Ocean Heat Waves Kill Coral Instantly, Study Finds
The increased frequency in heat waves is a direct byproduct of the climate crisis the scientists say, as the BBC reported.
The researchers knew that oceanic heat waves contributed to coral degradation, or bleaching, where the coral sheds the colorful algae covering and nourishing it and the coral slowly starves. What surprised the scientists was just how rapidly they died off when they experience a heat wave, according to Agence France Presse.
Yet, while corals can often regenerate after a bleaching event once ocean temperatures are more hospitable to the corals' symbiotic algae, heat waves that come on rapidly and linger are separate existential event that cause immediate death. Reefs will also have to weather extreme marine heat waves, which is "a distinct biological phenomenon from bleaching events," according to the study's authors, led by William Leggat, a coral reef expert at the University of Newcastle in Australia, as Vice's Motherboard reported.
"Now, we see there is also a temperature at which the coral animal itself suffers from heat-induced mortality," explained co-author Tracy Ainsworth, a marine biologist at the University of New South Wales, in an email, as reported by Vice. "This isn't starvation, this is the animal itself undergoing mortality directly from the heat of the water."
To perform the study, the researchers looked at two coral species that were severely affected by a 2016 marine heatwave that struck Australia's Great Barrier Reef and resulted in 90 percent of the reef experiencing some degree of bleaching, according to Vice.
In laboratory conditions, the researchers exposed the corals to simulations of the extreme and rapid temperature increases experienced by the reefs suffering a marine heat wave. They saw that it did not kill the reef slowly, instead the corals lose their tissues, which exposes their skeleton to microbes that dissolve them.
Essentially, in a sever heat wave, a whole structure of a coral colony collapses, as Vice reported.
"The scary thing is — this is a new phenomenon that's being caused by climate change," said Leggat to the BBC. "And the impacts are even more severe than we had thought."
"Climate scientists talk about 'unknown unknowns' — impacts that we haven't anticipated from existing knowledge and experience," said James Heron, a scientist at James Cook University who contributed to the study, as Agence France Presse reported. "This discovery fits into this category. As we begin now to understand this impact, the question is how many more of these 'unknown unknowns' might there still be that could bring faster and greater damage to coral reefs from climate change."
Scientists hope that politicians and policy makers will start to pay attention to the climate science and recognize the need for urgent action to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
"It's hard to know just how much we have to keep saying that this is a big problem before policy-makers decide to do something about it," said Dr James Guest from Newcastle University in the UK, who has been studying coral reef habitats for more than 15 years and was not involved in the study, as the BBC reported.
By Jessica Corbett
This story was originally published on Common Dreams on September 19, 2020.
Some advocates kicked off next week's Climate Week NYC early Saturday by repurposing the Metronome, a famous art installation in Union Square that used to display the time of day, as a massive "Climate Clock" in an effort to pressure governments worldwide to take swift, bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rein in human-caused global heating.
<div id="0bde7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="002ce26d8d0c627f76d752e14d234d6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307397838884741121" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">LIVE: #ClimateClock about to go live at Union square replacing the atronomical clock, with a carbon countdown!… https://t.co/5OzxwUwWDf</div> — Greg Schwedock🌹(⧖) (@Greg Schwedock🌹(⧖))<a href="https://twitter.com/GregSchwedock/statuses/1307397838884741121">1600542909.0</a></blockquote></div><p>A mobile climate clock that Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg "now carries with her, as well as the larger Climate Clock project, was assembled by a team of artists, makers, scientists, and activists based in New York, and is part of the Beautiful Trouble community of projects," according to <a href="https://climateclock.world/" target="_blank">Climateclock.world</a>, which details the science behind the numbers displayed and how to install clocks in other cities.</p>
- 5 Virtual Events to Check Out This Climate Week NYC - EcoWatch ›
- Covering Climate Now Highlights Solutions for Earth Week - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means the nation's highest court has lost a staunch advocate for women's rights and civil rights. Ginsburg was a tireless worker, who continued to serve on the bench through multiple bouts of cancer. She also leaves behind a complicated environmental legacy, as Environment and Energy News (E&E News) reported.
- Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cross-State Air Pollution Rule ... ›
- Supreme Court Upholds Virginia's Ban on Uranium Mining - EcoWatch ›
- In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of ... ›
Project goal: To create an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to leather, in this case using fungi.
The plastic recycling model was never economically viable, but oil and gas companies still touted it as a magic solution to waste, selling the American public a lie so the companies could keep pushing new plastic.
- U.S. Products Labeled Recyclable Really Aren't, Greenpeace ... ›
- The Recycling Dilemma: Good Plastic, Bad plastic? - EcoWatch ›
- The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic - EcoWatch ›
By Pamela Davis-Kean
With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.
- How Other Countries Reopened Schools During the Pandemic ... ›
- Young People Are Primary Coronavirus Spreaders, WHO Warns ... ›
- How Families Can Boost Kids' Mental Health During the Pandemic ... ›