“Climate Change in Your Face” — Great Barrier Reef Suffers Second Consecutive Mass Bleaching as Potential for Record Warm 2017 Looms

 

On March 2nd, 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was already starting to show signs of bleaching. After suffering a worst-ever coral bleaching event in 2016, concerns were high that warmer waters could again strike the reef — spurring a second consecutive mass die-off. Even worse, some scientists were concerned that 2017’s bleaching could exceed the intensity of the record 2016 event.

Now it appears that just such a catastrophe is underway. And scientists expect about 2/3 of the world’s largest reef to experience bleaching over the next couple of months.

According to reports from Eyewitness News in Australia — the Great Barrier Reef has been given a “terminal prognosis” by scientists unless the rate of global warming is slowed. The March 10 news report noted that “one of the world’s greatest natural treasures is losing its fight for life” as a second mass coral bleaching event impacts the reef in as many years. Richard Leck of the World Wildlife Fund expressed his shock stating “No scientists ever thought that we would have back-to-back mass coral bleaching events… This is climate change in your face.”

Aerial surveys found that 30 to 100 percent of corals visible from the air along large sections of the 2300 kilometer reef had experienced some level of bleaching.

Fourth Consecutive Hottest Year on Record?

Unfortunately for the reef and for the rest of world’s natural wonders, coastlines, biological diversity, cities and nations, the rate of global warming appears to be accelerating. A situation that will put most of life on Earth, including its corals and the crops human beings rely on for food, into a state of permanent heat stress.

A new scientific study showed that the rate of heat gain in the world’s oceans, due to heat trapping gasses like CO2 hitting the atmosphere at near record rates, is speeding up. Meanwhile a number of scientists are starting to worry that 2017 will be a fourth consecutive record hot year in a row.

(Fourth consecutive record hot year in a row? If it happens, it would be just one more unprecedented, unexpected event related to climate change to add to the a long and growing list. Image source: Zeke Hausfather.)

Zeke Hausfather of the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature group posted the above image on Twitter noting: “2017 has been weirdly warm so far despite a lack of El Nino conditions. If Jan/Feb temps were representative it would end up surpassing 2016.”

The team, which is ironically funded by the Koch Brothers (of climate change denial infamy) and was formed by climate skeptic Richard Muller, has done preliminary global temperature estimates and found that February of 2017 was the second hottest on record globally. If true, this would put the year on a very warm launching pad despite a recent weak La Nina event in the Pacific which should have resulted in considerably more cyclical global cooling. NOAA now shows the potential for a weak to moderate El Nino to form during the spring and summer. And the risk exists that warm surface waters in the Pacific will combine with an already very strong warming amplification in the polar regions brought on by climate change to spike global temperatures yet again.

We should note that such an occurrence would be very odd — flying in the face of traditional understanding of the El Nino/La Nina cycle. Usually, post El Nino years tend to cool somewhat (including the effect of follow-on La Nina events) even as the overall global warming trend has ramped higher. So if we do experience a record warm year post La Nina, then other factors are helping to drive the global climate system. And the chief suspects at this time appear to be positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a Polar Amplification associated with global warming, and spiking ocean temperatures associated with global warming.

Conditions in Context — Climate Tipping Points

To be very clear, what’s happening to the Great Barrier Reef at this time is terrible. But it is not an isolated event. Regions the world over are starting to feel increasingly worsening impacts from climate change. To name just a few of the major impacts now rippling across the globe: Parts of East Africa are getting pushed toward lower farm productivity and ultimate uninhabitability by the rising heat, Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice now has an expected lifespan of 1 to 15 years, growing seasons around the world are under assault from the rising temperatures, coastal cities are in peril from rising waters, and Antarctic and Greenland glaciers are lurching toward the sea.

 

(A graphic of potential climate tipping points produced by the University of East Anglia. We should probably now also add East Antarctic Ice Sheet, East Africa drought, and expanding ocean dead zones to the list. It’s worth noting that these identified climate tipping points included a degree of uncertainty — meaning that temperature levels needed to set off these events weren’t fully nailed down, nor were the timeframes under which such potential scenarios were likely to occur. But it was generally assumed that crossing any of these tipping points would result in very harmful and wide-ranging impacts. To this point, it appears that we are in the process of crossing the coral bleaching, Arctic sea ice loss, increasing crop stress, expanding ocean dead zones, increasing global wildfires, worsening floods and droughts, and glacial destabilization tipping points at this time.)

All these events are happening with the world at 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages and warming at what appears to be a rather swift rate. So we appear to be at a threshold now where dangerous and very harmful climate events are starting to occur. In other words, we’re starting to cross some of the forewarned climate tipping points. And these events can arise quite suddenly to produce wide-ranging impacts to human populations and the biodiversity of life on Earth.

The imperative to act by cutting human fossil fuel emissions as rapidly as possible couldn’t be more obvious or urgent. And as part of that imperative, it appears that the removal of fossil fuel backing politicians (like Trump, Scott Pruitt, James Inhoffe and other climate change denying republicans in the US) will be necessary to achieve any kind of rational response to this very real threat to pretty much everyone and everything living on Earth.

Links:

Eyewitness News in Australia

Zeke Hausfather

Widespread Coral Bleaching Strikes Great Barrier Reef Again in 2017

NOAA El Nino

Weirdly Warm 2017

University of East Anglia

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to BJ

Widespread Coral Bleaching Strikes Great Barrier Reef Again in 2017

During early 2017, the region over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) experienced its hottest summer atmospheric temperatures on record. Peak water temperatures lag peak air temperatures by about a month. But already, sections of one of the world’s most vital marine sanctuaries are experiencing bleaching and disease. Worryingly, bleaching and heat stress is expanding over the reef at a faster rate than at the same time last year.

Coral Bleaching Great Barrier Reef

(The Great Barrier Reef is already experiencing extensive bleaching in 2017. With warmer waters headed toward the reef over the coming weeks, researchers fear that this year’s coral mortality event could match or exceed 2016’s severe damage and loss. Image source: Commons.)

A Precious Global Treasure Under Threat

During 2016, the GBR experienced its worst coral bleaching event on record. This severe event followed two years (2014-2015) in which the reef saw less widespread bleaching. A strong El Nino combined with the highest global temperatures ever measured to produce ocean conditions that were too hot to support living corals and many regions saw bleaching and high mortality. In the reef’s northern sections, more than 2/3 of the corals bleached and died out.

Scientists who’d long warned that global warming would put the fate of the great reef at risk, issued an alarm and a call for action. Global temperatures had now reached a threshold that threatened to put Australia’s natural wonder at risk with far greater frequency than ever before. Scientists warned that by the 2030s, ocean temperatures would be warm enough to produce a bleaching event similar to the 2016 die-off every 2-3 years. A separate study indicated that the reef could experience severe coral bleaching through at least 2040 (and well beyond if the world continued to burn fossil fuels and to warm up at such rapid rates).

frequency-of-coral-bleaching-events-projections

(Under human-forced warming the frequency of coral bleaching events and reef mortality is expected to dramatically increase over the coming decades. However, with global temperatures now 1.2 C warmer than 1880s levels, the amount of stress to corals is already remarkably high. Image source: The World Resources Institute.)

Some questioned if the reef could survive such a severe onslaught of global heat brought about by human fossil fuel emissions. Others pointing out that, unless those heat-trapping emissions were dramatically curbed, warming alone had the potential to kill off most of the reef within the next 20 years.

More Coral Bleaching as Ocean Near GBR Fails to Cool in 2017

Nearer-term concerns were also raised that risks to the reef remained high in the present abnormally warm ocean environment. For as 2017 followed 2016, the global coral bleaching event that began in 2014, and that had already claimed the lives of so many of the world’s corals, remained in force.

During the winter of 2016-2017, a weak La Nina event (NOAA) brought some hope that the GBR might get a chance to recover from this most recent spate of extreme ocean warmth. However, by February, La Nina (which was never strong enough to be officially recorded by Australia’s BoM) had faded even as indicators pointed toward a new El Nino beginning to gather. Meanwhile, global atmospheric carbon continued to increase — hitting 490 CO2e by late 2016.

coral-bleaching-affects-gbr

(NOAA predicts another bad year for the world’s corals as a new El Nino threatens to emerge and as global temperatures remain near record highs set in 2016. Image source: NOAA.)

Ocean temperatures in the 30 C + range that typically produce bleaching began to spread over parts of the reef. These conditions were warmer than during the same period of 2016 — raising the awful potential that impacts to the reef during 2017 could be as bad or even worse than last year’s record event.

Worse than 2016 So Far

As of this week, new reports of bleaching were starting to emerge in six GBR reefs in the region of Mission Beach. According to Queensland’s Environment Minister Steve Miles:

“Queensland has just experienced its hottest summer on record and above average temperatures are predicted until the end of March. Some corals were still under stress from last year’s bleaching event and that was exacerbated by a warmer than average winter. The next four weeks will be critical and we can only hope that water temperatures will be cooler than the forecast.’’

The six reefs in question, stretching from Cairns to Townsville, already showed 60 percent bleaching — primarily among the more heat-sensitive corals. And the extent of bleaching was more advanced than during the same time in 2016. Over the coming weeks, the pulse of warm water is expected to spread, putting still more corals at risk as the unprecedented ocean heat moves southward through the marine sanctuary.

So it appears that the GBR is in for another rough summer — one with the potential to see impacts similar to or exceeding those of 2016. Moreover, with global oceans continuing to warm, with world governments still dragging heels on carbon emissions reductions, and with Trump and others vowing to reinvigorate coal, the plight of the GBR is now quite dire.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Great Barrier Reef Faces New Coral Bleaching Threat

Ecologists Steel For More Coral Bleaching on Great Barrier Reef

Large Scale Projections of Coral Reef Futures

Reef Authority Reveals More Coral Bleaching

Global Coral Bleaching Event

The World Resources Institute

BBC

Hat tip to Keith

Why the Global Coral Bleaching Event That Began in 2014 May Just Keep Going and Going

From October of 2014 through June of 2016, the world was in the grips of a powerful El Nino. And throughout this event, the oceans spewed back some of the massive volume of heat they’ve been accumulating in their depths due to global warming. As a result, atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures hit new record highs. And during 2016, global surface temperatures will likely average 1.2 C hotter than 1880s levels. This amount of warming is as considerable as it is harmful.

current-coral-bleaching-status

(A global coral bleaching event that began in 2014 continues. It is the longest coral bleaching event on record. But unless oceans somehow cool off, it won’t really end. With only a weak La Nina emerging following a strong El Nino and a record spike in global temperatures, there is some risk that this ongoing event will ebb and flare on a nearly indefinite basis. Continued fossil fuel burning, meanwhile, will continue to add heat to the global climate system — presenting worsening medium and long term bleaching pressure for corals. Image source: Coral Reef Watch.)

The Worst Global Coral Bleaching Event Ever Recorded… 

This new record spike in global surface temperatures set off the worst coral bleaching event ever recorded. Around the world, reef systems came under severe stress as sea surface and near surface temperatures exceeded 28-30 degrees Celsius.

Among the hardest hit regions were the reefs of Kiribati. There, sea surface temperatures hit up to 31.4 C on an extended basis. Such hot waters are now expected to have wiped out all but 1 to 5 percent of Kiribati’s living corals. So, for all practical purposes, the reefs of that island republic have been wiped out.

Overall, the event was very wide ranging — impacting corals throughout the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans as well as in the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean, and Red Sea. As an example, 95 percent of corals in US territories from Florida to the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Pacific experienced some level of bleaching.

sea-surface-temperature-anomalies

(A weak La Nina has probably already cooled ocean surfaces as much as they will be cooled during 2016 and 2017. But despite this cooling, ocean near-surface waters are still too hot for corals in many places. Relative, if mild, ocean surface warming should occur as ENSO is predicted to shift into neutral status. If coral bleaching is ongoing through La Nina, then it is unlikely to cease as the global ocean starts to warm again. Global sea surface temperature anomaly image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) also saw its worst bleaching event on record. There, 93 percent of corals are reported to have experienced bleaching. Meanwhile, about 50 percent of corals have died in the northern section of the GBR. In the media, a controversy has raged over whether or not this event is the start of the great reef’s swansong. To be clear, the GBR was not killed off by the most recent large bleaching event. But it was dealt a very severe blow. With the world continuing to warm as fossil fuel burning remains ongoing, a similar blow could occur as soon as the next El Nino or the one after. And the story for many of the world’s remaining reefs could well be the same.

…Is Still Ongoing…

For after about two years now, and as the world has settled into the periodic natural cooling of ocean surfaces called La Nina, the global coral bleaching event that has so damaged the vital species that build the world’s reefs is still ongoing. Though diminished, and as ocean surface heat backed off during late 2016, NOAA has still identified numerous regions that are high risk for coral bleaching through at least February.

coral-bleaching-risk-through-february

The austral summer is expected to bring bleaching over far-flung regions encircling the southern part of the globe. Thankfully, most of the GBR is only under a bleaching watch for now. But bleaching warnings and alerts abound and, unfortunately, many reefs are likely to see continued die-offs even after El Nino has long since faded.

… And May Just, For all Practical Purposes, Continue

As the current La Nina is rather weak, and as it is predicted to shallow into an ENSO neutral state by spring, it appears that sea surface temperatures may be in the process of bottoming out. Global fossil fuel emissions, meanwhile, continue to add heat to the ocean system. As a result, the coral bleaching pressure that we are seeing during the period of November 2016 through February of 2017, unless we see a resurgence to a stronger La Nina event over the next year or two, could be the minimum we will see over the coming years. And if that is the case, then the coral bleaching event that hasn’t ended for the past two years may not really end at all.

Links:

NOAA Coral Reef Watch

NOAA El Nino

Earth Nullschool

Dr Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS

El Nino is Basically Over — But this Global Coral Bleaching Event Just Won’t End

Back in 2014, an unsuspecting world was on the verge of a major global temperature increase. But despite warnings from scientists like Dr. Kevin Trenberth that deep ocean warming had sped up and would eventually result in rapid surface warming, the big media meme at the time was that global warming had ‘paused.’ Originating in The Economist, and swiftly spreading to numerous other news outlets, this particular blast of bad information fed the public a big helping of false sense of security.

In 2014 through 2016, maximum global temperatures jumped from around 0.65 degrees Celsius to around 1 C above the 20th-century average. In just three years’ time, the whole of the Earth’s surface had warmed by about 0.35 C. This is like cramming all of the warming from 1880 to 1980 into the three-year 2014-to-2016 period. Never before in all of the global climate record starting in the late 19th century has the Earth warmed so much in so short a time.

Leaving 20th Century Climate Behind

(Huge jump in global temperatures over the past three years has probably passed a number of climate thresholds — including temperature thresholds for key sea creatures like corals. Data Source: NOAA. Image source: Mashable.)

Global warming hadn’t paused at all. It was just getting ready to hit the accelerator.

Global Heat Spurs Bleaching, Mass Coral Mortality

All this newly-added surface heat represents a big step up into much warmer conditions for the global climate. What this means is that even the coolest months now will probably approximate the warmest months during the big super El Niño of 1998. Such a large temperature increase in so short a period means that the world has likely hit a number of tipping points for geophysical and ecological harm. One of the most visible of these tipping points involves an ongoing ecological crisis — a global coral bleaching event.

Perhaps the most vivid and heart-wrenching example of what is a very wide-ranging coral mortality situation is the bleaching-related damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In a terrible blow to one of the world’s most stunning natural wonders, about a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals have already been killed off — an event that some scientists say may eventually lead to 100 percent mortality of the Reef’s corals. (see a related report in The Guardian).

American Samoa Bleaching

(Coral bleaching events like this one in American Samoa during 2015 have been happening around the world since 2014. It’s a global event that’s still ongoing despite a turn toward La Niña conditions in the Pacific. This is the longest global coral bleaching event ever recorded, and one that could continue into 2017 or beyond. Image source: Nature.)

The Great Barrier Reef is not the only reef system to suffer. In fact, the added heat due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere and oceans has generated bleaching-induced heat stress and mass coral mortality the world over. And some of the world’s other great reef systems, including Kiribati, which lost 80 percent of its live corals in 10 months, have been hit so hard it’s doubtful they’ll ever recover.

The Seemingly Never-Ending Global Coral Bleaching Event

At issue is the fact that all this added global heat is creating a situation where reefs bleach year after year and, in some cases (as was the case with parts of the Great Barrier Reef this year) even bleach during winter. It’s a coral mass mortality that falls under the definition of a global bleaching event. But it’s also happening with an intensity, persistence, and duration that we’ve never seen before.

Beginning in 2014 with the big warm-up that preceded the 2015-2016 El Niño, the present global coral bleaching event is now, according to NOAA, the longest-running and the most extensive such event to have occurred in the modern record. NOAA notes:

…the current global coral bleaching event is the longest ever recorded. It has affected more reefs than any previous global bleaching event and has been worse in some locales (e.g., Great Barrier Reef, Kiribati). Thermal stress during this event also has caused mass bleaching in several reefs that never bleached before (e.g., northernmost Great Barrier Reef).

Global coral bleaching event continues

(Global coral bleaching event extent as of July 20 according to NOAA. Note that sections of bleaching watch and warning conditions now extend across the northern edges of NOAA’s map, an indication that latitudinal extent of bleaching is expanding beyond typical ranges even as bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures appears to be becoming a near-constant issue for world corals. Image source: NOAA.)

NOAA had initially forecast that this very-long-duration bleaching event would end sometime in 2016 as El Niño faded out. However, with sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific hitting the cool side of natural climate variability in the form of La Niña-like conditions during recent weeks, and the current global coral bleaching event still going strong, one has to wonder if oceans have now become hot enough to spur widespread bleaching at almost any time.

NOAA now predicts a possible end to the current global bleaching event in 2017, giving the event a four-year duration. But with global temperatures continuing to warm, what we may be seeing is the start of an unbroken or nearly unbroken period of expanding coral bleaching, a time when global stress to corals due to high ocean temperatures is practically continuous.

Links/Attribution/Statements

NOAA

NOAA El Nino

Sections of the Great Barrier Reef Suffering Complete Ecosystem Collapse

Kirubuti Loses Almost all its Corals Due to Bleaching

Nature

Great Barrier Reef Catastrophe Laid Bare

Leaving 20th Century Climate Far Behind

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

The Killer Seas Begin — Mass Marine Death off Chile as Ocean Acidification Begins to Take Down Florida’s Reef

We should be very clear. There is no way to save the beautiful and majestic coral reefs of our world without a rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning. And, if we continue burning fossil fuels, we will not only lose the reefs and corals — we will also turn the world’s oceans into a mass extinction engine.

Chile Mass Sea Life Die Off

(Masses of dead sea life wash up onto Chile’s shores after the worst red tide in history for that nation. As we witness the tragic carnage in Chile, we should remember that the red tide there, the mass coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and the onset of ocean acidification damage to the Florida Reef are all linked by the same thread — fossil fuel burning and a related heating up of the global climate. Image source: Largest Red Tide in Chilean History.)

Mass Extinction Driven by the Awful Engine of Greed

Killer Seas. That’s what we’re turning the world’s oceans into in our allowing the fossil fuel industry to retain dominance over the world’s energy sources. In allowing them to continue to keep us captive to the burning of high carbon fuels through their corrupting and pervasive political and economic power. We certainly bear some of the blame for apathetically allowing ourselves to be hood-winked and lead about by the noses. But we shouldn’t fault ourselves too much. For the blame mostly rests within the policy-making apparatuses of dominance-based economic systems and in the very few individuals around the world who now hold the keys to that power.

An enforced global injustice set in place by wealthy individuals like the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffet  — who through a corrupt monetary influence regularly hijack the political process to protect legacy fossil fuel assets and to assault renewable energy industries. Those like the members of the governing board of Exxon Mobile — who have waged a decades-long campaign to misinform the public on the dangers of human-caused climate change. These so-called global elites are the authors of the climate change denial that has now crippled and deeply divided most legislative bodies around the world. The same fossil fuel drug pushers who’ve worked so hard to keep the global economic system addicted to the most damaging and corrupting of energy sources — oil, gas and coal.

These people are the real monsters of the climate crisis. The ones who, often without any kind of visibility or accountability, have done everything they can to ensure that we, the people of an ailing Earth, have less and less power to make the right decisions and to form the kind of political consensus that would actually provide a pathway to leading us out of this worsening global nightmare. And so, whether we individually realize it now or not, we are in the fight of our lives — what is likely to be the most important struggle for justice that the human race has ever undertaken. For as difficult as such a fight will ultimately be — we must fight the fossil fuel interests and win if human civilization and much of life on Earth is to survive.

The Advent of Killer Seas

I don’t usually talk about religion here in this blog. And I’m not what many people would consider to be a religious person. I do not, for example, attend church very often. Nor do I tend to agree with many so-called religious authorities — whom I often see as short-sighted and relying too much on mythical and dogmatic beliefs that are at best failures in logic and at worst the outgrowths of institutional corruption or general backwards-thinking and small-mindedness. But in this particular case — in the case of the killer seas that are starting to plague our world — I cannot help but to often be struck by how one of the deadly sins that the Bible warns of is resulting in so much terrible harm to the Earth, to its creatures, and to her people. And it is impossible to turn away from the clear-sighted and beautifully written moral imperative laid down by the Pope Francis in his Encyclical. A warning that we should all heed and not turn our eyes from.

Nothing is frozen by Miep

(Nothing is Frozen — by Miep. This is what happens when the world loses its ice — Killer Seas. Image source: There are So Many Things Wrong With This.)

For in the book of Revelation, the Bible speaks of a terrible global disaster. One that begins when the seas turn blood-red and a third of all the fish are killed. Many have interpreted this book, this passage, as a kind of inevitable wrath of a literal God coming down from heaven to divide and punish the human race. But I think that this is a false interpretation. A loving, nurturing God is not a God of Wrath. No, that does not ring true to me at all. I think of this passage, this book, instead as a kind of stark warning against the direct and deadly consequences of bad actions. Of what happens to us if we succumb to what the Bible identifies as the sin of greed. For ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’

The Bible is, after all, a sort of lore of the ancients passed down over hundreds of generations. A book of parables and lessons for how human beings should treat one another in ways that help not only individuals — but the entire race to survive. In this way, the Bible could be seen as an ancient guide for civilization survival. A book that includes numerous passages on how cities and nations can prosper by living in balance with one another and with nature. And one that issues this essential and stark warning to those who do not treat the Earth and her creatures with kindness. For ‘those who destroy the Earth shall be destroyed.’

Well, we’ve already destroyed 2/3 the globe’s predatory fish that humans eat through over-fishing alone. But the kind of ocean-wrecking destruction of callously-over-fishing pales in comparison to what happens when the short-sighted protection of money in the form of ‘legacy fossil fuel assets’ forces the dumping of billions of tons of toxic carbon into the world’s airs and waters. If you do that, then the ocean really does turn blood-red and purple-red. If you do that, you unleash the mass extinction machine that was the killing mechanism in four of the five great die offs in Earth’s deep history. You begin to temp the fates by invoking the names Permian, Triassic, Devonian, and Ordovician. And if you allow the fossil fuel powers to keep on doing it for the sake of their imagined wealth, then you make the oceans so acidic that the skeletons of the fragile and yet ever-so-beautiful and necessary creatures living within the world’s waters dissolve.

Florida’s Coral Reefs Start to Dissolve

Here, we’ve frequently warned of the two-pronged threat posed to global coral reefs as a result of human fossil fuel burning. In the south, as oceans heat up due to fossil fuel emissions, coral bleaching begins to take hold. Becoming more pervasive as temperatures rise into a range between 1 and 2 C above preindustrial averages, by the 2030s about 90 percent of the world’s reefs will fall under threat of ghosting away into whiteness.

This year, we saw some of these stark consequences begin to unfold as the Great Barrier Reef suffered a horrific bleaching event. This kind of event was predicted and expected by ocean researchers. Brave scientists who acted as modern-day prophets in their issuing of warnings to Australian and global governments. Governments which are now, in so many cases, stacked to the gills (due to the corrupting influence of fossil fuel money mentioned earlier) with the political extremists we today call climate change deniers.

The second prong of the threat to global reefs comes in the form of ocean acidification spreading down from the north. Because waters in northern regions of the world are colder, they are able to take in more of the excess greenhouse gasses produced. As more carbon is drawn into these colder waters, their acidity increases to the point that ocean organisms with calcium carbonate skeletons begin to see those skeletons dissolve. And corals are one of many key ocean organisms that possess calcium carbonate skeletal structures.

Carysfort Reef Dissolved Due to Ocean Acidification

(A global ocean acidification front resulting from a rampant burning of fossil fuels is starting to dissolve higher latitude reef systems. The Carysfort Reef — above — has had numerous coral structures completely dismembered due to ocean acidification creeping into this section of the Florida Reef. Image source: Science Daily.)

Until recently, the threat of ocean acidification to reef systems was still thought to be at least a couple of decades off. And many mainstream scientists believed that acidification would not seriously threaten corals until the 2050s. Unfortunately, a new study has found that the United States’ only large reef — stretching from Biscayne Bay to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary in the Atlantic Ocean — is now starting to waste away due to ocean acidification. A surprising event that researchers are saying is disturbing, unprecedented, and unexpectedly soon.

According to a recent article in National Geographic:

University of Miami scientists called the collapse of the reef’s limestone framework, a critical habitat for fish, “unprecedented” and “cause for alarm.” “Lots of scientists think that ocean acidification is not going to be a problem until 2050 or 2060,” says Chris Langdon, a marine biology professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “This is happening now. We’ve just lost 35 years we thought we had to turn things around.”

In essence, the reef is wasting away. During the Spring and Summer, reef-building corals bloom and produce the calcium carbonate (limestone) structure that is the body of the Florida Reef. During Fall and Winter, however, reef building activity halts and the newly acidified water begins to take limestone away. The study found that the rate of loss now exceeds the rate of gain. The corals aren’t able to keep up, the reef has reached a tipping point, and the limestone structures the corals rely on for life is dissolving.

The Florida Reef is one of the highest Latitude coral reef structures in the world. But if it is starting to succumb to ocean acidification now, it means the progress of the acidification front is presently, during 2016, starting to enter regions the corals inhabit. If fossil fuel burning continues and atmospheric CO2 concentrations — this year peaking at around 408 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory — continue to rise, it won’t be long before a growing portion of the world’s reefs begin to succumb to effects similar to those now destroying the Florida Reef.

And while coral bleaching is a condition that reefs have at least some chance to recover from, acidification is inevitably lethal. Once a certain oceanic carbon concentration is reached, acidification impacts the reef for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, robbing it of the very skeletal structures necessary for coral survival. And since about 1/4 of all the fish in all the world’s oceans (not just the large, predatory fish we eat) rely on coral reef systems for their own life-giving habitats, the loss of coral reefs would truly be a disaster of biblical proportion.

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody off the Coast of Chile

Back during March, another lethal ocean condition associated with a warming of the world’s waters began to appear in the ocean zone off the southern coast of Chile. There, a massive algae bloom spread over a region where sea surface temperatures were ranging between 1 and 3 C hotter than normal.

Chile Sea Surface Temperatures

(Abnormally warm sea surface temperatures driven by human forced climate change sparked a the largest red tide ever witnessed off the coast of Chile. The image above shows sea surface temperature anomalies as recorded in late March of 2016 by Earth Nullschool.)

The algae bloom — called a red tide — generated toxic levels of domoic acid that subsequently killed off massive amounts of clams, fish, and even marine mammals. Beaches across Chile were littered with dead sea creatures and Chilean officials are now saying that the current red tide is the worst ever to occur off Chile.

The red tide forced Chilean officials to ground the nation’s fishing fleets — sparking mass riots and protests as thousands of poor fishermen lost access to their means of generating a livelihood. The Chilean government has since offered 150 million dollars in aid to the fishermen. But locals say it’s not enough to make ends meet. The severe blow to the fishing industry, which makes up 0.5 percent of Chile’s GDP, will also negatively effect the Chilean economy. This severe red tide has lasted for months now. But recent reports indicate that the bloom is growing larger as more and more sea life succumbs.

As has been the trend with most major media sources this year, El Nino has been linked by BBC and others to this record red tide. But doing so is short-sighted and fails to take into account the larger context of the global climate picture. Warm ocean waters are well known to generate conditions favorable for red tide development. The warmer waters favor a more rapid rate of algae reproduction and allow algae access to a greater range of food sources. Over the past Century, the world has warmed by more than 1 C above preindustrial levels. And this year is the hottest on record — not due to El Nino, but due to a century-long increase in temperatures exploring a new threshold of extreme global heat.

The seas turn red off Chile

(An algae bloom spurred by global warming is turning the waters off Chile blood-red. Poisonous domoic acid and mass fish and sea life killings resulting from this event are wrecking Chile’s fishing industry, ruining the lives of poor fishermen, and damaging Chile’s economy. Image source: Lethal Red Tide.)

In the Northeast Pacific, this record global heat forced waters there to new extremes — setting off a 2015 record red tide together with a chain of related mass mortality events affecting ocean life. An event that is linked, by ocean warming and climate change, to the largest ever red tide in Chile. One that is also linked, by climate change, to the terrible damage inflicted upon the Great Barrier Reef this year due to coral bleaching. One that is linked to ocean acidification now starting to take down the Florida Reef. And since we are taking a moment to engage in establishing links in a chain of evidence, we can draw one last link from all these events to the ongoing fossil fuel emission that is still being vomited into the world’s airs by an industry that is, itself, nothing more than a means for some of the world’s richest people to continue to increase their amount of individually accumulated wealth.

Ultimately, it’s pretty clear that people all over the world have a crucial choice to make —

What’s more important? The ability of a few people to grow their wealth through the continued burning of fossil fuels? Or the preservation of the vitality of the oceans which all life on Earth ultimately depends upon and the prevention of the warming that will transform the life-giving waters into Killer Seas?

To this point, I’ll leave you with the end-note of the recent National Geographic article on corals succumbing to ocean acidification:

“The only way to prevent that is to prevent the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere.”

Links:

Ocean Acidification Impacting Reefs in the Florida Keys

Predatory Fish Have Declined by Two-Thirds

A Death of Beauty

The Pope’s Encyclical

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse

Chile’s Red Tide Outbreak Widens

Lethal Red Tide

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

Warren Buffet’s Disaster Capitalism

Still Disinforming — Exxon Mobile’s Continued Culpability in Climate Change Denial

Earth Nullschool

There are So Many Things Wrong With This

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

A Death of Beauty — Climate Change is Bleaching the Great Barrier Reef Out of Existence

Extinction.

It’s a hard, tough thing to consider. One of those possibilities people justifiably do not want to talk about. This notion that a creature we’re fond of and familiar with — a glorious living being along with all its near and distant relatives — could be entirely removed from the web of existence here on Earth.

Our aversion to the topic likely stems from our own fear of death. Or worse — the notion that the entire human race might eventually be faced with such an end. But extinction is a threat that we’ll see arising more and more as we force the world to rapidly warm. For species of the world now face existential crisis with increasing frequency as atmospheric and ocean temperatures have risen so fast that a growing number of them have simply become unable to cope with the heat.

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia — the world’s largest single structure made up of living organisms — is no exception. For this 1,440 mile long expanse of corals composed of more than 2,900 individual reefs that has existed in one form or another for 600,000 years has suffered a severe blow — one from which it may never be able to recover. One that appears likely to kill up to 90 percent of its corals along previously pristine regions in its northern half.

(Governments failed to listen to the warnings of scientists like Terry Hughes. Now, it appears that the Great Barrier Reef has been hit by a blow from coral bleaching from which it may never be able to recover. Video source: Australian Broadcasting on the Great Barrier Reef’s Worst Coral Bleaching Event on Record.)

The damage comes in the form of extreme ocean heat. Heat resulting from global temperatures that are now well in excess of 1 degree C above preindustrial times. Heat that has forced ocean temperature variability into a range that is now lethal for certain forms of sea life. Particularly for the world’s corals which are now suffering and dying through the worst global bleaching event ever experienced.

The Worst Global Coral Bleaching Event Ever Experienced

During 2014 the oceans began to heat up into never-before seen temperature ranges. This warming initiated a global coral bleaching event that worsened throughout 2015. By early 2016 global surface temperatures rocketed to about 1.5 C above 1880s averages for the months of February and March. These new record high temperatures came on the back of annual carbon emissions now in the range of 13 billion tons each year and at the hotter end of the global natural variability cycle called El Nino. Both the atmosphere near the land surface and the upper levels of the ocean experienced this extreme warming.

In the ocean, corals rely on symbiotic microbes to aid in the production of energy for their cellular bodies. These microbes are what give the corals their wild arrays of varied and brilliant colors. But if water temperatures rise high enough, the symbiotic microbes that the corals rely on begin to produce substances that are toxic to the corals. At this point, the corals expel the microbes and lose their brilliant coloration — reverting to a stark white.

Worst coral bleaching event on record

(A vast region of the world’s ocean system continues to experience coral bleaching. In area, extent, height of extreme temperature, and duration, the current global coral bleaching event is the worst ever experienced by a good margin. As global temperatures continue to warm due to ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions, widespread coral bleaching is likely to become an annual occurrence. Temperatures have risen far enough and will continue to rise for long enough to set about ocean conditions that will result in mass coral die-offs around the world. Image source: NOAA.)

Bleaching isn’t necessarily lethal to corals. However, once the microbes are gone, the corals have lost a key energy source and will eventually die without them. If ocean temperatures return to normal soon enough, the corals can begin to accept the symbiotic microbes back, return to a healthy cellular energy production, and survive — albeit in a weakened and more vulnerable state for some time to come. But if ocean temperatures remain too warm for an extended period, then the corals will be deprived of energy and nutrients for too long and they will inevitably perish.

The kind of coral bleaching event that we’re experiencing now is a mass killer of corals. Not simply due to the heat itself, but due to the long duration of the extreme temperature spike. By late February, many ocean scientists were very concerned about the already severe damage reports that were starting to come in. At that time, NOAA issued this warning:

“We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed. We may be looking at a 2- to 2½-year-long event. Some areas have already seen bleaching two years in a row.”

93 Percent of Great Barrier Reef Affected by Bleaching

By late February, the level of concern for the Great Barrier Reef was palpable. Stark reports were starting to come in from places like Fiji — which had experienced two years of severe bleaching — and Christmas Atoll about 1,300 miles south of Hawaii — whose reported losses were best described as staggering. So far, the worst of the hot water had stayed away from Australia’s great reef.

But by early March a plume of very extreme ocean heat began to appear over The Great Barrier Reef’s northern sections. Sea surface temperatures spiked to well above, a dangerous to corals, 30 degrees Celsius for days and weeks. This 30 C or greater heat extended deep — hitting as far as 50 meters below the ocean surface over the reef. And it rippled southward — hitting section after section until few parts of the reef were spared.

Terry Hughes, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Great Barrier Reef, on March 18th tweeted his fear and anguish over the situation:

Terry Hughes tweet

At this point, there was no stopping the tragedy. Fossil fuel emissions had already warmed the airs and waters to levels deadly to the living reef. It was all researchers could do to work frantically to assess the damage. Teams of the world’s top reef scientists swept out — performing an extensive survey of the losses. More than 911 reef systems were assessed and, in total, the teams found that fully 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef system had experienced some level of bleaching.

Final Death Toll for Some Sections Likely to Exceed 90 Percent

In extent, this was the worst bleaching event for the Great Barrier Reef by a long shot. Back during the previous most severe bleaching events of 1998 and 2002, 42 percent and 54 percent of the reef was affected. By any measure, the greatly expanded 2016 damage was catastrophic. “We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,”said Professor Terry Hughes in the ARC coral bleaching report.

Out of all the reefs surveyed in the report, just 7% escaped bleaching. Most of these reefs occupied the southern section — a region that was spared the worst of the current bleaching event due to cooler water upwelling provided by the powerful winds of Hurricane Winston. But impacts to the Northern section of the reef could best be described as stark. There, a section composing almost the entire northern half of the reef saw between 60 and 100% of corals experiencing severe bleaching. In the reports, Hughes notes that many of these corals are not likely to survive. In the hardest hit reefs — which were in the most remote sections least affected by Australia’s industrial run-off — algae has been observed growing over 50 percent of the corals affected — an indication that these corals are already dead:

“Tragically, this is the most remote part of the Reef, and its remoteness has protected it from most human pressures: but not climate change. North of Port Douglas, we’re already measuring an average of close to 50% mortality of bleached corals. At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%. When bleaching is this severe it affects almost all coral species, including old, slow-growing corals that once lost will take decades or longer to return (Emphasis added).”

But with the oceans still warming, and with more and still worse coral bleaching events almost certainly on the way, the question has to be asked — will these corals ever be afforded the opportunity to recover?

A Context of Catastrophe with Worse Still to Come

As ocean surface temperatures are now entering a range of 1 C or more above 1880s levels, corals are expected to experience bleaching with greater and greater frequency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 identified the time-frame of 2012 to 2040 as a period of rising and extreme risk to corals due to bleaching. IPCC also identified bleaching as the greatest threat to corals and related reef-dependent sea life.

When ocean surface temperatures warm into a range of 2 C above 1880s levels — the kind of severe global heating that could arise under worst-case fossil fuel emissions and related warming scenarios by the mid 2030s — corals in the Great Barrier Reef are expected to experience bleaching on an annual basis. Every year, in other words, would be a mass coral bleaching and die-off year.

image

(Sea surface temperatures and temperatures withing the top 50 meters of water over the Great Barrier Reef of Australia rose to 3-4 C above average during the austral Summer and Fall of 2016. These record temperatures lasted for weeks in some regions setting off the worst coral bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef has ever seen. By mid-Century, coral bleaching and mass die-offs are likely to occur on an annual basis as global temperatures surpass the 1.5 C and 2 C thresholds. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Globally, bleaching events under even moderate fossil fuel emissions scenarios would tend to take up much of the Equatorial region on an annual basis by mid-Century. Events that can, during single years, wipe out between 90 and 95 percent of corals at any given location. A handful of corals will likely survive these events — representing a remote and far-flung remnant who were simply a bit hardier, or lucky, or who had developed an ability to accept microbes that are tolerant to warmer temperatures. But these hardy or fortunate few would take hundreds to thousands of years to re-establish previous coral reef vitality even if other harmful ocean conditions did not arrive to provide still more damage.

As coral bleaching expands at the Equator due to increasing rates of ocean warming, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes oceans to become more acidic. Cooler waters at the poles are better able to transfer gasses into the ocean’s waters. And higher levels of carbon dioxide in the world ocean results in a growing acidity that is harmful to corals. Increasing levels of ocean acidity thus creep down from the poles at the same time that bleaching events move up from the Equator.

If fossil fuel emissions continue, by mid-Century atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the range of 450 to 500 parts per million will have provided a never-before seen spike to ocean acidity. Such high ocean acidity would then provide a second severe blow to corals already devastated by bleaching events. It’s a 1-2 punch that represents a mass extinction threat for corals this Century. And we’re starting to see the severe impacts ramp up now.

ocean-acification-through-2050

(Coral bleaching is a severe threat to tropical coral reefs now. But CO2 potentially hitting above 500 parts per million, according to a 2014 study, risks a complete loss of equatorial coral reefs by 2050 to 2100. Between bleaching and acidification, there’s no way out for corals so long as fossil fuel burning continues. Image source: Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification.)

The only hope for stopping this ever-expanding harm is a rapid cessation of fossil fuel emissions. And we owe it to the corals of the world, the millions of species that depend on them, and the hundreds of millions of people whose food sources and economic well being come from the corals.

“And Then We Wept”

When researchers told students of the extent of harm to corals upon the Great Barrier Reef, the students were reported to have wept. And with good reason. For our Earth had just experienced a profound death of beauty. A death of a vital and wondrous living treasure of our world. A priceless liquid gem of our Earth. A wonder that gives life to millions of species and one that grants both food and vitality to Australia herself. For if the reef goes, so does a huge portion of the living wealth of that Nation and our world.

Sadly, the tears will just keep coming and coming as these kinds of events are bound to worsen without the most dramatic and urgent global actions. The current and most recent catastrophe is thus yet one more in a litany of wake up calls to the world. But will we hear it loud and clear enough to act in ways that are necessary to ensure the corals survival? And what of the billions of creatures and of the millions of humans too that depend on the corals? Do we care about them enough to act?

Links:

Only Seven Percent of the Great Barrier Reef Has Avoided Coral Bleaching

And Then We Wept: 93 Percent of the Great Barrier Reef Now Bleached

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch

Earth Nullschool

Coral Reefs Hit by Worst Coral Bleaching Event

Terry Hughes Twitter Feed

Coral Bleaching

Threat to Coral Reefs From Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification: We are Looking at the Complete Loss of Tropical Coral Reefs by 2050 to 2100

Australian Broadcasting on the Great Barrier Reef’s Worst Coral Bleaching Event on Record

Hat tip to Caroline

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Griffon

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the essential work that has been provided by Terry Hughes over so many years and decades. Scientists like Terry provide a vital public service. For years, they have given us a clear warning of a very real and ever more present danger. A warning that gives us a fleeting opportunity to respond to events before we lose the richest living treasures of our world. Before we are bereft of our ability to continue to make livelihoods as environmental abundance and the related regional and global life support systems are irreparably damaged.)

Human Hothouse Spurs Longest Coral Die-Off on Record

The big coral die-off began in the Western Pacific as a massive ocean temperature spike built up during 2014. Back then, ocean heat accumulation had hit a very high ramp. A vicious, century-and-a-half long increase in atmospheric greenhouse gasses re-radiated greater and greater portions of the sun’s energy hitting the Earth — transferring the bulk (about 90 percent) to the world ocean system.

Major Coral Bleaching Event

(A report out today from AGU finds that the world is now experiencing its longest coral die-off event on record. Image source: AGU.)

By 2015, as one of the strongest El Ninos on record began to extend its influence across the globe, a broad region stretching from the Western Pacific, through the Central Pacific and on into the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean were all experiencing mass coral die-offs. Into early 2016, die-off events again expanded taking in Australian waters and sections of the Indian Ocean off East Africa and Western India.

After 20 months of ongoing coral mortality, we are now in the midst of the longest coral die-off event on record — one of only four such events that the world has ever experienced.

The Fourth Major Coral Die-Off

Researchers have long known that corals are sensitive to changes in ocean temperature. A rise in ocean water readings by as little as 1 degree Celsius above average peaks over the period of a month can be enough to set off a life-threatening condition called a coral bleaching event. According to a recent report in AGU:

The bleaching, or whitening, occurs when the corals expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues. Without the algae, corals lose a significant source of food and are more vulnerable to disease. In a severe bleaching event, large swaths of reef-building corals die. This causes reefs to erode, destroying fish habitat and exposing previously protected shorelines to the destructive force of ocean waves.

The typical bleaching threshold for most corals tends to be in the range of 29-30 degrees Celsius or about 84-86 degrees Fahrenheit over an extended period. And with the world ocean surface approaching a range near 1 C above 1880s averages, this threshold is hit more and more frequently — putting corals at greater and greater risk.

(World Resources Institute Published the above video in 2012 as a survey of, then current, threats to global coral reef systems. By 2030, heating of the world ocean system, ocean acidification and global warming related dead zones will provide an extreme existential challenge to the world’s beautiful and diverse coral reef systems.)

Prior to the 1980s, widespread coral bleaching events were unheard of. Though isolated events occurred, the world ocean system had not yet warmed enough to put corals at major risk. However, by the 1980s global ocean temperatures had begun to rise into ranges at which peak ocean warming periods could put corals in the firing line for major, globe-spanning die offs.

The first such major, global coral die-off occurred during the, then record, 1982-1983 El Nino. At the time this event was unprecedented. And it held the dubious standing as the only such event until the 1997-1998 Super El Nino set off a similar, though longer-lasting mass die off. By the late 2000s, global ocean temperatures had again risen — hitting marks high enough to enable a weak 2010 El Nino to set off the third mass coral die-off.

The fourth mass die off began in 2014 prior to the most recent super El Nino — which has only exaggerated and lengthened its impact. It is now the longest lasting coral die-off ever recorded. And researchers expect it to continue on through at least much of 2016 and possibly into 2017.

Corals Entering a Period of Killing Heat

As the oceans are predicted to continue warming over the next few decades, corals are expected to come under ever-worsening stress. A recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) found that regions experiencing the current mass die-off were 70-90 percent likely to experience similar events at a frequency of once every two years by 2030. And a much larger region was expected to have a 50 to 70 percent risk of experiencing a bleaching event over a two year time-frame.

future_bleaching_web_low-res-preview1

(World Resources Institute in 2012 found that mass coral bleaching and related die-off would occur with extraordinary frequency post 2030. Image source: The World Resources Institute.)

By the 2050s, under business as usual fossil fuel burning, WRI expects that much of the world’s temperate and tropical oceans would experience coral bleaching events bi-annually.

Taking this stark prediction into account we find that the threat to corals over the coming decades will eventually exceed El Nino periodicity and become common during most ocean climate states. The current, likely two year to 30 month, coral die off should serve as a warning for the worse and more frequent hits to corals that will, sadly, be stacking up over the coming decades. Eventually, mass coral die-offs in the continually warming world ocean will become continuous and ubiquitous unless the current trend somehow draws swiftly to a halt.

In addition, given an expanding ocean acidification proceeding southward from the poles and more and more widespread zones of ocean anoxia (areas of water containing very little oxygen), what we are seeing is that threats to coral health are rapidly multiplying due to influences directly related to human-forced climate change.

Links:

El Nino Prolongs Longest Coral Bleaching Event

NOAA: Coral Bleaching Background

World Resources Institute Shows Widespread Coral Bleaching by 2030

The World Resources Institute

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat Tip to DT Lange

 

Global Warming, Storms, Starfish Take Out Half of Great Barrier Reef

According to a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and to a report published in the Washington Post, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost more than 50% of its coral since 1985.

The report showed that coral coverage had dropped from 28 percent to 13.8 percent during the period studied. Though the study took stock of years from 1985 to 2012, it found that most of the damage, about two thirds, had occurred since 1998.

Primary drivers for damage were global warming and industrial agriculture. Abnormally powerful cyclones slammed the reef in the decades of the 2000s and 2010s, causing severe losses. Furthermore, instances of coral bleaching, when hot waters cause corals to weaken or die off, multiplied during the period of record showing greater frequency after 1998. Both coral bleaching and increased numbers of powerful cyclones were likely global-warming related. But the third impact, an exploding population of reef devouring starfish, was spurred by agricultural run-off in Australia. The starfish, which can feed on nutrients in the run-off, multiplied to cover large sections of reef and devoured vast volumes of reef-building algae.

Though it may be possible for Australia to reign in some of its Agricultural run-off, it is unlikely that it will be able to reduce instances of coral bleaching and increasingly damaging storms without partnering with countries around the world to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Recent studies have shown that corals suffer from a combined threat of bleaching in the south and ocean acidification in the north. Overall, under current greenhouse gas emissions regimes, it is expected that most corals will be dead by around 2060 and about 500-600 ppm CO2. In fact, this combination of heating and ocean acidification is causing major stresses to many life forms in the ocean and risks not only a massive die-off among corals, but among millions of ocean animal species including the fish that many countries and humans depend on for food and livelihoods.

Below is a comparison of the potential for bleaching events during the 2030s and 2050s provided by NOAA:

World Resources Institute Shows Widespread Coral Bleaching by 2030

Image

The World Resources Institute recently issued a report on the health and future prospects for the world’s coral reefs. Entitled “Reefs at Risk Revisited,” the study tracks global warming impacts on coral reefs through 2050. The verdict? Not too hot for Earth’s reefs. Simply put, under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, it doesn’t seem likely there will be many, if any, reefs remaining by 2100.

http://www.wri.org/map/frequency-future-coral-reef-bleaching-events-2030s-and-2050s

The study shows warming will be highly damaging to coral reef systems by or before the 2030 and that such damage will become catastrophic by the 2050s. The above map only tracks damage due to coral bleaching, not damage due to reef stress from human activity, or damage due to ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is caused by increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. And since the dawn of the industrial revolution, CO2 levels have been creeping upward. Due to human emissions, world CO2 concentrations are now rising at the rate of 2.2 ppm each year. And a good amount of the CO2 that doesn’t end up in the air ends, instead, in the ocean. Scientists show that some corals and coral reef systems are under stress from acidification with current world CO2 levels at 393 ppm. Most studies show that coral reefs would be wiped out by the time concentrations reach 600-650 ppm. Under business as usual CO2 emissions, this level will likely be reached by the latter half of the 21rst century.

The WRI shows bleaching due to human-caused warming at critical levels during the same period.

The combined impacts of heat stress, human activity, and ocean acidification creates dangerous stresses to reef systems now. Over the coming decades, increasing damage from these sources will place the continued existence of coral reefs in doubt.

WRI also provides a compelling video investigating current stresses to coral reefs around the world:

 

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