Forth from her coral lips such folly broke,
Like balm the trickling nonsense heal’d my wound
Lesbia, William Congreve
There is no doubt that the effect of CO2 on the Great Barrier Reef poses a major threat to ecologists studying the health of the reef. CO2 (which used to be called carbon dioxide, but now often referred to as “carbon”, which is a bit odd, since carbon itself manifests itself as soot, or graphite or diamonds, none of which bear much relationship to an odourless, colourless and ubiquitous gas. Anyway, there we are) dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, and so the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that the sea becomes marginally less alkaline (they like to call this “ocean acidification” which is not quite right, but sounds more dramatic).
The problem has been well publicised. Thus – to take a typical example – we see this from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in October 2009:
Reporter: Peter McCutcheon: (To Sophie Dove): In effect you’ve found that ocean acidification could lead to corals starving.
SOPHIE DOVE: Yes and so starvation means not being able to grow any more, which is something corals have to do to support our reefs all the time, they have to be growing all the time.
Or it could mean actually literally dying back.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Ocean acidification is an emerging and disturbing area of science. Seventy academies of science from around the world, including Australia, released a statement warning of an impending underwater catastrophe.
The only way to stop this process is to pump less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
WILL HOWARD: This is something that many scientists have felt needs to be brought to the attention of policymakers, that they need to take this into account as they think about how to approach the problem of controlling future carbon emissions.
Happily for the scientists, the politicians have taken note: there are currently grants of some $90 million a year being taken from ordinary people like you and me in taxes and given to researchers in this area. So that is really good. If you are a researcher. And there is lots more where that came from.
One way of doing the research is to look at the geological record, but that is hardly ideal, because it shows that corals have flourished in times of much higher carbon dioxide levels than today.
Another rather more compelling approach would be to go to the geothermal areas in the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, where carbon dioxide continually escapes from the sea bed as part of natural geothermal activity. One is located near the north end of Normanby Island about 30 metres south east of the outer end of the wharf at the village of Esa’Ala. The other is located about 20 metres offshore near the mid-north coast of Dobu Island, an extinct volcano. These are areas where there is coral around about, and so it should be fairly easy to show how much damage is done to the coral near these densely carbon dioxide affected vents.
That is precisely what Dr. Walter Starck did last year. Dr Starck holds a PhD in marine science from the University of Miami in 1964, and has over 40 years worldwide experience in reef studies. What he found is very bad news indeed for the scientists researching in this area. The coral around the vents is in rather better shape than other coral in the area, despite the water being more acid (pH 6.54) – at level indeed which the coral has been predicted to all die off.
Worse still, a month ago, a paper was published “Acclimation to ocean acidification during long-term CO2 exposure in the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa.“ which says this:
Growth rates in the long-term experiment (LTE) did not follow the negative trend with increasing pCO2 observed in the short-term incubation. Instead, growth rate, which was comparable to that of the control treatment in the short-term experiment, stayed high at elevated CO2 levels. … Surprisingly, corals maintained in waters sub-saturated with respect to aragonite (CRS3, Tables 4 & 5) displayed the highest average Gr of 1.88 ± 1.34 × 10-2 % d-1. Positive net calcification in waters corrosive to aragonite was also confirmed by measurements of total alkalinity repeatedly performed over the course of the incubation, showing a continuous decrease during the long-term incubation in the highest CO2 treatment. There was no statistically significant relationship between average growth rates and pCO2 concentrations (Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA on ranks, H = 1.46, P = 0.482).
Which is science-speak for saying that carbon dioxide in the water does not slow up coral growth rates at all. Carbon dioxide is not bad for coral at all. In fact, it is rather good for it. Not really that surprising, since carbon dioxide is not only good, but essential, for lots of things to grow. But it is very bad news if you make your money out of saying that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is a big player in all of this. According to the Australian Government’s Portfolio Budget Statements 2011-12, in the section dealing with this agency,
The $200.0 million Reef Rescue component of Caring for our Country is designed to help secure the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of climate change and declining water quality.
So there would be a lot to lose if word got out that, well, actually, the reef is not at any risk at all from carbon dioxide. Not, obviously, that the GBRMPA is likely to let the cat out of the bag. Oh no. Instead, its website says:
In the long-term, ocean acidification is likely to be the most significant impact of a changing climate on the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem….Although the chemistry of ocean acidification is simple and well understood, its effect on marine life is much less well-known as the process has only been recognised for less than a decade. Even relatively small increases in ocean acidity decrease the capacity of corals to build skeletons, which in turn decreases their capacity to create habitat for the Reef’s marine life.
But what about the fearless BBC? Spill the beans? Or censor? Spill? Censor? Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. If you are a BBC Environment Editor, and a High Priest in the Church of Climatology? Like Richard Black, for example? He knew what to do!
In Coral reefs heading for fishing and climate crisis on 23rd February 2011 he wrote
Three-quarters of the world’s coral reefs are at risk due to overfishing, pollution, climate change and other factors, says a major new assessment.
Reefs at Risk Revisited collates the work of hundreds of scientists and took three years to compile.
And then under the subheading Climate of death (I am not just teasing you here: this is the heading he really did put in), he added
Although reefs can recover, the more often it happens, the more likely they are simply to die.
In addition, the slow decrease in the pH of seawater as it absorbs more carbon dioxide – usually known as ocean acidification – will compromise coral’s capacity to form the hard structures it needs.
But what about the evidence of coral thriving in these high carbon dioxide spots? Richard Black rooted around until he found a paper called Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations, which said, yes, coral does thrive with lots of carbon dioxide around, but “massive Porites corals established dominance over structural corals”. Which is a bit like British Railways explaining the failure of its snow ploughs after a snowstorm by saying that it was the wrong sort of snow. So on 29 May 2011 he (we are back to Richard Black here) wrote a piece headed Bubbling sea signals severe coral damage this century which starts
Findings from a “natural laboratory” in seas off Papua New Guinea suggest that acidifying oceans will severely hit coral reefs by the end of the century.
Which not quite right. In fact, it is not right at all. He did not mention the title of the paper which he was trumpeting (which let the cat’s nose out of the bag, if not the whole cat), let alone its findings. He did not even mention the work of Dr Walter Starck. Instead he found someone to say something scary:
“The results are complex, but their implications chilling,” commented Alex Rogers from the University of Oxford, who was not part of the study team.
In other words, instead exposing this scam, or even reporting in a balanced way, he has been preaching from the pulpit.
Meanwhile, the money keeps flowing like never before into the coffers of taxpayer-funded scaremongers. And you would have to be an optimist to think it will stop any time soon.
I noticed that there have been yet more claims reported recently that the Turin shroud is really the image of Jesus burned on by some sort of divine power. If that sort of claptrap is good enough for the Catholic Church’s fundraising activities, ongoing drivel about “ocean acidification” should keep the money rolling in for the greenies.
PS Since writing this post, I have noticed the following photograph of Coral Reef at Dobu Island with carbon dioxide bubbling through it (photo: Bob Halstead) on Watts Up With That. It is so good I have copied and pasted it in here. I hope that neither Anthony Watts nor Bob Halstead mind this blatant plagarism, since it demonstrates with startling visual clarity just what a complete load of utter drivel is the notion that carbon dioxide kills coral.