Coral Reefs Could Be Completely Lost to the Climate Crisis by 2100, New Study Finds
The bleak outlook means that restoration efforts will face Herculean challenges, according to the research presented by researchers at this week's Ocean Sciences Meeting 2020 in San Diego, California.
Rising sea temperatures, acidic water and pollution are proving too much for the reefs to handle. About 70 to 90 percent of the world's existing coral reefs are predicted to disappear in the next two decades, according to scientists from the University of Hawaii Manoa, as CNN reported.
"By 2100, it's looking quite grim," said Renee Setter, a biogeographer at the University of Hawaii Manoa in a statement.
While pollution poses a large threat to many ocean creatures, corals seem most at risk from emissions, according to the researchers.
"Trying to clean up the beaches is great and trying to combat pollution is fantastic. We need to continue those efforts," Setter said in a statement. "But at the end of the day, fighting climate change is really what we need to be advocating for in order to protect corals and avoid compounded stressors."
To make their predictions, the scientists mimicked future ocean conditions like sea surface temperature, wave energy, acidity, pollution and overfishing in areas where corals are today. Looking at those models, the scientists found that most parts of the ocean will not sustain habitats for corals by 2045, and almost no suitable habitats will exist by 2100, according to CBS News.
"Honestly, most sites are out," said Setter in the statement.
Coral reefs nurture about 25 percent of marine life and support local economies worldwide. As CBS News noted, the new research is disheartening for efforts to restore corals by growing them in labs and then putting them back into the ocean. While those efforts have had a 60 percent success rate, the research suggests that lab-grown corals will not stand up to warming oceans and increased acidification.
Corals are extremely sensitive to ocean temperatures. When the temperature rises just a couple of degrees, corals experience mass bleaching, where coral turns white as it sheds the algae it relies on not only for survival, but also for its magnificent colors, as CBS News reported. Bleaching does not kill the coral, but it does weaken them, making them vulnerable to disease.
Scientists are predicting a mass bleaching within the next couple of weeks in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The reef, which is nearly the length of Italy, is undergoing heat stress right now, with patches starting to bleach. While a major widespread bleaching has not occurred yet, scientists have warned that it is likely if high ocean temperatures around the reef do not drop in the next two weeks, as The Guardian reported.
Already, temperatures across two-thirds of the reef are about two to three degrees Celsius above normal, with typical peak temperatures still one month away.
"We are down to the wire," said professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, according to The Guardian.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has placed the Great Barrier Reef on Alert Level 1 for the next week, meaning significant bleaching is likely, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.
"Unfortunately we are a whisker away from bleaching disaster yet again because of global warming-driven marine heatwaves," said Shani Tager from the Australian Marine Conservation Society to the Australian Broadcasting Company.
"As underwater heatwaves threaten once again to cook our corals, our politicians must move beyond half-baked plans to tackle global warming."
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.