Heat-resistant Corals Ignore Climate Change Threats

Among the many catastrophes that are to befall our world due to global warming, the imminent demise of coral reefs is one of the worst. According to climate change proponents, as waters warm the ocean's reefs will bleach out and die, leaving the seas aquatic deserts, devoid of life. Now comes news that scientists have discovered live, healthy corals on reefs already as hot as the oceans are supposed to get 100 years from now, according to IPCC predictions. Looks like the corals didn't read the IPCC reports.

Climate catastrophists have warned that more than half of the world's coral reefs could disappear in the next 50 years, in large part because of higher ocean temperatures caused by climate change. Supposedly, corals—tiny sea creatures that, working together, manage to build gigantic ocean reefs—are so delicate that a shift in water temperature of little more than 1 degree Celsius can cause them to wither and die. Corals create the most diverse ecosystems in the oceans: the beautiful and vibrant tropical reefs. If corals were to go extinct, the repercussions would likely affect all life on Earth.

Corals live in a symbiotic relationship with tiny, single-celled algae. It's a partnership, with the corals provide a home for the algae and the algae provide nourishment for the corals. Rising temperatures can stress the algae, causing them to stop producing food. The corals evict the deadbeat algae, spit them out to fend for themselves. Without their algal partners, the reefs die and turn stark white, an event referred to as coral bleaching.

In a report this month in Marine Ecology Progress Series, Stanford University scientists have found evidence that some coral reefs are adapting and may actually be able to shrug off the worst of the IPCC's predicted global warming. They discovered that some corals resist bleaching by hosting types of algae that can handle the heat, while others swap out the heat-stressed algae for tougher, heat-resistant strains.

“The most exciting thing was discovering live, healthy corals on reefs already as hot as the ocean is likely to get 100 years from now,” said Stephen Palumbi, a professor of biology and a senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. “Corals are certainly threatened by environmental change, but this research has really sparked the notion that corals may be tougher than we thought.”

For their investigations, Palumbi and Tom Oliver, a former student, traveled to Ofu Island in American Samoa. Ofu, a tropical coral reef marine reserve, has remained healthy despite gradually warming waters. In cooler lagoons, Oliver found only a handful of corals that host heat-resistant algae exclusively. But in hotter pools, he observed a direct increase in the proportion of heat-resistant symbionts, suggesting that some corals had swapped out the heat-sensitive algae for more robust types. “These findings show that, given enough time, many corals can match hotter environments by hosting heat-resistant symbionts,” Oliver explained.

The whole matter of coral delicacy is a bit puzzling, since reef building corals have been around since at least the Permian period. All corals in the sea, particularly the familiar kinds that form reefs, have hard external skeletons. In a 2006 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a team of researchers led by Allen Collins dated the origin of stony corals to between 240 and 288 million years ago, much more closely matching the fossil record of corals than earlier estimates.

This means that corals survived the worst ever mass extinction event in the history of Earth—the Permian-Triassic Extinction, 251 million years ago—and lived through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. During this span of nearly 200 million years, CO2 levels were 5-10 times higher than they are now with temperatures as much as 10ºC higher than today.. After surviving the event that killed off the dinosaurs, corals have remained the ocean's primary reef builders during the Cenozoic era, roughly the past 63 million years. Scientists should have known that any creatures who can live through all that are tough enough to put up with slight fluctuations in water temperature.

Careful scientific observation has revealed another over hyped horror story, put forth as an effect of global warming, to be inaccurate. True, many reefs do bleach and die, but others recover or strains of organism that are better adapted to altered local conditions move in. This is the way nature works. Given all the rapid temperature excursions in the past, the changing ocean temperatures and sudden influxes of fresh water from giant glacial lakes, wouldn't you suspect that corals were a bit tougher than they seem—perhaps not as individuals but as a species or genus? While I do not believe that the IPCC's predictions regarding global warming are accurate, it is nice to know that coral will be sticking around regardless.

Like all the other hype that surrounds global warming, the demise of the world's coral has been greatly exaggerated. Once more the puffed-up, overwrought reports from the IPCC have been shown for what they are: committee generated collections of half truths and wild speculation buttressed by poor science and guesswork. I have never seen so many people, claiming to be scientists, so seemingly bent on destroying science's reputation with the public. I fear we will not soon recover from this regrettable episode—and a whole generation of young people will turn their backs on science and engineering, dismissing them as the work of charlatans and frauds.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and, above all, stay skeptical.

What about acidification?

Higher CO2 levels cause more than just warmer temperatures. If you take a closer look at what happens with the CO2, you'll see that most of it will dissolve in the oceans at first. But this causes bicarbonate to form (an acid) which in turn has an effect on the ammount of calciumcarbonate readily available in the water. More CaCO3 will dissolve, leaving less of this molecule available for coral growth. Result: dissolution of corals and other calcifying organisms in the ocean.

We really shouldn't take the antropogenic rise in CO2 too lightly. Shit is already hitting the fan, but because nature right now is still buffering it all away, we don't notice it much right now. But just you wait and see what happens when the system becomes saturated and stops buffering.
It may become the sixth mass-extinction event. Yea, real nice world for my kids kid's to live in...

3 lies and you're out!

Bicarbonate is alkaline. Not acidic. Acid plus Alkaline = base = buffering.

Doesn't warmer water reduce the amount of dissolved CO2 contained within?

Sixth mass extinction event? Really. Please show that any mass extinction event was caused by direct climate change and not some underlying cause (volcanoes, asteroids, fire induced soot).

When logic isn't on your side, use the emotional argument (my kids...) because the facts don't fit the bogus hypothesis.

FYI from wiki
The most common salt of the bicarbonate ion is sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3, which is used as baking soda. When exposed to an acid such as acetic acid (vinegar), sodium bicarbonate releases carbon dioxide. This is used as a leavening agent in baking.

The flow of bicarbonate ions from rocks weathered by the carbonic acid in rainwater is an important part of the carbon cycle.

Bicarbonate also serves in the digestive system. It raises the internal pH of the stomach, after highly acidic digestive juices have finished in their digestion of food. Ammonium bicarbonate is used in digestive biscuit manufacture.

CO2 and acid waters

Dear Anonymous,

The addition of CO2 to water does cause its acidification:

CO2 + H2O = H2CO3 = HCO3- + H+

(Carbon dioxide plus water gives carbonic acid, which gives bicarbonate plus protons)This is an equilibrium reaction.

Bicarbonate is a buffering agent because, when acidity rises, it can take the protons and generate H2CO3. This is a simplified version of the process, but you get the picture. The thing is, when you keep on adding CO", the equilibrium tends to eliminate some of it and, in turn, generates more bicarbonate and protons. Thus, when CO2 rises, pH lowers. That's why rain with CO2 can weather rock more easily (because of the lower pH).

You are rigth though, that a warmer sea will be able to take less CO2, but that's just one of the factors that we don't know how will turn out (some people think the seas will take CO2 for a while, then start giving it back to the atmosphere...but it depends on the phytoplankton growth rate and many other factors...too complex!). Many interactions, you see.

So increasing CO2 levels in the seas could dissolve coral reefs, depending on how resistant each ecosystem is.

On the other side, that corals as a group have resisted the Permian extinction doesn't mean anything to the coral species living today, which could not be adapted to whatever changes happen now. Or maybe they are, but the fact is that we don't know how resilient most living beings are to climatic or environmental changes.

Pablo Catalan
Biologist (Spain)

CO2 is an atmospheric gas

I knew you were full of it when you said: "CO2 mixed with rain causes it to be more acidic". LMFAO!!!!! CO2 is an ATMOSPHERIC GAS. It can't liquify! Acid rain is caused by other factors, and acidic rain is just absorbed vinegar!

My God. You are no biologist.

CO2 in rain

Not to spoil the rant, but CO2 does disolve in water, it's called carbonic acid.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonic_acid

Fake doctor, fake facts

Alright Mr. Catalan, please give us more credentials than your name. It is obvious you do not know chemistry. It is a myth that more CO2 will acidify the oceans. It just doesn't work that way. CO2 is not a pollutant, either.

Please take another course in chemistry. Chances are you're an alarmist who doesn't know a thing about science.

common sense

"Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it"
Just put the whole supposition of coral reefs dying due to a relatvely miniscule temperature change (and of course the drastic changes which have taken place over the geologic time scale) to the common sense "sniff" test and it fails miserably.
We all know or should know that climate change is constant. Coral has survived.
End of test.

Re: Reefs

I have a reef tank, with numerous, well growing corals. If the reefs of the world were subject to the same abuse (I call them fluctuations) that my tank can go through, they are in no danger from CO2. I bubble CO2 through a calcium reactor and into the reef tank. No problem.
The biggest threat to large reefs and atolls, would be if the oceans stopped rising. Stony corals will grow "out of house and home", if they don't have new space (usually upwards) to grow. If they grow to close to the surface, they will bleach out. This is made worse on large reefs because shallower reefs restrict water flow and increase temperature.
Changes in ocean currents, undersea volcanic activity, sea level stagnation, and/or pollution, can kill a reef.
Atmospheric CO2? Not a chance!