Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I have been hearing this claim every year for at least the last 50 years, long before global warming was thought of
A diving expedition to the Great Barrier Reef towards the end of this century is likely to be a weird and disappointing experience, for anyone who had seen footage of the reef thriving in our time.
It will be paler, smaller and emptier. Many of the thousands of species of fish, turtles, dolphins and sea birds will have dispersed, and everywhere the crumbling bones of dead coral will be peeking through.
"It's going to be very boring out there," a James Cook University scientist, Janice Lough, told reporters in Queensland this week, at the world's largest gathering of coral researchers.
The bleak vision isn't an exaggeration designed to shock, but the logical consequence of processes that are unfolding now, scientists explained in their daily briefings.
This edition of the four-yearly conference was remarkable for the unified message presented by the 2500 researchers. A statement, said to represent the participants, called for action on pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which are making the world's oceans more acidic as they absorb extra carbon dioxide from the air.
"This combined change in temperature and ocean chemistry has not occurred since the last reef crisis 55 million years ago," it said. "A concerted effort to preserve reefs for the future demands action at global levels, but also will benefit hugely from continued local protection."
Reefs are caught in a pincer between local pollution and overfishing on the one hand, and rising temperatures and ocean acidification on the other. Dealing with the local threats would put corals in a stronger position to stave off the global problems of heat and acidifcation, which are expected to intensity later this century, said Jeremy Jackson, a senior scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
"Of course, how long this will work, we don't really know," Professor Jackson said. "Climate change is inexorable and we're seeing progressive effects. So, how long local protection will serve to increase resilience is anybody's guess."
Reef decline is worldwide, though some reefs are adapting better than others and those remote from human activity are holding up the best, he said. "If you think about this, the Great Barrier Reef is the best-protected reef system in the world, and still we're seeing these aggressive declines."
Dr Lough, who studies the massive coral skeletons beneath reefs, said warming of the water was contributing to a huge stunting of coral growth in many reefs.
Although corals thrive in tropical waters, their level of tolerance for temperature change can be very small. As global air temperatures have crept up about 0.7 degrees over the past 100 years, water temperatures near the surface have also risen by half a degree, on average. This has driven a global epidemic of coral bleaching and coral diseases, while the higher carbonic acid content of the water means coral structures are often weaker.
"Tropical coral reef waters are already significantly warmer than they were and the rate of warming is accelerating," Dr Lough said. "With or without drastic curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions we are facing, for the foreseeable future, changes in the physical environment of present-day coral reefs."
The change in reef habitat is likely to have a corresponding effect on fish. A coral expert from James Cook University, Philip Munday, described a recent experiment where fish in tanks were exposed to higher levels of carbon dioxide. Of the exposed fish, some adjusted to the changes over time, but others showed neurological changes that made them less effective at escaping predators.
"Like coral, there will be winners and losers and the communities of fish we see on reefs in the future are likely to be different to those of today," he said.
The research director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Peter Doherty, said Australia appeared to be "losing the war" to save the Great Barrier Reef.
It remains to be seen whether the statement endorsed by the reef research community has any lasting effect, but at least policy makers cannot be accused of having unambiguous advice before them, researchers said.
"The reef consensus statement is just the beginning," said Steve Palumbi, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University.
"With only the consensus statement there will be no change - it's political leaders that change the world, it's people that change the world. The turning of the corner from science to policy is really difficult to do. That's where we are right now, and that's why we're reaching out to the political leaders of the world."
Thursday, July 12, 2012
In a new study of coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panama, a team of scientists has discovered something shocking: those seemingly thriving, permanent reefs have undergone widespread devastation in the past. Even more shocking was the realization that, despite this natural destruction of coral reefs, the reefs bounced back—after laying dormant for 2,500 years. We have been told that the oh so sensitive coral reefs of the world are all going to die if the world's temperature rises due to that horrible man-made scourge, global warming. Yet it seems that nature has been happily wiping out and re-establishing reefs across all the oceans of the world since before the rise of human civilization. Once again the warmists' scare tactics founder on the reefs of actual science.
A team led by Richard Aronson, Professor and Biological Sciences Department Head at Florida Institute of Technology, studied coral reefs off the Pacific coast of Panama. The reefs in this part of the ocean are relatively untouched by the bleaching seen in other ocean locations, thriving and home to hundreds of ocean species. Just as land based researchers use tree rings to establish cronology and climatic conditions, the FIT team took core samples from a number of reefs to determine their lifespan and past health.
“We jammed 17-foot-long irrigation pipes down into the reef and pulled out a history, a section of the reef, that told us what the ups and downs of the reef had been,” Aronson said in an interview heard on America's National Public Radio and other popular news outlets. The data they gathered, along with data from other studies from around the world, were reported in a paper in Science entitled “ENSO Drove 2500-Year Collapse of Eastern Pacific Coral Reefs.” Here is the paper's abstract:
Cores of coral reef frameworks along an upwelling gradient in Panamá show that reef ecosystems in the tropical eastern Pacific collapsed for 2500 years, representing as much as 40% of their history, beginning about 4000 years ago. The principal cause of this millennial-scale hiatus in reef growth was increased variability of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its coupling with the Intertropical Convergence Zone. The hiatus was a Pacific-wide phenomenon with an underlying climatology similar to probable scenarios for the next century. Global climate change is probably driving eastern Pacific reefs toward another regional collapse.
Ignoring for the moment the gratuitous last sentence (an obvious allusion to anthropogenic global warming) we should pause for a moment and consider what this means. The first point of interest is that nature, acting without human interference, has caused long periods of reef damage, lasting for extended periods. Aronson and his colleagues, including researchers from an array of institutions, believe that natural climate change was responsible for killing off the coral. Yet nowadays any reef that shows signs of ill health is automatically a victim of human activity. Also note, this was not some small, localized disaster either.
The second point is that this phenomenon was global, or at least “Pacific-wide,” which is near global enough. This period came a thousand years after the Holocene Climate Optimum, a period of global warming that scientists think may have led to ice free summers in the Arctic—something that now fills eco-alarmists, Hollywood airheads and media news manikins with dread. Here is more proof that climate is always changing.
Third and lastly, the reefs that had been so laid to waste have bounced back to abundant, glorious life. The standard line from the green lobby is that when the world's fragile reefs die they will never (ever!) recover. Humanity's failed stewardship of nature will be written in dead coral reefs and lifeless oceans. I guess that has been proven conclusively wrong.
To be fair, most greens have extraordinarily short attention spans, witness the agitation they exhibit when temperatures turn hot or the weather nasty. Every summer high is the hottest temperature ever, every new hurricane is the most powerful humanity has seen, every outbreak of tornadoes unprecedented. This is because they have no sense of time, even on a decade to decade scale. Nature, not being limited by faulty human memories or even ephemeral human lifespans, continues to vary on time scales of decades, centuries, millennia and longer.
It is unsurprising that reefs have come and gone, with nature the proximate cause for the waxing and waning. Instead of running to their keyboards and microphones, the chattering simpletons of the news media would be better off to spend a few moments doing research. Now that everyone has Internet access there is no excuse for such uninformed reporting on maters scientific. Reefs die, reefs will continue to die, and reefs will bounce back as environmental conditions change.
Conceptual model of reef collapse.
But what of cries that AGW induced change, unlike “natural” change, is too sudden for nature to deal with? Or that recovery, if any, will be slow and laborious? “It seemed to be fairly instantaneous,” Aronson said of the gap his team discovered in the Panama reef's history. “About 2,000 years ago or so, some corals that are not the main reef-building corals started up, and then maybe 500 years later, around 1,500 years ago, the main coral started growing again very rapidly.” I guess nature didn't read all those news releases from Greenpeace and the IPCC.
Do human activities have an impact on the world's reefs? Undoubtedly. But it is not an irreversible, unprecedented or even abnormal impact in most cases. So despite the obligatory verbal genuflecting by study's authors, paying obeisance to the gods of Political Correctness, there is precocious little difference between natural and man-made change—in either its form or impact. So remember the next time some ecological blatherskite starts going on about the death of the ocean reefs—the reefs, like Earth itself, are more resilient than we know.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Danish Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was a great prophet of doom about the Great Barrier Reef until his own research showed the reef was in no danger. He fell silent for a few years after that. But we see below that he has now managed the usual Greenie trick of ignoring the facts and is back at his old stall
For the record, the ocean is very alkaline. There would have to be huge changes for it to become acidic. And the claim that warming would cause acidity goes against Henry's law, anyway. A warmer ocean would outgas CO2 and hence reduce the incidence of carbonic acid. The laboratory studies reported below therefore have no real-world significance
NEMO the clown fish, high on "acid", heads from the safety of home with no fear and no sense of smell, straight into the jaws of a predator.
No, it's not a dark sequel to the Pixar animated movie hit, but a reality facing one of the Great Barrier Reef's signature species clown fish.
The International Coral Reef symposium in Cairns yesterday heard disturbing new evidence that burning fossil fuels was not only pushing up global temperatures, but also ocean acidity that in turn could send the brains of some fish species haywire.
"It shows the next Hollywood release will not be so pretty," University of Queensland's Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said. "Nemo does not get so lucky next time."
About 2500 of the world's top reef scientists yesterday shared the latest research into coral growth and fish behaviour under climate change.
Townsville-based James Cook University researcher Phillip Munday and his team found clown fish, made famous in the movie Finding Nemo, as well as damsel fish and open-water predators like tuna and spanish mackerel, suffered adverse effects under high acidity.
They said laboratory studies showed increased acid levels affected the main neuro-transmitters in fish brains, causing a malfunction in the sense of smell, hearing and perception of risk, and an increased tendency to stray from safe reef areas.
"We're not talking about extinction (if acidity continues to rise) but changes in abundance," Mr Munday said.
Other dire predictions yesterday included a warning that bleaching could leave many reefs a white "stumpy" mass dominated by only a few coral species covered in a "brown scuzz" or "green, slimy sludge".
"Within 20 years, some coral species will have been nailed into the coffin," Prof Hoegh-Guldberg said. "It sounds like alarmism, but that is what the biology tells us."
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
My heading above reflects what was actually found. The original screeching headline was "Natural Climate Shifts Drove Coral Reefs to a Total Ecosystem Collapse Lasting 2,500 Years"
The authors go on to speculate that man-made global warming could have similar effects but we will worry about that when we actually see some of that fabled man-made global warming -- or any global warming at all, for that matter
Climate change drove coral reefs to a total ecosystem collapse lasting thousands of years, according to a paper published this week in Science. The paper shows how natural climatic shifts stopped reef growth in the eastern Pacific for 2,500 years.
The reef shutdown, which began 4,000 years ago, corresponds to a period of dramatic swings in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
Doctoral student Lauren Toth and Aronson, her adviser at Florida Tech, led the study of how past episodes of climate change influenced tropical reefs of the eastern Pacific. Toth, Aronson and a multi-institutional research team drove 17-foot, small-bore aluminum pipes deep into the dead frameworks of coral reefs along the Pacific coast of Panama and pulled out cross-sections of the reefs. By analyzing the corals in the cores, they were able to reconstruct the history of the reefs over the past 6,000 years.
"We were shocked to find that 2,500 years of reef growth were missing from the frameworks," said Toth. "That gap represents the collapse of reef ecosystems for 40 percent of their total history." When Toth and Aronson examined reef records from other studies across the Pacific, they discovered the same gap in reefs as far away as Australia and Japan.
Toth linked the coral-reef collapse to changes in ENSO. ENSO is the climate cycle responsible for the weather conditions every few years known as El Niño and La Niña events. The timing of the shutdown in reef growth corresponds to a period of wild swings in ENSO. "Coral reefs are resilient ecosystems," said Toth. "For Pacific reefs to have collapsed for such a long time and over such a large geographic scale, they must have experienced a major climatic disturbance. That disturbance was an intensified ENSO regime."
Monday, July 9, 2012
There have been headlines in Australia like the one above for at least 50 years. Like all natural phenomena, nothing stays the same over time on the reef and there have always been attention-seekers trying to create panic over the changes they observe
Thousands of scientists have signed a statement calling for immediate action on climate change to save the world's remaining coral reefs. ["Remaining"? The Great Barrier reef is the biggest reef in the world and is as extensive and as diverse as ever. This call is plain dishonest]
MORE than 2500 marine researchers signed the consensus statement from the International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, which calls for global action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The statement calls for action to prevent rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification [There is no acidification. There is a possible reduction in alkalinity but that is a long way from acidification], overfishing [Fishing is now banned in most of the reef area] and pollution from the land [Unproven theory].
"The international Coral Reef Science Community calls on all governments to ensure the future of coral reefs, through global action to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and via improved local protection of coral reefs," the statement says.
Professor Terry Hughes, convener of the symposium and director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said Australia's Great Barrier Reef was a prime example of a reef in need of protection.
"Unfortunately in Queensland, the rush to get as much fossil fuel out of the ground as quickly as possible ... has pushed environmental concerns far into the background," he said.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recently released a report that was highly critical of Australia's management of the Great Barrier Reef.
It said the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site in danger unless high-risk coastal developments including new ports in Queensland are shelved.