live in the ocean experience changes in seawater conditions that are just like the atmospheric weather we experience on land,” Cyronak explained “Local ocean weather conditions can determine how an organism is impacted by global climate change. Oxygen is particularly important because even short term periods of low oxygen can have devastating effects on corals.”

Cyronak began completing field work in 2015 at Heron Island, Australia and Hog Reef, Bermuda. His contributions spanned over the next several years, helping the study come to fruition. Over the course of his extensive research, he participated in several field deployments which consisted of using instruments called a SeapHOx. SeapHOxmeasures oxygen, pH, temperature, and salinity of ocean water. These instruments were autonomous and usually secured down to the reef using plastic zip ties by scuba divers. 

“Coral reefs have large and dynamic seawater conditions that can shape their response to climate change. This project built off other work of mine that examined the short term changes in temperature and pH on coral reefs. To understand how climate change will impact coral reefs, we need to understand how the weather changes now and predict how it will change in the future,” he said.

According to the Nature Climate Change Journal, researchers found that as global temperatures rise and heat waves become more consistent and severe, low oxygen levels on coral reefs will likely become more common. Researchers agree that several more years of testing and field deployments will be vital to continue monitoring oxygen levels over time. 

Cyronak plans to continue similar research at his new home university, Georgia Southern University.

“I am building my lab to study the carbon cycle in coastal ecosystems,” he explained. “I’m particularly interested in the role that coastal ecosystems play in the global carbon cycle, how they are impacted by climate change, and their potential for atmospheric carbon dioxide removal. I hope to contribute to research here at Georgia Southern by building a laboratory that can measure carbon in a wide range of water samples.”

To help with his research, Cyronak has two Ph.D. students starting in Fall 2023 who will be studying the carbon cycle in marshes and seagrass. Hehopes to get local projects up and running that will help determine the efficacy and safety of using marshes to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide. 

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers 138 degree programs serving nearly 26,500 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah and Hinesville and online instruction. The leading higher education institution in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit

Last updated: 3/27/2023