Unprecedented Harm to Great Barrier Reef From Back-to-Back Bleaching Confirmed

It’s becoming more and more clear that the Great Barrier Reef has been pushed onto the ropes by human-caused climate change. That its very future is now in serious jeopardy. That only swift action by a responsible populace will now be able to save it.

During 2016 to 2017, the Great Barrier Reef experienced an unprecedented back-to-back bleaching event. In 2016, more than 60 percent of the corals of the reef’s northern section experienced bleaching. Ultimately, roughly 2/3 of the shallow water corals along this section of the reef perished.

In 2017, warmer than normal waters shifted south. As a result, the central section of the Great Barrier Reef is presently experiencing 60 percent or higher bleaching rates. Now, mass mortality in regions unaffected or minimally affected by last year’s record bleaching is expected.

(New composite bleaching maps show the extent of the 2016-2017 coral mortality event which now heralds a near-term threat to the continued existence of the reef itself. Image source: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.)

In other words, back-to-back torrents of warm water are walking from north-to-south down the reef, taking out corals as they go from year-to-year, like some merciless ocean blow-torch. And what’s happening is that ocean temperatures are now entering a range where this kind of heat-caused mortality event is becoming more and more likely to occur at frequent intervals.

Terry Hughes, in an inteview with The Guardian on Sunday stated:

“The significance of bleaching this year is that it’s back to back, so there’s been zero time for recovery. It’s too early yet to tell what the full death toll will be from this year’s bleaching, but clearly it will extend 500km south of last year’s bleaching.”

The 2017 bleaching is also odd in that it occurred during a time of ENSO-nuetral conditions and during a year when only a weak-to-moderate El Nino is expected. In the past, mass coral bleaching and mortality along the Great Barrier Reef has only happened during very strong El Nino years (1998 and 2016). Meanwhile, this year’s cyclone Debbie appears to have done little to relieve the bleaching stress even as it has driven powerful waves across otherwise healthy sections of the reef — further adding to coral mortality.

Reefs require from 10 to 15 years to recover from the effects of severe bleaching and mortality. They can only bounce back if nearby live corals that survived can regrow into previously denuded sections. But the back-to-back waves of annual heat are ruining that needed connectivity even as the warming ocean is slamming the window shut on the required respite periods.

 

(The Great Barrier Reef is now experiencing the fastest rate of ocean warming since it began to form about 20 million years ago. Image source: Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.)

David Sugget, University of Technology Sydney’s lead reef researcher, notes:

“It’s that connection ultimately that will drive the rate and extent of recovery. So if bleaching events are moving around the [Great Barrier Reef] system on an annual basis, it does really undermine any potential resilience through connectivity between neighbouring reefs.”

Since 1900, sea surface temperatures in the region of the Great Barrier Reef during times when the reef is most vulnerable to bleaching — late austral summer and early austral autumn — have risen by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. And the rate of rise during recent years is accelerating. The result is that the risk of multiple severe bleaching events hitting the reef within decadal timescales is now high. And the reef is likely to continue to receive multiple blows as bad or worse than those experienced in the 2016-2017 timeframe.

Some Australian politicians are now promising new laws to help reduce runoff that also stresses the reef. But these policies do not address the root cause of what is now a threat to the reef’s very existence. The bleaching that is killing the reef is caused by ocean warming. And that warming, in its turn, is caused by fossil fuel burning which dumps billions of tons of heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere each year. According to reports from NOAA, the rate of greenhouse gas accumulation is presently 100 to 200 times faster than at the end of the last ice age. And if this rate of greenhouse gas accumulation continues, there is no chance that the Great Barrier Reef, and most of the other reefs of the world, will survive.

(UPDATED)

Links:

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Great Barrier Reef at Terminal Stage — Scientists Despair

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology

Cyclone Debbie Strikes Healthiest Part of Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef Hit By Bleaching For a Second Year in a Row

Australia’s Politicians Have Betrayed the Great Barrier Reef and Only the People Can Save it

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77 Comments

    • Erik Frederiksen

       /  April 11, 2017

      Interesting, thanks, from your link: “Jakobshavn is undergoing a dangerous “marine ice sheet instability,” in which oceanfront glaciers that grow deeper further inland are prone to unstoppable retreat down what scientists call a “retrograde” slope.”

      I think it was John Mercer back in 1968 who first proposed the idea of Marine Ice Sheet Instability in reference to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

      “Forty-nine years ago, John Mercer (1968) speculated that warming due to ‘industrial pollution of the atmosphere’ could cause the ice shelves of West Antarctica to disintegrate, producing a catastrophic release of ice to the sea, thus causing a sea level rise of about 5 m during the course of a century.”

      https://www.princeton.edu/step/people/faculty/michael-oppenheimer/research/Oppenheimer-Alley-04.pdf

      Reply
    • 100 wildfire outbreak in Florida.

      Reply
      • Correction… Florida wildfire season is technically year-round. However, these fires are now being compared to the record 2011 outbreak which burned about 200,000 acres across the state. So far, this is not as intense. But the fires have burned 20,000 acres and there is fire risk for the foreseeable future due to ongoing drought conditions. June typically brings more rain to the state. However, the Gulf of Mexico has been very warm recently and this may have an impact on Florida’s drought and fire situation.

        Reply
  1. Genomik

     /  April 11, 2017

    As a scuba diver I’m horrified at the pace and extent of this bleaching in the South Pacific. It is truly a massive ecosystem supporting billions of tons of marine life. It is akin to an entire mountain range such as the Andes or the Sierras literally dead from drought or heat (which has partly happened). But for most of humanity it appears to be an abstract thought. Or as my friend put it (who lost many trees on his property in the sierras), many of us do get it, it’s just psychologically easier to be an Ostrich and put your head in the sand.

    The diving in the South Pacific is literally like being an astronaut and seeing aliens of every color and shape.

    Maybe the new statement should be “corals in a coal mine” as a cautionary warning. Yet it appears few in Australia heed this warning. Soon nobody will want to go to Australia on vacation, it reminds me of Trump’s America with climate deniers everywhere even as they were bequeathed with an abundance of natural gifts that that, and the world, are squandering.

    Reply
    • I don’t know. I think that many people identify with the beauty, vibrancy, and life of the corals. I cannot count the number of children from my generation who were drawn by such love to wish for careers in fields such as marine biology. There were probably more aspirant marine biologists in my 5th grade class, for example, than aspirant astronauts.

      Human beings have a deep connection to the ocean. We’ve always sought the water’s edge and the wonders and riches it offered. A huge subset of people realize that we’re losing something precious. That sacrificing the glorious and beautiful reefs to the awful and increasingly hungry gods of coal, oil, and gas, is a tragic injustice that cannot be condoned.

      Reply
      • Erik Frederiksen

         /  April 11, 2017

        I was lucky to do a lot of diving on reefs in the 80s. They are/were magical places. It’s hard to imagine a world without them, without our remaining megafauna, etc.

        I read of one oceanographer who was suffering from depression because she knew what she would see each time she went out to the reefs. More dead coral.

        Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 11, 2017

      “corals in a coal mine”
      Or the coal mine has come to the corals

      Reply
      • Mark in OZ

         /  April 12, 2017

        “Or the coal mine has come to the corals”

        You can say that again!
        Great line CB!

        Straya’s ‘Abbot Point coal facility (operated by India’s Adani) is up coast from Mackay and down coast from Townsville-all three adjacent to the GBR. To get any closer would require a watercraft.
        There is precisely nothing about that facility that is beneficial to the GBR’s health. Coal dust kills the coral and is deadly to other life forms.

        See satellite images below of the plant’s toxic release into the local wetlands.

        http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-10/abbot-point-coal-terminal-released-into-wetlands/8430934
        The money psychopaths who keep pushing this catastrophe along ( investors, shareholders, corrupted pollies) would kill the reef if given the opportunity as this would put an end to the discussion about saving it.

        Reply
  2. Erik Frederiksen

     /  April 11, 2017

    As a sailor I spent a lot of the 80s diving on many beautiful reefs, sad to think that experience is going away, but there’s also this, “Reef fish and other critters are a significant source of protein for up to a billion people, especially those who live near reefs.”
    http://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/why-care-about-reefs/food/

    While fisheries decline, agriculture is following suit in some places in part due to drought and conflict related to drought. https://mobile.nytimes.com/reuters/2017/03/31/world/middleeast/31reuters-global-food-famine.html

    Reply
  3. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    Michael E. Mann’s rebuttal to a letter to the editor of the Santa Clarita Valley paper , truly amazing to see this .

    Professor: Letter writer misleads readers about climate change
    Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor, Department of Meteorology, Penn State University Director, Penn State Earth System Science Center

    https://signalscv.com/2017/04/11/professor-letter-writer-misleads-readers-climate-change/

    Reply
    • Erik Frederiksen

       /  April 11, 2017

      As Groucho Marx once said, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?”

      In Washington DC, the famous cherry blossoms are blossoming several weeks earlier than when I lived there in just the 90s.

      Reply
      • It’s 84 or 85 degrees here in Gaithersburg, MD on April 11. We’re set to have multiple days like that this week.

        Reply
        • Ryan in New England

           /  April 11, 2017

          Just shattered our previous record high temperature by 9 degrees here in Connecticut today…it was 88! Just a couple weeks ago I was shoveling two feet of snow.

        • High today here was 85… Felt like July on my daily jog. Looks like you’re in a hot spot, Ryan.

        • Erik Frederiksen

           /  April 11, 2017

          I was raised in Connecticut but haven’t been there for decades. As you’re aware here in California we’re seeing more drought and flooding. Fun times.

        • People keep asking me where to go to be safe from climate change. I say you need to go to an alternative universe where the people of Earth don’t burn fossil fuels.

        • Robert E Prue

           /  April 12, 2017

          What’s your average temps for time of year?

        • I am in NC. Our local meterologist gives average hi and lows from a 30 year moving average, which assures that the figures won’t usually be that far out of line. Longer term averages would be more realistic.

        • The average high for this time of year is about 64 F. So 85 F is 21 degrees F above average. Pretty considerable, but back in February we were getting 30 to 38 F above average highs.

        • The all-time record for yesterday was 88 F.

        • Ryan in New England

           /  April 12, 2017

          My location should be in the 50s for this time of year. We are going to see 80 again this weekend.

    • coloradobob

       /  April 11, 2017

      Here’s the letter in question , your standard Wing Nut Planet furball .

      Bob Comer: Chill out, climate change worriers

      https://signalscv.com/2017/04/11/bob-comer-chill-climate-change-worriers-2/

      Reply
      • coloradobob

         /  April 11, 2017

        They banned me from the thread of Dr. Mann’s. one can call him a greedy liar, but calling comments from his detractors , ” Wing Nut Planet furballs ” is a bridge too far.

        Reply
    • Fantasticly done, Dr. Mann.

      Reply
      • coloradobob

         /  April 11, 2017

        They reposted that letter today, I read it last week and commented then . I troll these small town papers op-eds and letters . I hate Zombie movies , and Zombie letters to the editor, and
        Zombie op-eds.

        Reply
        • So the irony of all ironies here is that the greedy fossil fuel companies are painting a guy who makes 1/100th or 1/500th of what their top execs make as a ‘greedy scientist.’

    • Colorado Bob, the link is broken. 404 error message.

      Reply
  4. Erik Frederiksen

     /  April 11, 2017

    “That only swift action by a responsible populace will now be able to save it.”

    We’ve seen quite a bit of damage already. For example in 1998 in the Indian Ocean, in an area larger than North America and Europe, 80 percent of the corals bleached and a quarter of those died.

    Imagine you went camping in N American or Europe in July and when you woke up in the morning for as far as you could see 80 percent of the trees had dropped their leaves and were standing there naked.

    When you got home you heard that that had happened to all the trees in N American and Europe. And then a few weeks later you read a quarter of them died.

    With global warming still in the beginning stages, no matter what we do because of the momentum in the planet’s energy system and climate, these reefs are going to subjected to more severe bleaching events, in fact ocean temperatures may get hot enough so that every year they suffer bleaching.

    Reply
    • If the reef is going to have any chance at all, it will be by the rapid reduction of fossil fuel burning and by efforts to remove excess greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.

      Reply
      • Erik Frederiksen

         /  April 11, 2017

        Yes. Despite the extent of damages which we may have already baked in to the system we could make things worse so we need to decarbonize energy production as rapidly has possible.

        Reply
    • Bill Everett

       /  April 13, 2017

      “hot enough so that every year they suffer bleaching” No need to worry about this. They say it takes up to 15 years with no bleaching to recover. So a reef bleaching every year won’t happen very long. Only live reefs can bleach.

      Reply
  5. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    The march of the small things ……..

    Alarm raised as mystery pest destroys Mississippi Delta marsh

    Eric Newman speeds through the maze of bayous at the Mississippi River ‘s mouth with the confidence of someone who’s done this for decades. He points to prime spots to catch redfish, where crabbers go for blues and the grassy channel where his grandfather had a fishing camp.

    Suddenly, he slows his boat. The intimately familiar has just become alarmingly unfamiliar. “Two months ago, this was beautiful,” he said, easing past mud flats that had been lush with eight-foot-tall marsh grass. Clumps of blackened roots are all that’s left. “Looking at it now, it just blows me away. I don’t even know how to navigate it.”

    Roseau cane , a wetland grass considered vital to the health of Louisiana’s precarious coast, is dying at an unprecedented rate in south Plaquemines Parish . Since fall, thousands of acres of cane across about 50 miles of the lower Mississippi Delta have gone from green to brown. Many areas, such as the one Newman found Friday (April 7) near Venice , are now shallow, open water.

    http://amp.nola.com/v1/articles/20464875/roseau_cane_dying_in_mississippi_delta.amp

    Reply
  6. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    RS –
    I’m spam trap.

    Reply
  7. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    RS
    I am at the of trap .

    Reply
  8. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    RS

    I am crazy as an 8 dollar bill.

    Reply
  9. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    For years I followed all this when B-17 broke off. Her daughters still roam the Southern Ocean.

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 11, 2017

      Sory B 15 , I have reading war for weeks.

      Now off to real madness the 1st World War.

      Reply
  10. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    If I kill your hope , you drop off the rope
    My hope is bigger than the dope and the rope.

    Reply
  11. coloradobob

     /  April 11, 2017

    Don’t worry this clap trap is about end soon.

    Reply
  12. wili

     /  April 12, 2017

    studies on carbon and soils, including permafrost/tundra:
    https://phys.org/news/2017-04-huge-permafrost-limited-ambitious-climate.html

    “permafrost is more susceptible to global warming that previously thought, as stabilising the climate at 2ºC above pre-industrial levels would lead to thawing of more than 40% of today’s permafrost areas.”

    Reply
    • wili

       /  April 12, 2017

      And not just carbon: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/how-frozen-farmers-fields-are-an-unexpected-culprit-in-climate-change-according-to-a-new-study

      “…thawing of frozen cropland burps nitrous oxide into the atmosphere at rates far greater than previously thought, meaning agriculture’s role in producing the greenhouse gas has been greatly underestimated…”

      Reply
      • Steven Blaisdell

         /  April 12, 2017

        “…at rates far greater than previously thought…”

        “…agriculture’s role in producing the greenhouse gas has been greatly underestimated..”

        The ghost in the machine, speaking clearly to those who listen….

        Reply
        • wili

           /  April 12, 2017

          Note also that the highest producing corn regions in the US are in areas where the ground would freeze and thaw. Most of that corn goes to feed livestock, those animals requiring many times more pounds of the grain to produce one pound of meat. So this study should mean that meat and dairy consumption has an even larger GW footprint than previously thought.

    • Steven Blaisdell

       /  April 12, 2017

      “…more susceptible to global warming that previously thought…”

      Reply
      • wili

         /  April 12, 2017

        Yes, I believe there is a whole CC-related FB group that collects stories and articles that include terms like ‘faster than previously thought.’ There are lots and lots of articles in this category.

        Reply
  13. Another hopeful sounding method to convert CO2 to usable chemicals, from the University of Amsterdam – “The new catalyst is easily prepared and inexpensive. It can convert CO2 at ambient pressure and low temperatures.”
    If it scales up we should know pretty soon – “The researchers behind the catalyst, UvA chemists Edwin Gnanakumar and Shiju Raveendran, are in the process of commercialising the catalyst with the help of Amsterdam Innovation Exchange (IXA), the university’s technology transfer office.”
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170406152400.htm

    Reply
  14. Andy_in_SD

     /  April 12, 2017

    Check out the fires at western Thailand, and the smoke cover on the country. Nasty.

    https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/?p=geographic&l=VIIRS_SNPP_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor(hidden),MODIS_Aqua_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor(hidden),MODIS_Terra_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor,MODIS_Fires_Terra,Reference_Labels(hidden),Reference_Features(hidden),Coastlines&t=2017-04-11&z=3&v=81.14916298566928,14.379816228780118,113.24681923566928,28.56536310378012&ab=off&as=2017-04-04&ae=2017-04-11&av=3&al=false

    Reply
  15. Shawn Redmond

     /  April 12, 2017

    O/T but just to let you all know, “nothing to worry about, we’ve got this”, bull shit!
    Leak discovered by passerby

    The chairman of the South Dakota watchdog, Chris Nelson, confirmed that there was a spill from Keystone, and that state environmental officials were overseeing the cleanup. In a brief phone interview, he told National Observer that a member of the public may have been the one that discovered the spill.

    “My understanding is that it was a passerby that observed it and called the company,” said Nelson, chairman of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

    If confirmed, this would mean that the company’s leak detection system failed to identify the incident.
    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/04/04/news/transcanada-shuts-down-keystone-after-oil-seeps-surface

    Reply
    • There was an over-500,000 gallon spill of Bakken crude from a not-well-known pipeline that a farmer discovered in western North Dakota, 200 miles from the #DAPL. Their farm now reeks of oil fumes.

      That’s how spills are usually found–not by fancy leak-detecting equipment.

      Reply
      • Appreciate the news, even if a gut punch. Why are not the entire populations of every town and city on the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers not up in arms?

        Reply
  16. Ryan in New England

     /  April 12, 2017

    A new study has revealed that warming temperatures will thaw more permafrost than we previously thought.

    https://thinkprogress.org/global-warming-permafrost-thaw-97436404e353

    Global warming will defrost much more permafrost than we thought, a new study finds. Every 1°C (1.8°F) of additional warming would thaw one-quarter of the earth’s frozen tundra area — releasing staggering amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs).

    Reply
    • Thanks for this — Ryan and Wili both… Basically along the lines of what we generally expected. Not a happy thing to look at, though.

      Reply
    • Bob

       /  April 12, 2017

      Ryan, Correction,One degree will melt one quarter of permafrost. Not 1 percent. Not much wiggle room since this is one of the biggest feedback mechanism not covered in the models.

      Reply
      • Bob

         /  April 12, 2017

        oops Did I read your comment incorrectly? Must be losing it. It is right now somehow.

        Reply
  17. lesliegraham1

     /  April 12, 2017

    I know you’ve all got your own problems up there is the populated northern hemisphere but spare a thought for our little island down here on the bottom of the world.
    We are getting just hammered down here – again.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/91481782/live-cyclone-cook-predicted-to-be-the-worst-storm-to-hit-in-49-years-bears-down-on-nz

    This is on top of two record breaking rainstorms in just the last few weeks.
    Where I live is exactly in the dead centre of the predicted path. Wouldn’t you know it. And to think one of the reasons I moved to NZ was to avoid the worst effects of climate change for a couple of decades.
    It’s not the winds so much – only 150kph – it’s the rain. It causes so many land slips and road closures here. Not to mention the soil run-off. It’s just obscene how much NZ topsoil has ended up in the ocean. The major river here used to be crystal clear within living memory. Now it is a leather brown silt-laden soil chute and the once stony foreshore (still visible in old photos) is an expanse of thick mud.

    So – at least it isn’t boring at the moment. : )

    Reply
  18. Abel Adamski

     /  April 12, 2017

    For the soulless worshippers of money.
    The GBR generates over $7Billion per annum in revenue for Australia, for a large part of the GBR region it is the only real industry.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/12/loss-of-coral-reefs-caused-by-rising-sea-temperatures-could-cost-1tn-globally?google_editors_picks=true

    Loss of coral reefs caused by rising sea temperatures could cost $1tn globally

    Loss of Great Barrier Reef alone could cost north Queensland 1m visitors a year, imperilling 10,000 jobs and draining $1bn from economy

    “The extraordinary devastation being experienced on the Great Barrier Reef is due to the warming of our oceans, driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas,” Hughes said. “It would have been virtually impossible for this to have occurred without climate change.”

    Hughes argued it was a false dichotomy in public debate “to pit the environment against the economy”.

    “This isn’t just an environmental issue. The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s greatest economic assets. It’s responsible for bringing in more than $7bn each year to our economy, while also supporting the livelihoods of around 70,000 people. A healthy Great Barrier Reef underpins the tourism industry and the jobs that it supports.”

    Reply
  19. utoutback

     /  April 12, 2017

    George Monbiot has a great column in the Guardian today covering an economic model proposed by Kate Raworth, of Oxford Universities Environmental Change Institute in her book – Doughnut Economics:Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist.
    This new model is based on environmental and social well being and dumps the 20th Century cult of growth as the only measure of national and global prosperity.
    We need new models such as this – fast – if this civilization is to survive.
    I’m not confident, but at least there are thinkers out there looking for a new way.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/12/doughnut-growth-economics-book-economic-model

    Reply
  1. The week that has been in nuclear and climate news | Nuclear Australia
  2. To 15 April- Australian nuclear and climate news « Antinuclear

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