A solemn warning on coral reefs

Australian scientist and coral reef expert John Veron reckons there’s a “great big gorilla in the cupboard” — advancing ocean acidification. It cleans out reefs, leaving them “horrible places – dead, empty, slime-covered.” He paints this grim picture in a lecture given to the Royal Society in London last month. It’s available on line and I have just watched it – twice. His seriousness and the weight of his concern are deeply impressive.  Veron warned that his talk would not be a happy one. Usually his talks on coral are fun. This one wouldn’t be, but “I’ve never given a more important talk in my life.” It was highly focused and informative, accompanied throughout by a range of illuminating pictures and graphs. I watched it carefully, anxious to fully understand its import, and have pulled out a rough summary of some of his major points.   

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Carbon the copycat

homer.jpgThe Sunday Star Times recently carried an article by Keisha Castle-Hughes about her trip to the Cook Islands and the dangers of climate change. Terry Dunleavy, one of the prime movers in New Zealand’s Climate “Science” Coalition, duly rushed to offer the paper an alternate view. But they (wisely) turned him down… Hell hath no fury like a crank scorned, so Terry has published his riposte at crank central [Word .doc here], and naturally I couldn’t resist taking a look. It begins:

Last week’s article by Keisha Castle-Hughes entitled “Pacific Poison”, following her Geenpeace-hosted visit to the Cook Islands, is so chock full of misleading and scientifically unjustifiable propaganda that it demands earliest possible rebuttal.

As is usual with crank articles, the reverse is actually true — Terry provides an object lesson in misleading and scientifically unjustifiable propaganda. But he goes one further, and reproduces a chunk of a Wikipedia article without attribution. Yes, Terry is exposed as an intellectual magpie, a thief of other people’s words, a plagiarist.

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Copenhagen 2: dangers ahead

cop_logo_1_r_editedThe second section of the Copenhagen synthesis report, Social and Environmental Disruption, discusses the dangers of climate change relating to society and the environment, noting that scientific research provides a wealth of relevant information which is not receiving the attention one might expect.    

Considerable support has developed for containing the rise in global temperature to a maximum of 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, often referred to as the 2 degrees guardrail. The report however indicates that even at temperature rises less than 2 degrees impacts can be significant, though some societies could cope through pro-active adaptation strategies.  Beyond 2 degrees the possibilities for adaptation of societies and ecosystems rapidly decline, with an increasing risk of social disruption through health impacts, water shortages and food insecurity.

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Missing the point by miles

I have been steering clear of Wishart-related material for the last week or two (on the “wrestling with pigs” principle), but I can’t let this post at his blog pass without comment. It begins:

In the climate debate, we can choose to listen to truffle fanciers like Gareth at Hot Topic, journalists like myself or politicians like Al Gore, or one of the leading scientists in the climate field, like Roy Spencer from University of Alabama-Huntsville. The following is a fascinating essay from his blogsite, which backs up the central thesis in Air Con – most of the CO2 increase is natural, not man-made:

He then reposts Spencer’s blog item in full, adding in the comments:

Spencer’s study suggests strong evidence that oceanic CO2 is the primary driver of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. (Looking at the graphs, very strong evidence).

Not a squeak out of Hot Topic and no one posting here challenges it.

Notice how a blog post became a “study”? Ah well, here’s a squeak…

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What’s a few tears to the ocean?

coccolith.jpgNew Zealand could be amongst the first places in the world to feel the effects of ocean acidification, according to a new “emerging issues” paper released today by the Royal Society of New Zealand. Surrounded by cold oceans which absorb CO2 faster than warm waters, and with a $300 million shellfish industry based on mussels, oysters, scallops and paua, NZ is vulnerable to disruptions in the carbonate chemistry used by these animals to build their shells, but the risks cannot be quantified at present.

At a briefing to launch the paper, Professor Keith Hunter of the University of Otago pointed to recent work which suggests that for creatures that build their skeletons from a form of calcium carbonate called aragonite, the Southern Ocean could be reaching a critical point as early as the 2030s, as this slide shows:


The magic number is 450 ppm: at that point low pH waters in winter could begin to make it difficult for creatures to build aragonite skeletons or shells. How this might cascade through marine ecosystems is unknown, because the impact on different species can vary through their lifecycle and by season. Some species are also known to be able to adapt. Sydney rock oysters, for example, have been bred to withstand more acid conditions, but it’s not known whether this sort of work would be possible with mussels and other shellfish.

Work on ocean acidification is beginning to provide a valuable and independent line of evidence supporting the need to shoot for stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 at low levels. It may also point to problems with emissions trajectories that are allowed to “overshoot” the desired target: if oceanic CO2 uptake does produce a biologically critical response, exceeding that point might be very bad news for oceanic ecosystems.

The new Royal Society paper gives a very useful overview of what we currently know about ocean acidification and its potential to impact New Zealand ecosystems and marine farming operations. The RS is also organising a workshop in September to discuss the issue.