April 29 (UPI) -- Australia's Great Barrier Reef faces "precipitous decline" over the next 50 years, but researchers suggest, in a study published Thursday in Royal Society Open Science, that intervention now could slow the effects of climate change by up to 20 years.
While many scientists have been searching for ways to slow or halt the reef's decline, researchers at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization suggest there are steps that could save it.
"Climate change will further exacerbate this situation over the coming decades unless effective interventions are implemented," lead study author Scott Condie, a senior principal research scientist at CSIRO, and his research partners wrote in the study.
"Evaluating the efficacy of alternative interventions in a complex system experiencing major cumulative impacts can only be achieved through a systems modelling approach," the researchers wrote.
The researchers primary advocate for the use of "cloud brightening," a process by which scientists redirect points of heat by spraying salty crystals in the air over the reef allowing for more even placement of solar radiation.
Coral reefs are the most sensitive climate ecosystems on planet Earth, and the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the planet.
As such, the reef has invaluable natural, ecological and scientific value. However, it is in continuous danger due to changing weather patterns and temperatures as well as invasive species.
A temperature increase of only one degree can have a devastating effect on the reef, in addition to mass bleaching events -- they hit it in 2016, 2017 and 2020 -- which are expected to worsen if intervention does not occur.
In the 2016, a heat wave triggered bleaching of one-third of corals, which can lead to mass coral died.
The cloud brightening technology combined with the introduction of heat-resistant corals can slow the decline of the Great Barrier Reef by as much as twenty years, researchers said.
Modeling used by the researchers expects a goal limiting global warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius by 2100 to be successful.
That goal is key to mitigating damage to the reef, as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority last August already sounded the alarm, moving its outlook from "poor" to "very poor."