Climate Feedback

Coral reefs are on the ropes

coralreef.jpgIf you like coral reefs you should enjoy them while you can, they won’t be around for long. Global warming and the ocean acidification that comes with it will decimate reefs by the end of this century, according to a new review article in Science.

“The impact of climate change on coral reefs is much closer than we appreciated. It’s just around the corner,” says study author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland. “… The warmer and more acidic oceans caused by the rise of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels threaten to destroy coral reef ecosystems, exposing people to flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of food and income from reef-based fisheries and tourism. And this is happening just when many nations are hoping that these industries would allow them to alleviate their impoverished state.” (ReutersTelegraph)

Although there is no new original research here, when all the numbers are brought together they are pretty frightening. Atmospheric carbon dioxide will exceed 500 parts per million sometime between 2050 and 2100. This will drive global temperatures up at least 2°C, “values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved” says the paper.

It adds ominously, “Under these conditions, reefs will become rapidly eroding rubble banks such as those seen in some inshore regions of the Great Barrier Reef, where dense populations of corals have vanished over the past 50 to 100 years.”

The story is getting a lot of play in Australia, where the Great Barrier Reef will be one of the most high profile casualties. The Australian, for example, thinks it’s already too late to save. But 2008 will be the year of the reef, so maybe this issue can get some more attention.

“Corals are feeling the effects of our actions and it is now or never if we want to safeguard these marine creatures and the livelihoods that depend on them,” says study author Bob Steneck (AFP).

An just in case you think I’m writing about something that hasn’t come from the AGU … the researchers will present their results to the meeting this week.

Image: Bleached corals on coral reef on southern Great Barrier Reef in January 2002 / Science

Cross-posted from Daniel Cressey on The Great Beyond


  1. Report this comment

    David B. Benson said:

    This is horrid.

    Somehow, more people need to know and care about coral reefs.

  2. Report this comment

    Steven Earl Salmony said:

    Dr. Paul Sereno speaks out loudly and clearly: “This is going to be the century where science either saves the planet, or we fail as a species.”

    Dear Paul,

    Seldom do I agree so completely with a single statement as I do with your statement above. It seems to me that the humankind has come to a crossroads, as many are recognizing in our time, and has a choice. We can choose to be guided by God’s great gift to humanity of good science and find the courage to do what is necessary to preserve our species and life as we know it or we can choose to stay the course of the predominant culture by overpopulating the planet, relentlessly expanding economic globalization activities and increasing per human over-consumption, which would lead most likely to the failure of humanity…….among other catastrophic occurrences and consequences.



    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

  3. Report this comment

    Steve Salmony said:

    Are we communicating as if we are living in a modern day Tower of Babel? Is our unbelievable failure to communicate reasonably and sensibly about whatsoever is somehow real, and to widely share adequate understandings regarding both how the family of humanity “fits” within the natural order of living things and what are the limitations of the planet we inhabit, in evidence here and now?

    Perhaps the human community is indeed in a serious predicament, but only in part because of the objective biological and physical circumstances defining our distinctly human-driven predicament. The global challenges in the offing are further complicated by our incredible failure to communicate effectively about the potentially pernicious results derived from having recklessly grown a soon to become patently unsustainable, colossal global economy, one that we have artificially designed, conveniently constructed, and unrealistically expanded without regard for the requirements of biophysical reality.

    Could it be that the current gigantic scale and unchecked growth rate of the global economy is unsustainably driving both per human over-consumption and unrestrained human population growth toward the point in human history when the willful, relentless, unregulated growth of consumption, production and propagation of the human species precipitates the collapse of Earth’s ecology, even in these early years of Century XXI?

    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

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