The canary and the parrot: dead in the second half of the century, not the first?
Are vestiges of vivacity just an echo, the last sputtering of a candle (as in "The extinction crisis is over. We lost")? A just published paper seems to contribute to the case that the game is not over for sure:
Under scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions, mass coral bleaching in the Eastern Caribbean may become a biannual event in 20-30 years. But if corals and their symbionts can adapt by 1 to 1.5 degrees Centigrade, such mass bleaching events may not begin to recur at potentially harmful intervals until the latter half this century. The delay could enable more time to alter the path of greenhouse gas emissions, although the long-term 'committed warming' even after stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 levels may still represent an additional long term threat to corals.But can temperature average temperature rise be kept to 1 to 1.5 C for the 21st Century? The authors refer B1 SRES, the lowest greenhouse gas emissions scenario entertained by the IPCC, under which atmospheric concentration stabilise at 550pm by 2100. But can B1 really deliver the goods up to 2090 to 2100, and what about beyond that decade? Findings on carbon cycle feedback, among other things, suggest otherwise. (If what I have written here is opaque, see A 21st century greenhouse gas budget?, which tries to join some dots between the IPCC scenarios and its most recent assessment report, AR4. Elsewhere, David Wadhams investigates possible Political corruption of the IPCC report) .
Still, this paper (which is by Simon Donner, Thomas Knutson and Michael Oppenheimer) looks like a valuable corrective to fatalism (or at least uninformed fatalism) with regard to reefs in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Charles Sheppard, who has also modelled reef mortality with higher temperatures (and makes a great giant turtle companion in a photo here) calls it "excellent". Ove Hoegh-Guldberg tells this blog: "The paper by Donner et al is interesting - you only need 1.5°C adaptation in 30 years to survive! I guess that certainly sums up the impossibility of it all!"
In a recent review of Coral by Steve Jones I wrote that the death of the world's coral reefs is not necessarily a done deal. Some leading scientists don't think they have to write the obituary of nature yet. Still, it does look as if coral may soon be pining for the fjords.