Globe's coral reefs take second worst beating on record during 2010

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:50 PM GMT on January 07, 2011

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Record warm ocean temperatures across much of Earth's tropical oceans during the summer of 2010 created the second worst year globally for coral-killing bleaching episodes. The warm waters, fueled in part by the El Niño phenomena, caused the most coral bleaching since 1998, when 16 percent of the world's reefs were killed off. "Clearly, we are on track for this to be the second worst (bleaching) on record," NOAA coral expert Mark Eakin in an interview last month. "All we're waiting on now is the body count." The summer 2010 bleaching episodes were worst in Southeast Asia, where El Niño warming of the tropical ocean waters during the first half of the year was significant. In Indonesia's Aceh province, 80% of the bleached corals died, and Malaysia closed several popular dive sites after nearly all the coral were damaged by bleaching. However, in the Caribbean's Virgin Islands, coral bleaching was not as severe as experienced in 2005, according to National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Miller. I'll discuss the reasons for this in a future blog post. In other portions of the Caribbean, such as Venezuela and Panama, coral bleaching was worse than that experienced in 2005.


Figure 1. An example of coral bleaching that occurred during the record-strength 1997-1998 El Niño event. Image credit: Craig Quirolo, Reef Relief/Marine Photobank, in Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs

What is coral bleaching?
Coral bleaching is a whitening of the corals that occurs when stresses such as high water temperatures, increased water acidity, or pollution disturbs the symbiotic relationship between the corals and the algae that live inside them. Bleaching episodes occur when ocean temperatures rise above 85 - 87°F (29.5 - 30.5°C.) Peak warming events took place in the western Indian Ocean and north-western Pacific in 1997/98, in the north of Australia and central Pacific during 2003/04, and in the Caribbean in 2005. About half of the reefs affected by bleaching in these episodes have recovered, and one recent study cautions that non-lethal bleaching episodes and subsequent recovery of corals is often under-reported.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef at risk
With summer now in full swing in the Southern Hemisphere, coral bleaching concern now shifts to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Ocean temperatures along the reef are currently up to 1°C above average, due, in part, to the current moderate to strong La Niña event. NOAA's Coral Reef Watch has issued its highest level of coral bleaching alert for the northern 2/3 of the Great Barrier Reef, since the La Niña event is predicted to persist into at least April. Also of concern is the tremendous run-off occurring in the wake of the record flooding that has affected the neighboring Australian province of Queensland. While the floods have now peaked and the rivers of Queensland are now falling, the $5 billion disaster dumped a large amount of sediments, pollutants, fertilizers, and pesticides into the southern portion of the Great Barrier Reef, and this will act to increase the stress on the corals. However, the floods may end up indirectly benefiting some portions of the Great Barrier Reef. The cloud cover and strong winds that accompanied the flooding rain storms also acted to cool the waters along the reef. According to an analysis I did of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre global ocean temperature data, sea surface temperatures along the southern portion of the reef, between 15°S and 20°S latitude, were the warmest ever for September, 1.27°C above average. These waters cooled significantly, relative to average, during October and November, and were just 0.12°C warmer than average during November. Cooler waters will mean less potential for coral bleaching, though the pollution in the flood run-off water may end up killing some corals.


Figure 2. Forecast stress on coral due to warm ocean temperatures for Australia, Jan - Apr 2011. The northern 2/3 of the Great Barrier Reef are under the highest alert level for coral bleaching. Waters are cooler along the southern portion of the reef, due, in part, to the storms that have brought record flooding to portions of Queensland, Australia. Image credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch.

Long term outlook for world's coral reefs: grim
The large amount of carbon dioxide humans have put into the air in recent decades has done more than just raise Earth's global temperature--it has also increased the acidity of the oceans, since carbon dioxide dissolves in sea water to form carbonic acid. Corals have trouble growing in acidic sea water, and the combined effects of increasing ocean temperatures, increasing acidity, pollution, and overfishing have reduced coral reefs globally by 19 percent since 1950. Another 35 percent could disappear in the next 40 years, even without the impact of climate change, according to a report released in October 2010 by the World Meteorological Organization and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Coral loss has been the most severe in Earth's hottest ocean, the Indian Ocean. Up to 90% of coral cover has been lost in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Tanzania and in the Seychelles. Global warming has heated up most of the tropical ocean surface waters by about 0.5°C (0.9°F) over the past 50 years, and the remarkable bleaching episodes of 1998 and 2010 both occurred when strong (natural) El Niño episodes heated up Pacific tropical waters to record levels. If the Earth continues to heat up this century as expected, coral bleaching episodes will grow more frequent and intense, particularly during strong El Niño episodes. The twin stresses of ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures will probably mean that by 2050, it will be difficult for any coral reefs to recover when subject to additional stresses posed by pollution or major storms, according to a talk presented by Stanford climate scientist Ken Caldeira at last month's American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting.


Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature in the Australian region over the past one hundred years, year-by-year (red line), and decade-by-decade (grey bars.) The 2010 value is preliminary and does not include data for December 2010. If ocean temperatures and ocean acidity continue to rise in Australian waters at the same pace as has occurred over the past 100 years, the Great Barrier Reef will be in significant danger by 2050. Image credit: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Coral expert J.E.N. Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, had this to say in an excellent interview he did with Yale Environment 360 last year: "the science is clear: Unless we change the way we live, the Earth's coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children's lifetimes.

"You may well feel that dire predictions about anything almost always turn out to be exaggerations. You may think there may be something in it to worry about, but it won't be as bad as doomsayers like me are predicting. This view is understandable given that only a few decades ago I, myself, would have thought it ridiculous to imagine that reefs might have a limited lifespan on Earth as a consequence of human actions. It would have seemed preposterous that, for example, the Great Barrier Reef--the biggest structure ever made by life on Earth--could be mortally threatened by any present or foreseeable environmental change. Yet here I am today, humbled to have spent the most productive scientific years of my life around the rich wonders of the underwater world, and utterly convinced that they will not be there for our children's children to enjoy unless we drastically change our priorities and the way we live."

Reefs are the ocean's canaries and we must hear their call. This call is not just for themselves, for the other great ecosystems of the ocean stand behind reefs like a row of dominoes. If coral reefs fail, the rest will follow in rapid succession, and the Sixth Mass Extinction will be upon us--and will be of our making.


I might add that not only are reefs the ocean's canaries, they are incredibly valuable in their own right. According to the World Meteorological Organization, coral reefs provide economic services--jobs, food and tourism--estimated to be worth $30 billion per year. NOAA put this figure at twelve times higher, $375 billion each year. Corals cover just 0.2% of the world's oceans, but contain about 25% of all marine species.

Next post
I'll be back with a new post on Tuesday at the latest.

Check out wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt's post on the notable weather extremes of December 2010. It was truly an extreme month!

Jeff Masters

Coral Bleaching. (Dawnlisa)
Since the end of April the coral in the Andaman sea has started bleaching due to the increase in sea water temperature. If things don't cool down soon the coral may die. You can see the white patches in the photo that are mainly table coral and normally a dark colour.
Coral Bleaching.
A parrot fish at the coral reef (BoazR)
as seen from the underwater observatory
A parrot fish at the coral reef
coral reef (js64)
coral reef

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1079. ChillinInTheKeys
3:35 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
NEW BLOG!!!
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 678
1078. caneswatch
3:05 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting presslord:


You're gonna catch it if you don't stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Coastal Carolinas? lol
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
1077. Walshy
3:05 PM GMT on January 10, 2011

Quoting presslord:


You're gonna catch it if you don't stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



I wonder how bad CHARLESTON, SC is going to get it!


Member Since: May 17, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 904
1076. largeeyes
3:05 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Snowin like crazy on my drive in, get here, almost nothing has fallen. Crazy stuff for 15 miles.
Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1451
1075. presslord
2:36 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting MissNadia:
Good Morning,
Coastal Carolina is catching it today!!!


NC STATE PORTS, WILMINGTON, North Carolina (PWS)
Updated: 1 min 44 sec ago

27.8 °F
Heavy Snow Freezing Fog
Windchill: 19 °F
Humidity: 100%
Dew Point: 28 °F
Wind: 8.6 mph from the NNE

Wind Gust: 9.6 mph
Pressure: 30.39 in (Steady)
Visibility: 0.2 miles
Pollen: .40 o


You're gonna catch it if you don't stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
1074. MissNadia
2:32 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Good Morning,
Coastal Carolina is catching it today!!!


NC STATE PORTS, WILMINGTON, North Carolina (PWS)
Updated: 1 min 44 sec ago

27.8 °F
Heavy Snow Freezing Fog
Windchill: 19 °F
Humidity: 100%
Dew Point: 28 °F
Wind: 8.6 mph from the NNE

Wind Gust: 9.6 mph
Pressure: 30.39 in (Steady)
Visibility: 0.2 miles
Pollen: .40 o
Member Since: July 27, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3002
1073. Neapolitan
2:31 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting Skyepony:
If only there was instant monetary gains to genetically modifying the coral. Like everything else to make it better isn't cost effective enough.

True. If large-scale bio-engineering of the coral reefs could be somehow monetized, you can bet corporations would find a way to do so. But I would say that instead of tinkering with the coral to make it more resistant to heat--a cure that could be worse than the disease, unintended consequences being what they are and all--sane people should instead yank the whole GW issue out of the hands of politicians and give it back to scientists who study such things, which is where it belongs. Maybe then we could start to make headway on solving the warming planet problem. That would seem to make more sense than sitting back and watching as one coal mine canary after another keels over and dies, then arguing with those who insist that the canaries aren't truly dead, and even if they are we didn't kill them, and even if we did it's no big deal.

"The twin stresses of ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures will probably mean that by 2050, it will be difficult for any coral reefs to recover when subject to additional stresses posed by pollution or major storms, according to a talk presented by Stanford climate scientist Ken Caldeira at last month's American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting."

Some may not see this snippet of Dr. Masters' post as sad, but I do.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13462
1072. Skyepony (Mod)
2:11 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting biff4ugo:
Good Morning Masterians!

I am puzzled by part of the blog. It talks about increased bleaching during El Nino, and I understand how a warm Pacific surface could bring warmer waters to the reefs. But he says the same for this years La Nina event. Shouldn't a cold Pacific decrease bleaching?

What about sea level rise? Shouldn't sea level rise help decrease bleaching by making the reefs deeper? I know they need light and the depth is small but it should help, right?

The canary analogy is good, and making a stronger canary sounds dumb but... couldn't genetics folks work on the symbiotic algae to develop a more heat tolerant strain? Introducing a tougher algae into the bleached coral could help them recover and build stress resistant reefs.
During La Nina the west edge of the Pacific tends to pool extra heat. That's why the Great Barrier Reef is currently at higher risk. That oil spill & tanker that drug across that area last year probably added stress as well.

The sea level rise has been partially due to warm water expanding. So probably not much offset there.

If only there was instant monetary gains to genetically modifying the coral. Like everything else to make it better isn't cost effective enough. Now if we could GM it to withstand treating it with something else they could sell & make money off like oil dispersant too we may have something.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37408
1071. StormJunkie
1:57 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Morning all

Icy here in the Holy City. And that's not a weak hook echo in the upper right of the last few frames is it? Snownado? Is that even possible? There were reports of thunder snow and sleet with that cell.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15705
1070. biff4ugo
1:53 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Good Morning Masterians!

I am puzzled by part of the blog. It talks about increased bleaching during El Nino, and I understand how a warm Pacific surface could bring warmer waters to the reefs. But he says the same for this years La Nina event. Shouldn't a cold Pacific decrease bleaching?

What about sea level rise? Shouldn't sea level rise help decrease bleaching by making the reefs deeper? I know they need light and the depth is small but it should help, right?

The canary analogy is good, and making a stronger canary sounds dumb but... couldn't genetics folks work on the symbiotic algae to develop a more heat tolerant strain? Introducing a tougher algae into the bleached coral could help them recover and build stress resistant reefs.
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 1548
1069. islander101010
12:39 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
its there summer but the southern pacific has been active of recent looks like it should continue. good for surfers all over the pacific
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 4350
1068. kellnerp
12:07 PM GMT on January 10, 2011
Closed for 3 inches? South Bend Indiana closed schools on Monday because 25 inches dropped on Saturday. When I walked to the shed snow was over my kneecaps.

But a flake hasn't fallen since Saturday night, the roads were clear all Sunday, yet they still closed the schools on Monday. Go figure.

The models show more to come. Another blast by the end of the week and a week later comes another.
Member Since: September 1, 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 172
1067. RTLSNK
11:53 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
I'm going back to sleep, wake me when it warms up. :)
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 20649
1066. RTLSNK
11:11 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
31*F and sleet in Macon, Ga this morning:
Member Since: September 3, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 20649
1061. Levi32
8:14 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
The ECMWF has a hurricane-strength cyclone crossing New Caledonia in 3-4 days with a nice warm-core signature (notice the 20C isotherms at 850mb showing up at the core of the storm).

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1060. Levi32
8:10 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
This Nice loop of the system shows it is a bit sheared to the northeast, but it is slackening, and the depression is building a nice convective core.

This could be something the island of New Caledonia may want to watch very closely over the next few days, as the blocking pattern in place east of Australia will mean this system will take its sweet time crawling SSW, giving it time to strengthen.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1059. Levi32
8:04 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
ASCAT: Broad low center (22 hours old image), but a pretty monsoon trough extending all the way from Fiji to northwest of Australia.





Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1058. Levi32
7:46 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting WaterWitch11:
levi, it sounds like your at odds with the weather pattern that has developed for the west coast. is that right? or am i misunderstanding? because i remember a bunch of people on here stating that we would have a dry winter this year.


If "we" means the southeast U.S. then yes it was supposed to be, after December. The pattern flip is coming later than expected, but it's likely still coming. The 2-week ensembles are in better agreement on it now than they ever have been. By the end of this month things should be reversed for much of the nation from what they were in December.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1057. Levi32
7:45 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
A meteorological beauty in the making east of Vanuatu:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1056. PensacolaDoug
7:28 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Weather Underground PWS KFLWARRI2
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 553
1055. PensacolaDoug
7:25 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Weird! My temps been bouncing like a ping pong ball! At 6PM it was 40 by 11:30 PM it spiked up to 51 in the last hour and a half its plummeted to 38.5 Weird dynamics with this system coming thru!
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 553
1054. WaterWitch11
7:22 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
once again on too late and talking to myself.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 3 Comments: 1576
1053. WaterWitch11
7:17 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
levi, it sounds like your at odds with the weather pattern that has developed for the west coast. is that right? or am i misunderstanding? because i remember a bunch of people on here stating that we would have a dry winter this year.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 3 Comments: 1576
1052. WaterWitch11
7:13 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
i remember the 82 flood. absolutely brutal through so many counties. our house had 3 feet of water and 1 foot of mud, cracked the pool, destroyed everything in the house. it was right after christmas and all of our toys we had just gotten were gone. i was sad. i was twelve.

so nice to be talking about weather again.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 3 Comments: 1576
1050. washingtonian115
4:27 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting Chicklit:
IRLOOP
And all that is coming my way.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16432
1049. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:21 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1047. Levi32
3:53 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting MichaelSTL:


They might have meant top 10 differently, not just damage. Also, it depends on how you define some of those events that were listed as neutral, since the article states that early 1997 had La Nina conditions (the eastern Pacific actually was on the cool side). Of course, that depends on what index you look at; the CPC will declare that La Nina/El Nino conditions are present, as in 2005-2006 or 2008-2009, despite not meeting the criteria for duration (for comparison, note what the JMA has on their charts - no El Ninos in 2004 or 2006-2007 and a La Nina in 2005-2006.


It still makes absolutely no meteorological sense. It is the subtropical jet out of the central-eastern Pacific that forms the pineapple connection and brings California heavy rains during El Nino years. In La Nina years the subtropical jet isn't there and the state is drier. NCEP reanalysis confirms:

Winter Precipitation Anomalies during La Nina Years:



Winter Precipitation Anomalies during El Nino Years:


Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1046. atmoaggie
3:53 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting largeeyes:


Perhaps it's the beach that's oddest. Google it...you'll see planes landing practically buzzing the beach. And when they take off? Have some goggles on or your cornea's gonna get sand blasted.

Just watched a landing at Teguchigulpa on Youtube...YIKES. Apparently much less interesting now that the runway was lengthened.
It was? did they move the road?



St. Maarten is nutz.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
1044. doorman79
3:45 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
Greetings and salutations, Tangipahoan.
(right?)


who you calling a tangi h0 lol! Good to see ya!
Member Since: August 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 895
1042. atmoaggie
3:38 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting doorman79:
Wow!

I am surprised! I haven't seen this many regulars on here in a while.

Evening to all :)
Greetings and salutations, Tangipahoan.
(right?)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
1041. doorman79
3:36 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Wow!

I am surprised! I haven't seen this many regulars on here in a while.

Evening to all :)
Member Since: August 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 895
1040. largeeyes
3:34 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
I thought the approach at Tegucigalpa had earned the "oddist" label. Gonna look that one up....


Perhaps it's the beach that's oddest. Google it...you'll see planes landing practically buzzing the beach. And when they take off? Have some goggles on or your cornea's gonna get sand blasted.

Just watched a landing at Teguchigulpa on Youtube...YIKES. Apparently much less interesting now that the runway was lengthened.
Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1451
1038. Levi32
3:28 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
MichaelSTL:
"California's top 10 floods all came during La Nina years."

This statement from the article is odd, because according to here, 4 of the top 10 costliest California floods occurred during El Ninos, only 2 during La Ninas, and 4 during neutral ENSO conditions.

This makes much more meteorological sense. La Ninas do not make California more prone to rain in general.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26556
1037. atmoaggie
3:24 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting largeeyes:
He said he's in St. Marteen. He's not concerned, he's HOPING. LOL.

BTW, that island has the oddest runway I've ever seen. If the diving is good, I"m gonna make my way there.

I thought the approach at Tegucigalpa had earned the "oddist" label. Gonna look that one up....
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
1034. atmoaggie
3:18 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting ScottLincoln:


It's getting quite flat around those parts so the local runoff response is generally lower than points upstream. The forecasted rises on the Amite River are not likely to reach the next point upstream for about 1-2 days, and even then they will be rather small. Port Vincent is one of our tidal-impacted sites such that tides/surge has to be taken into account daily.
Right, runoff is slower to reach those sites and has less of an impact on water levels than tides. Absolutely correct. *slaps forehead*

About that odd blip in water levels, I forgot to check the mid-lake ob site earlier. It's there, before the rise in water level.



Interesting. Wish they had other data to go with it...
http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?073802330

Amite did not. (I think. Some wave action in there, it seems.)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
1032. largeeyes
3:16 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


where are you located again?


Eastern NC. Wilmington, NC airport canceled all Delta flights tomorrow, some US Airways. Here in the New Bern, NC area all the schools just closed. Gonna be interesting trying to run a factory tomorrow (no, not with kids...their parents usually don't make it if schools are closed).
Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1451
1030. largeeyes
3:06 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
He said he's in St. Marteen. He's not concerned, he's HOPING. LOL.

BTW, that island has the oddest runway I've ever seen. If the diving is good, I"m gonna make my way there.

Quoting JFLORIDA:


I think you should be concerned. Mostly about cancellations and rerouteing.




Already just in the SE there seems to be a few.


Some flights canceled at Orlando International as storm hits South

A spokeswoman for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, Carolyn Fennell, said tonight that AirTran and Delta had canceled a combined 31 flights to and from Atlanta Monday. The two airlines handle most of the Orlando-to-Atlanta traffic.

Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1451
1029. gaweatherboi
3:02 AM GMT on January 10, 2011
Schools closed all over southeast georgia!!!! Now just waiting on this freezing rain sleet and snow. Its very dry but dewpoint is rising slowly but surely. We are forecast for .5 inches of ice over the entire storm.
Member Since: August 12, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 108

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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