Monday, December 17, 2007

Coral reefs are on the ropes

Climate Feedback: If 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.” (Reuters ... Telegraph)

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

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