JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Scientists “thrilled”: fish cope with acidification if tanks mimic normal large daily CO2 swings

The real story here is that past scares claiming that ocean acidification would create reckless fish were most likely an artefact of an inadequate experiment. There are big swings of CO2 and pH in shallow water environments, and the normal day-night cycle turns out to be good for fish. Putting them in a laboratory tank without these daily changes may create fish that behave badly. So ocean acidification is not only natural, but a good and necessary thing.

New hope for reef fish living in a high CO2 world

Chemical changes in the ocean, as a result of climate change, are leading to a more acidic environment, referred to as ‘ocean acidification’ (OA). In a laboratory setting, these changes have been shown to lead to a range of risky behaviours in the affected fish, with some fish unable to flee from their finned foes effectively.

But, when researchers recalibrated experiments to adjust for natural daily changes in concentrations of dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary chemical driver of OA, they found that the fish were less affected than previously thought.

“Shallow water habitats where reef fish live can experience substantial natural fluctuations [...]

Corals survive 542m years of supervolcano, asteroids, 125m sea level change only to go extinct any year now

Will Corals Survive?, asks a group of international scientists.

Corals first appeared 540 million years ago, but having made it through supervolcanoes, mass extinctions, and an asteroid impact equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima A-bombs, it’s now likely they will be wiped out because a trace gas has risen from 20% up to 25% of levels common for half of the last 300 million years.

Source: www.geocraft, Scotese and Berner 2001

Having made it through the volatile last 65 million years, and multiple ice ages where the oceans rose and fell by as much as 125m repeatedly, it will be tragic if the current man-made warming phase wipes them out. According to one thousand tide gauges the worlds oceans are relentlessly rising by 1mm every year. While corals coped with the last 125,000mm of sea level rise, it’s not clear they will still be around if it rises another 20mm.

Current climate change marked in

The team of 22 researchers admit “there is still a lot to understand about corals,” and “there are major knowledge gaps”.  But despite not knowing much, the experts on marine ecosystems advise that “our only real chance for their survival” is to control the [...]

World is going to hell but we’re finding new coral reefs everywhere…

Click to enlarge map.

2016 was a good year for coral surprizes. Until recently no one even knew that corals could grow just out from the  river-mouth of the Amazon. Then 9,300 square kilometers of reef was found living in a region no one thought corals could grow.

Volunteers found very nice reefs in Morton Bay, not far from the ferry route, but entirely “unexpected” and “better than tourist sites”.  Researchers also found another 4.000 square kilometers of reef off Queensland, hidden under 20m of water.

In every media article the corals were immediately called into action against mining, farming, stuff like that. Journalists talk to scientists and head straight over to Greenpeace. The poor corals are politicized before they’d even been put on a tourist map.

Somehow scientists that are wrong are always described as surprised, excited or astonished. Other professions dream that their errors would be recounted this way. (Think –tax accountants, pilots, politicians…) . In terms of hard questions from the media, the only group that gets it easier than Hillary Clinton are scientists. Not that I’m saying they should have known, but the same profession that talks about 97% certainty can’t also get a free [...]

Great Barrier Reef: 5% bleached, not 93% says new report “discrepancy phenomenal”

In a nutshell: a government funded group finds some bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef, and repackages the stats to come up with the apocalyptic statistic that only 7% of the reef is not bleached!  The SMH reported that “93% of the corals” are damaged. The reef is 2,000 kilometers long. Did anyone really think about these headlines?

Then in a development that “no one” could see coming, local tourism is damaged, potentially costing a lot of jobs.

“And the loss of these tourists could cost our tourism industry a whopping $1 billion a year, a report out today by The Australia Institute warned.”

This inspires local dive operators (who possibly know what the reef looks like) to pay for a two week expedition to survey 28 sites. They find about 5% damage and describe the difference as phenomenal. Indeed, they say the reef is pretty much just like it was 20 years ago when they last did a survey.

We know that both sides have an interest finding a healthy or unhealthy reef. The problem starts with self-serving taxpayer funded scientists who are paid to find a crisis. But they would not get away with it [...]

Great Barrier Reef scare: exaggerated threats says head of GBR Authority

The ABC uses photos of reef bleaching on Flowerpot Rock in American Samoa in stories about the Great Barrier Reef.

The chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Russell Reichelt says that activist groups are distorting surveys, maps and data to exaggerate the coral bleaching on the reef. The bleaching affects 22% of the reef and is mostly localized to the far northern section, which has good prospects of recovery.

Two reef groups are in conflict. One is Reichelt’s GBR Authority, and the other is a special “National Coral Bleaching Taskforce” run by a guy called Terry Hughes.  The Australian media was overrun with stories last week about how a report was censored to hide the damage. What was under-reported was the conflict and the propaganda.

The real problem appears to be that yet another agency was set up to find a crisis, and their existence depends on finding one. The Taskforce was set up in October last year.

ABC repeats all the Taskforce’s claims without question:  “Great Barrier Reef: Only 7 per cent not bleached, survey finds”.

The Taskforce’s report was so bad the GBR authority had to withdraw from it:

Great Barrier Reef: scientists [...]

Researchers astonished: Coral reefs thriving in a more “acidic” ocean

Palau Islands

The researchers at Woods Hole have spent four years doing a comprehensive study at Palau Rock Islands in the far Western Pacific, where pH levels are naturally “more acidic” (which is  big-government speak for less alkaline). Because of laboratory experiments Barkley et al [1] expected to find all kinds of detrimental effects, but instead found a diverse healthy system they describe as “thriving” with “greater coral cover” and more “species”.

A new study led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that the coral reefs there seem to be defying the odds, showing none of the predicted responses to low pH except for an increase in bioerosion — the physical breakdown of coral skeletons by boring organisms such as mollusks and worms. The paper is to be published June 5 in the journal Science Advances.

‘Based on lab experiments and studies of other naturally low pH reef systems, this is the opposite of what we expected,’ says lead author Hannah Barkley, a graduate student in the WHOI-MIT joint program in oceanography.

Experiments measuring corals’ responses to a variety of low pH conditions have shown a range of negative impacts, [...]

Did an ice sheet collapse 120,000 years ago pushing sea levels up to 9m higher than today?

Proving that nature can outdo anything humans have done, a new paper shows that sea-levels off Western Australia may have risen as high as 9 m above the current level during the last warm period over a hundred thousand years ago. The authors (O’Leary et al) conclude that seas were 3-4 m higher for most of the last warm period (known as the Eemian) but towards the end of the period a large sudden rise occurred. They suggest that an ice shelf collapsed in Antarctica  or Greenland or both, causing a 5m rise (17 feet).

The point of the paper was this double spiked shape of the sea level rise during the last warm interglacial known as the Eemian.

The Age interviewed O’Leary who said “he was confident that the 17-foot jump happened in less than a thousand years – how much less, he cannot be sure.”

Figure 3 j Relative sea-level curve for Western Australia. Ageomorphically defined palaeoMSL datum of C2:5m 120 kyr ago (Fig. 1c) anchors a predicted relative sea-level curve at Red Bluff, which includes a GIA signal based on the test calculation (see Methods) plus the following ESL history: ESL jumps from 0 to 3.4m [...]

Hottest reefs on Earth make a nice home for corals?

If Earth warms by 2 degrees The Great Barrier Reef is a goner, or maybe not. Tropical reefs are generally about 28C but even a one degree rise above normal temperatures can bleach corals.

This latest paper by Hume et al, showed that some corals survive in the hottest reefs on  Earth which are in the Arabian/Persian Gulf and are a whopping 36 degrees C. In order to survive, corals do deals with symbiotic algae, but these are very sensitive to changes in temperature (or so we thought):

Reefs are made up of many species of coral, each of which have a mutually beneficial, or “symbiotic”, relationship with algae living in their tissue. These algae supply vital nutrition to the host but are sensitive to environmental changes including increases in seawater temperature.

Even a temperature rise of just one degree Celsius can harm the symbiotic algae, which in turn can increase mortality in corals. The associated loss of symbiotic algae is known as “coral bleaching” because the white skeletons of the corals become visible through the tissue depleted from the algal pigments.

Obviously those Gulf coral survive those wildly high temperatures with freak heat-loving-symbiotic-algae that can’t survive in normal oceans [...]

One vulnerable coral type adapts to ocean acidification in just 6 months

Credit: S. Ross et al., UNCW

We already know that pH varies naturally across the oceans of the world. In some sites, it varies more in a single day than global oceans are likely to face in a century.

But cold water corals live in deep water, are slow growing, and hard to study.

Six years ago, experts in cold water corals were telling us how they would be likely to fall victim to ocean acidification first, and that they believed this for good reasons but with little experimental data. But about a year ago data came out (by one of those same experts) showing that rather than being the badly affected, cold water corals adapted to effectively very high levels of CO2 and possibly even increased their calcification rates. Eight days after the pH was changed suddenly, the corals did worse. But when the experiment was continued for six months, the results turned right around. The researchers pointed out how useful longer studies are: “This is the first evidence of successful acclimation in a coral species to ocean acidification, emphasizing the general need for long-term incubations”. The paper is called “Acclimation to ocean acidification during long-term CO2 exposure in [...]

The chemistry of ocean pH and “acidification”

The ocean acidification threat is a big can of worms. I asked Professor Brice Bosnich to help create a quick reference page on the chemistry and was pleased he could find the time to help. Here’s everything you wanted to know about the basics…

He explains what pH means, and points out that:

Ocean pH varies by 0.3 naturally. Claims of acidification since 1750 are based on dubious models and few observations.

There are reasons to assume that marine life will not be overly affected by an increase in ocean acidity due to atmospheric carbon dioxide:

Ocean life evolved and survived far higher levels of CO2 for millions of years in the past. Marine organisms actively create carbonate shells (using energy) which means crustacea, corals and molluscs aren’t automatically prey to pH changes in the same way that say a limestone rock would be. The world’s oceans may have warmed a mere 0.17C since 1955, hardly a significant threat to marine life.

We also find out that acidic water is added to the ocean from rainfall and floods (and he explains why raindrops will always be acidic).

There are more pressing threats. — Jo

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Guest Post by Professor [...]