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Global Coral Bleaching Update — Pacific Corals, Seychelles in Danger as Great Barrier Reef Cools

The last global coral bleaching event that inflicted a degree of damage comparable to the one we are now experiencing occurred during 1997 through 1999. Back then, global annual surface temperatures hit a peak of 0.85 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages and ocean temperatures in many regions hit a range of 29-30 C or more. This warming-spurred event generated never-before seen wreckage among the world’s corals.

(Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures are again warming as the Equatorial region progresses toward a predicted 2017 El Nino. Sea surface temperature anomalies of 1-2 C above average are now very widespread with embedded hot spots that contain 2-4 C above average temperatures [see above map]. These anomalies are enough to continue a global coral bleaching event that has now lasted for four years. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The 2014 to 2017 Global Coral Bleaching Event

In 2014, annual average global temperatures began to exceed 0.9 C above 1880s values before climbing to a 1.06 C departure in 2015 and a 1.2 C departure in 2016. This surface warming — spurred in part by increasingly warm surface waters — set off a coral bleaching event the world over that has now lasted four years. An event that presently has no end in sight. One that is now considerably worse than the 1997-1999 bleaching in a number of key measures.

During 2017, ocean surface temperatures are again expected to warm as a weak-to-moderate El Nino is predicted to form. Meanwhile, global atmospheric 2 meter temperatures will likely remain in a range of 1.1 to 1.3 C above 1880s values for the year. As a result, global coral bleaching is still very widespread and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

(Considerable coral bleaching is predicted for the next four months in NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report.)

According to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch:

…in the central equatorial Pacific, bleaching heat stress continues to build. The Austral Islands are now at Alert Level 2 bleaching stress (associated with widespread coral bleaching and significant mortality), and the Southern Cook Islands are at Alert Level 1 (associated with significant coral bleaching) – with an expected escalation to Alert Level 2 stress in the next 1-4 weeks. Alert Level 2 conditions are also expected in the Northern Cook Islands, the Samoas, Wallis & Futuna, Northern Tonga, Southern Tonga, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Society Archipelago, the Pitcairne Islands, and Easter Island, Chile in the next 1-4 weeks. Alert Level 1 bleaching stress is anticipated in the Southern Line Islands, Tuvalu, and the Marquesas Islands in the next 5-8 weeks.

For reference, an Alert Level 1 means that bleaching is likely and an Alert Level 2 means that coral mortality is likely.

Back-to-Back Bleaching for Great Barrier Reef Somewhat Mitigated by Debbie, Seychelles Concerns Increase

Australia’s national treasure — Great Barrier Reef — was, this year, undergoing a second extreme coral bleaching event comparable to the 2016 bleaching which wiped out an estimated 22 percent of the reef’s living corals. That’s 1 in 5 corals gone in just one year. And with a second mass coral bleaching now underway, anxieties over the staggering impacts to this precious living system are running high. That said, recent reports indicate that Hurricane Debbie has delivered somewhat cooler waters to sections of the reef — raising some hopes that the 2017 event may be less harmful than predicted.

Professor Terry Hughes, a world-renowned coral reef expect, continues to offer notes of concern stating that “Cyclone Debbie has come a month too late and in the wrong place to prevent mass bleaching.”  Sea surface temperature maps indicate that while some sections of the reef have seen cooler waters, other sections continue to see water temperatures in a range warm enough to cause bleaching. In addition, many reefs had already bleached prior to the arrival of Debbie. What can be said is that though bleaching has been considerable during 2017, and probably comparable to 2016 for many regions, it would have been worse had Debbie not delivered cooling to some sections.

(Consensus models predict a moderate-strength El Nino during 2017. Such an event would likely continue to keep ocean surfaces warm enough to generate widespread bleaching. Image source: NOAA.)

In addition to noted mass bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and in numerous other Pacific reefs as indicated by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report, anxieties are now running high in the Seychelles. This Indian Ocean island chain is currently seeing mass bleaching among many corals. Now, only  3-5 percent of corals remain alive at a widespread number of locations following 2016’s extreme ocean warming. Experts suggest that many Seychelles reefs will require about 15 years to recover. Unfortunately, human-forced global warming through fossil fuel burning is likely to deliver continued bleaching stress to the Seychelles and a rather wide range of other reefs during multiple years to follow.

The issue is that global temperatures have now reached a threshold that is likely to produce mass bleaching during most years and that these temperatures continue to rise. It is unlikely that we will ever see another year that is even as cool as the 1997-1999 El Nino that produced the last major global coral bleaching event. And so we are entering a time of continuous peril for the world’s reefs.

(UPDATED)

Links:

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report

NOAA

NASA GISS

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to Unaturalfx

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47 Comments

  1. Robert E Prue

     /  April 8, 2017

    This is off topic, but I’ve been reading up on methane and that currently atmospheric ch4 is about 2.5 times the level of any time in the past 800,000 years per ice core samples. What about 2 million years ago? What was it then? Does anyone know?

    Reply
    • There’s not as much proxy data for methane in the geological past. But it’s likely that we haven’t seen levels this high in at least 10 million years. And it’s possible that methane levels are closer to mid Eocene ranges. The issue is that human emissions are considerable and probably well outside most natural methane fluxes even in relatively warmer climates. That said, the present CH4 forcing is less than the CO2 forcing. So we shouldn’t overstate methane’s role in the present problem (as has tended to happen).

      Reply
      • Robert E Prue

         /  April 8, 2017

        It’s just that ch4 is rising much faster than co2. A small fraction of ch4 is scrubbed in the stratosphere which creates a form of cloud that is very efficient at holding in the heat so I’m all for wind and solar energy, even if my brother in law’s uncle thinks wind turbines are “ugly” no talking to some at family reunions

        Reply
        • Incorrect.

          Rate of methane increase is 9 parts per billion approx per year. Rate of CO2 increase is 2,200 parts per billion per year (decadal average). Comparitive global warming potential of these two gasses is 720 ppb CO2e methane over a 20 year time horizon and 2,200 ppb CO2.

          The relative radiative forcing of the present CO2 overburden vs the present methane overburden is approx 3 to 1 CO2. Methane falls out in 8 years due to rapid oxidization. So GWP falls off without very high emissions rates.

          Over-emphasis of methane plays into the hand of fossil fuel corps and foreign petro-state bad actors who wish to de-emphasize CO2 emissions and who over-emphasize natural feedbacks. This is not to say that feedbacks aren’t a problem. But we should be very clear as to causes. In this case, CO2 from human fossil fuel burning is the primary forcing, the primary cause of the whole trouble.

        • NS Alito

           /  April 9, 2017

          AIUI, CH4’s lifespan in the atmosphere is lengthening and is pushing 10 years due to decreases in O2 available for oxidation.

  2. Genomik

     /  April 8, 2017

    Here in California we have been having a crazy wet April and winter. The forecast last night was for 4″ of rain in Santa Cruz Mountains and 150mph winds in Sierras.
    A few more inches of rain and it might be the wettest water year of all time in California and more rain is forecast. This is on the back of a horrendous historical drought. April rarely rains this much. Very abnormal extreme weather.

    Hope this twitter works.

    Reply
  3. Robert E Prue

     /  April 8, 2017

    I wasn’t trying to overemphasize feedbacks. Just saying these feedbacks are real and are slow and long lasting. Reason weak orbital cycles create such change. Sorry for misunderstanding

    Reply
    • No reason to apologize. Feedbacks are scary. But we also need to be clear on how the information has been misused so that we don’t create the wrong impression. This is not to say that large methane releases aren’t an issue. Permafrost thaw is an issue at even just the present warming and will likely contribute a 10-30 percent feedback this century. Methane hydrate is probably an issue at around 3-4 C warming (moderate feedback range) and a serious issue once you get to 6 C.

      We’re seeing a few rumblings now that should certainly be a concern. But the main drive to stop the problem is to halt fossil fuel burning as swiftly as possible.

      NASA’s right, though, the main driver is CO2 (from fossil fuel burning) which is generating the lion’s share of the initial/triggering forcing for the whole crisis.

      Reply
      • Robert E Prue

         /  April 8, 2017

        I don’t want to mislead out of ignorance,just trying to understand it all. I’ve read so much of conflicting views that at times it’s confusing. Where co2 are a feedback that enhance orbital cycles, as is ch4 which degrades to co2 plus water vapor I see where the two work together. A bit frightening where all this might lead

        Reply
  4. Robert E Prue

     /  April 8, 2017

    Indeed! It is sometimes difficult to wrap ones head about. Ya know, there’s a lot of wind turbines here in Kansas. Plenty of space for many more. Uncle Larry will just have to adapt.

    Reply
    • There’s amazing resources in the region. The wind repair tech jobs pay really well, too.

      Reply
      • Robert E Price

         /  April 8, 2017

        Yes! And our country would have an energy source of it’s own that wasn’t a fossil fuel. Not just Kansas also Nebraska, the Dakotas.

        Reply
        • Energy independence would do wonders for reducing our trade deficit. We can reliably do this with renewables. In addition, if we continue on a path for renewable energy leadership, we can really benefit from helpful new industries that actually serve to make the world a healthier place. It’s just that we need to get a move on because we’re pretty far behind the 8 ball on climate change right now.

    • coloradobob

       /  April 8, 2017

      ” Uncle Larry will just have to adapt.”
      Show him a picture of this , and ask him if he thinks this is pretty –

      Reply
      • +1. I’ve often said, “Wind energy can’t compete with nothing. Nothing looks great, and it’s very environmentally compatible. The problem is, nothing is not a real choice. Wind always competes with something, and that something is usually much more damaging and destructive.” (Plus, nobody wants to put a plug into the wall and have nothing be what comes out.”

        Reply
  5. Robert E Price

     /  April 8, 2017

    I know. The atmosphere would be less toxic. As would water. Did you know we are actually having earthquakes here due to waste water injections from fracking?

    Reply
    • Huge pressure on the fault lines… We managed to get a ban for it here in MD thank goodness. McKibben had some comments about it on Bill Maher tonight:

      Reply
      • Robert E Price

         /  April 8, 2017

        Thank you for that. Never had earthquakes here in Kansas, Oklahoma area in the past. The ones felt here seem to be centered near Perry Oklahoma.

        Reply
        • unnaturalfx

           /  April 8, 2017

          Yes,thanks,McKibben tells it like it is , the part on earthquakes is just crazy.

  6. Robert E Prue

     /  April 8, 2017

    Having a glitch

    Reply
  7. unnaturalfx

     /  April 8, 2017

    Thanks for the hat tip . Thanks for everything you are doing as pain full as some of it is .

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words. Have promised to do my best to ‘see with eyes unclouded.’ It’s tough when facing this global nightmare we’ve let a few powerful corps and petrostates create.

      Reply
  8. JPL

     /  April 8, 2017

    Australia Floats Plan To Keep Corals Cool In A Warming World.

    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_58e6c9b9e4b0cdad578e6228?section=us_science

    Reply
    • This looks like flailing about in desperation to me. This would just be a stop-gap for a few reefs and would tend to provide an excuse for already adversarial politicians to delay action further. I understand the scientists’ bind, but Australia’s best plan is to cut fossil fuel burning and to abandon the coal madness of the group of politicians presently in power. Dredging water from nearby won’t address the issue of compounding ocean heat gain which will tend to warm the deeper waters as well. Nor will it address ocean acidification. It might buy a decade for these few reefs, which might well be worthwhile if strong policy measures cutting fossil fuel emissions were to provide a chance for these reefs later on. But now, without supporting carbon policy, it really is like putting a band aid on a sucking chest wound. Possible momentary relief — requiring an obvious rush for emergency assistance.

      The present policy of Australia on carbon emissions amounts to hope and deny. 1. Hope that the bad outcomes from climate change aren’t coming, 2. Then deny their reality when they do show up. So this is worth thinking about. Sanctuary reefs may well be necessary in the present climate situation. But what of the actual policies that will even make them possible? And what of the rest of the reefs of the world?

      Reply
  9. coloradobob

     /  April 8, 2017

    How much rain have we seen in the past month? Extreme weather to become the norm, says expert

    Parts of the upper North Island have been saturated after two large storm systems hit in the space of weeks, with Edgecumbe the latest victim of the wild weather.

    Warm, moist air from the Tasman Sea and tropics is to blame for the ‘big wet’, and, according to one expert, the extreme weather is set to become common place.
    “Areas that are open to the north will experience more of these tropical filaments spinning off and dumping more rain,” Victoria University climate scientist David Frame said.
    Towns built on flood plains are particularly vulnerable when the land can no longer soak up the water.
    Metservice meteorologist Georgina Griffiths said it’s been “a really hard month” for the upper North Island.
    She said two month’s worth of rain has fallen already in the first week of April.
    NIWA meteorologist Christ Brandolino said in early March, 475 millilitres of rain fell in Whangamata.
    “It’s a conveyor belt of moisture, simple as that,” he said.

    https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/much-rain-have-we-seen-in-past-month-extreme-weather-become-norm-says-expert

    Reply
  10. coloradobob

     /  April 8, 2017

    Peru’s president says flood recovery may cost up to $9 billion

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-peru-floods-economy-idUSKBN1792T0

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 8, 2017

      Peru’s Floods Follow Climate Change’s Deadly Extreme Weather Trend

      An unusual coastal El Niño drove Peru’s deluge, in another signal that weather extremes are becoming wild cards as climate change warms the oceans.

      https://insideclimatenews.org/news/24032017/peru-floods-extreme-weather-climate-global-warming-el-nino

      Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 8, 2017

      At least 6,000 miles of highways have been destroyed. Kuczynski said .

      Reply
      • Thanks for these updates, Bob. We’ve blow the hydrological cycle pretty far off-kilter — at least for the human context.

        Reply
        • coloradobob

           /  April 8, 2017

          We read about these heart aches , and struggle to understand .
          For me it has always been images, and numbers. We see the images, ………… and numbers dribble out days, weeks, months , and years later.

          This number really hit me –

          “At least 6,000 miles of highways have been destroyed. Kuczynski said”

          The nature of this is not just the road is gone. The entire platform it set on is gone.

          Remember , roads follow rivers and drainages. This an epic event Peru has been hurled back to the Inca Empire , when messengers carried knotted cords
          This is right up there with Pakistan floods 7 years ago. Far less loss of life to be sure.
          Thank the stars , or God.
          But a world shaking blow. Peru’s mines export wealth , Pakistan’s millions export worry, and pain.

  11. Genomik

     /  April 8, 2017

    Air travel is likely to get a lot bumpier because of climate change, a new study suggests.

    Turbulence strong enough to bounce unbuckled passengers around an aircraft cabin could become three times more common as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, experts predict.

    Sudden up and down movements as an aircraft travels through rough air are part of the normal experience of flying.

    But occasionally passengers and flight crew are subjected to white-knuckle levels of turbulence with the potential to cause serious injury, especially when it occurs unexpectedly in cloudless “clear air”.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2127050-flight-turbulence-to-get-three-times-more-common-because-of-co2/

    Reply
    • It’s like a slow motion Day After Tomorrow. One that lasts for decades and just keeps getting worse as long as you keep burning those fossil fuels.

      Reply
  12. wharf rat

     /  April 8, 2017

    Hey, kids.
    Rat is on the steering committee for our town climate rally on the 29th. Somebody will be bringing a laptop, so I’m looking for a few good graphics. So far, I have the temperature spiral
    https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-05-10/global-warming-gif-shows-how-hot-earth-has-gotten-over-past-165-years , the arctic ice death spiral, and the NSDIC arctic graph. Further suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    Mike, the Rat

    PS… This goes on the posters announcing the rally…

    When God created Adam, he showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “See my works, how lovely they are, how fine they are. All I have created, I created for you. Take care not to corrupt and destroy my universe, for if you destroy it, no one will come after you to put it right.”

    (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7)

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 8, 2017

      Go Rat Go !

      A one two punch –

      Earth Day – April 22, 2017
      Washington DC – Join us on the National Mall

      FAQs
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      This Earth Day, April 22, Earth Day Network and the March for Science are co-organizing a rally and teach-in on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The day’s program will include speeches and trainings with scientists and civic organizers, musical performances, and a march through the streets of Washington, D.C. The crowd will gather at 8:00am, and the teach-in will begin at 10:00am.

      This Earth Day, join the effort to defend the vital public service role science plays in our communities and our world.

      Science serves all of us.

      It protects our air and water, preserves our planet, saves lives with medical treatments, creates new industries, puts food on our tables, educates the next generation, and safeguards our future.

      Science isn’t Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. Indeed, threats to science are pervasive throughout governments around the world.

      Using the teach-in concept deployed for the very first Earth Day in 1970, the rally and teach-in on the National Mall will focus on the need to hold our leaders – both in science and in politics – accountable to the highest standards of honesty, fairness, and integrity. The vital role science plays in our democracy must be preserved.

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      ABOUT EARTH DAY NETWORK:

      The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network works year-round with tens of thousands of partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

      Earth Day 2017

      ABOUT MARCH FOR SCIENCE:

      The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and the many ways science serves our communities and our world. The March for Science is an unprecedented global gathering of scientists and science enthusiasts joining together to acknowledge the vital role science plays in our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.
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      http://www.earthday.org/marchforscience/?gclid=CjwKEAjwlKLHBRDztKr6wMnRthMSJAALcT-s9I17rDvvrV26VnQS2JaxtefWfxzZGZN3Glb46bG2vxoCZ0Dw_wcB

      Reply
  13. wharf rat

     /  April 8, 2017

    Oh; I’m also using this climate timeline:
    https://xkcd.com/1732/

    Reply
  14. climatehawk1

     /  April 8, 2017

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  15. Erik Frederiksen

     /  April 8, 2017

    At just 1 degree C we’re seeing pretty substantial damage to corals, and we seem to be on target for at least 2-3C, even with extreme measures, so the future of the corals doesn’t look very bright.

    Reply
  16. coloradobob

     /  April 8, 2017

    This our foundation we don’t rat’s butt about our future.

    Reply

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