Thursday, August 24, 2006

What's cooking?

AP reports that scientists issued a warning on 22 August that temperatures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were "abnormally high and approaching levels that could be disastrous for coral reefs -- many of which suffered unprecedented die-offs last year due to hot waters".

But the substance of the report has been questioned. One scientist responds: "I don't know where this 28.6 oC being 3 oC higher than annual high came from. I have been working in la Parguera PR since the 70s and 29 oC is the normal summer high in the Aug-Sept time frame. Someone needs to check their historical data.... "

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Coral Reef Watch notes that NOAA's satellite data are indicating above normal temperatures over the mid-tropical Pacific. "Howland (176.5W; 1N) & Baker Islands (176.5W; Equator)...and some of those surrounding Kiribati Republic, just across the International Dateline to the west, [are] within a fairly large 'Hot Spot', but the Degree Heating Week levels are inching upwards close to '3' at this time...Similar levels were seen in 2004 for this same area at this time but this year's levels are not nearly as high as was observed by our data in2002 when Kiribati sustained heavy bleaching". (Hot Spot and Degree Heating Week charts are here).

-- Source: Coral List, Vol 38, Issue 19.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Oil spill at Guimaras

According to reports over the last few days, an oil spill at Guimaras in the Philippines looks to have caused serious damage, with "some 190 miles of coastline already enveloped by a thick sludge and miles of coral reef destroyed". Greenpeace's ship Esperanza left today with aid for the islanders, and aims to assess the impacts -- adding to what sounds like a concerted effort already underway.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Acidification article - health warning

This week's cover story for New Scientist is my article on acidification. I hope it's useful. But please note that, contrary to the cover of the magazine (which shows warning signs for corrosive action on human flesh posted along a tropical beach), scientists are not saying, and the article does not allege at any point, that the seas will become acid or corrosive to humans as a result of manmade emissions. Evidence does however indicate, and the article reports, that the oceans will become less alkaline over a very short timescale geologically speaking, and the results are unlikely to be positive for natural ecosystems and humanity during the 21st century and beyond.

The sea is not and never will be “acid”. But the word “acidification” is correct. Consider this analogy: a recently made cup of coffee would be called “hot” in day to day language, but it could also be described as “cooling” (particularly if you blow on it). This does not mean that the cup of coffee is “cold”. Likewise, the ocean can become "more acid" (less alkaline) without being acid. Pedants may prefer “de-alkalinisation”, but this does not affect the science.

The article states that the term acidification first appears in the scientific literature in a 2003 briefing in Nature by Caldeira and Wickett. This is correct as far as I have been able to determine. It is also the case that much of the most important work on anthropogenic acidification has been done in the last five years or so, with the result that the likely true gravity of the issues becoming better understood.

This does not mean that all scientific work on this topic is new. Early work includes a paper by Wally Broeker et al from 1966.

The article has been edited by New Scientist for ease of reading. It does not go into great depth. Certainly, the science is still developing. My forthcoming book on the future of coral reefs will have a chapter or section on acidification which will go into more detail –and be even more readable!

This a “science-y” piece on a “science-y” topic. But the story of coral reefs and their future is also a moral, political, economic, social, cultural one, concerning human imagination and failing.

Please contact me if you would like a pdf of the article, which has nice pictures and graphs. The New Scientist online version includes an audio interview with Joanie Kleypas by Ivan Semeniuk in which she provides an elementary introduction to acidification.