Scientists Just Discovered the World’s 'Most Expansive Coral Reef Systems Ever Recorded'
After nearly 20 years, scientists have finished their survey of an area of deep coral reefs in the Hawaiian Archipelago and what they have found is really amazing.
Down past the shallow reefs surrounding the islands, researchers discovered the largest known continuous coral reef system on Earth measuring more than three square miles with some areas showing 100 percent coral cover. The system contains more than twice the number of distinct species that can be found on shallow Hawaiian reefs, and in one spot, nearly every single species they found was unique to that region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Kure Atoll, the northernmost reef in the Hawaiian archipelago, hosts mesophotic reefs with the most species unique to a specific location found in any marine ecosystem on Earth.NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
In recent years, there has been a greater effort to document coral reef ecosystems at depths of 100 feet to more than 500 feet, now referred to as Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs), or "the twilight zone." Those efforts from a team of geologists, biologists and botanists were revealed Tuesday in the journal, PeerJ.
"What is unique about this study is how vast and dense the coral cover is," lead researcher Richard Pyle from Bishop Museum in Honolulu told the Associated Press. "Although there was a bit of a hint that corals could survive ... down at those depths, these reefs off Maui were far and away much more dramatic both because they were deeper and they had higher coral cover percentage."
Mesophotic coral ecosystems, such as this one found at 230 feet in Maui's 'Au'au Channel, are populated with many of the same fish species found on shallow reefs.NOAA and Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory
Expeditions to discover and investigate MCEs were challenging in the past because they are too deep to reach using traditional scuba gear, and too shallow to justify the cost—between $30,000 to $40,000 a day—for most deep-diving remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and submersibles.
However, NOAA said advances in undersea technologies in the past decade now make it possible to investigate these ecosystems.
In this study, scientists used a rebreather, which recycles the helium that's mixed in with a scuba tank's oxygen. With this system, divers can manage to stay submerged for seven hours, which is necessary when you have to ascend slowly to avoid the bends, Wired reported. They also used NOAA-funded submersibles that carried extra tanks and helped illuminate the area.
Much of what researchers know about coral reef ecosystems comes from those in shallow water, and what they've seen up until this point is discouraging. Overfishing, pollution, coastal development and climate change have threatened coral reef ecosystems worldwide, which are being obliterated due to bleaching.
NOAA: World's Worst Coral Bleaching Event to Continue 'With No Signs of Stopping' https://t.co/qRJHk1Q1nn @climatesavers @climateprogress— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1466560212.0
Scientists now hope that increased knowledge of MCEs will help characterize the health of coral reefs in general, particularly in the face of increasing stress.
"With coral reefs facing a myriad of threats, these findings are important for understanding, managing and protecting coral-reef habitat and the organisms that live on them," Kimberly Puglise, an oceanographer with NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said. "Some species studied can live in both shallow and mesophotic reefs, and the species could potentially replenish each other if one population is overexploited."
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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