Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Results from AAAS Symposium

The Guardian has a short summary of some of the presentations in our Sunday symposium at AAAS organized by Joan Kleypas. The headline "World's coral reefs could disintegrate by 2100" comes out of field and modeling work presented by Jacob Silverman about the balance of calcium carbonate production through coral calcification of corals and dissolution through bio-erosion (fish, urchins) and higher CO2 levels. Silverman's work is described in this 2009 paper in Geophysical Research Letters.

The talks on the role different bioeroders, carbonate budgets, and a Bermuda case study, lent support Silverman's results. Aline Tribollet's work on "microborers" that erode reefs and Kim Yates work on carbonate sediments suggested that Silverman's model could be a bit conservative. Andreas Andersson's work showed that Bermuda's high latitude reefs may be one of the canaries in the carbonate coal mine.

The headline may give the mistaken impression that there could be absolutely no coral rock left on the planet in 2100. Under the high CO2 conditions, the results suggest reefs would be dissolving faster than they build, leading to reductions in habitat complexity ("flattening" of reefs) over time. Add in the warming-induced bleaching reducing the living coral cover, and by 750 ppm CO2, reached in 2100 in a business-as-usual scenario, the area of living, calcifying reef will be negligible. If theses projections are correct, there will still be dead reef - i.e. rock - but it will be on net weakening and dissolving.

In the Guardian article, I'm quoted as saying "Even if we froze emissions today, the planet still has some warming left in it. That's enough to make bleaching dangerously frequent in reefs worldwide". That line comes from the results of this study published in PLoS-One last year - it's open access, so anyone can download a copy. The important caveat is that acclimation and adaptation by corals could postpone the forecast. For more on those dynamics, I recommend reading this post or the article itself.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Highlights of AAAS: Communicating science

The best line at the AAAS meeting came from Steve Schneider in a talk on science communication:

“Science is not a democracy. Quality trumps equality.”

It is a fantastic accurate description of the difference between the practice of science and the “balanced” approach to media coverage, from one of the best at coming up with analogies to explain climate science.

The fact that it took me three days to decide to post that line because of fears it would be misconstrued or abused – "Breaking News: Top climate scientist is a socialist" or "Fascism at top science conference" – says as much (about the current media environment) as the quote itself.

More highlights to come.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Symposium on Sunday at AAAS

The symposium Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Separating Fact from Conjecture takes place on Sunday at 1:30 pm at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This session examines the chemical, biological, and physical factors that control reef growth, and how climate change and ocean acidification are likely to affect these processes. I'll be delivering a talk on climate change and coral bleaching events, touching on the impacts on coral cover, potential for adaptation, and whether coral communities learn from past experience.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring Olympics: Vancouver is not always this mild

For all the East Coast-ers thinking that January and February in always spring-like in Vancouver:

This is a highly unusual winter, warmer than most would expect from a moderate El Nino event. So far this year, every single day in Vancouver has been warmer than "normal", using the Environment Canada definition of normal. Every day in January exceeded the 1971-2000 January mean temperature is 3.3 deg C. So far, every day in February has exceeded the 1971-2000 February mean temperature of 4.8 deg C. When the Canadian athletes paraded into the snowy white BC Place last night, it was 9 degrees and raining.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Vancouver Winter Olympics: A climatic photo essay

Welcome to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Spring Olympics. These photos were all taken by yours truly this week. Enjoy the cherry blossoms and crocuses, courtesy of our changing friend El Nino.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Groundhog Day: six more weeks of climate change debates?

Thank you for sticking with Maribo during the unannounced hiatus over the past seven weeks or so.

This blog started a few years back as an effort to reach people who were not otherwise actively reading or thinking about climate change. I'd imagined the audience as people like the old friends and family that don't follow the climate news but do pepper me with questions about the state of the science or the politics whenever I'm visiting. Over time, Maribo, like most other climate-focused blogs became enveloped in the online game of whack-a-mole between the 20% of the internet-savvy population that is actively concerned about climate change and angry about the lack of action, and another 20% who see climate change as conspiracy cooked up by Al Gore. The battles may be necessary to stamp out the egregious mistakes and misrepresentations that permeate the internet and the daily news (*). The battles are also tiresome.

I'd like to get back to thinking about the other 60% of the population. I've been working on new ideas and venues for outreach which may involve a re-imagining of Maribo and/or a venture into other media. Keep checking Maribo for updates and feel free to send along ideas and suggestions.



* The mistakes and misrepresentations, I should add, can come from the "skeptics" and the irrational "alarmists" among the climate change activists; human-created emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the planet, despite what the "skeptics" might say, but it is not going to drive us to extinction, as I hear far too often.