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Globe's coral reefs take second worst beating on record during 2010

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:50 PM GMT on January 07, 2011

Record warm ocean temperatures across much of Earth's tropical oceans during the summer of 2010 created the second worst year globally for coral-killing bleaching episodes. The warm waters, fueled in part by the El Niño phenomena, caused the most coral bleaching since 1998, when 16 percent of the world's reefs were killed off. "Clearly, we are on track for this to be the second worst (bleaching) on record," NOAA coral expert Mark Eakin in an interview last month. "All we're waiting on now is the body count." The summer 2010 bleaching episodes were worst in Southeast Asia, where El Niño warming of the tropical ocean waters during the first half of the year was significant. In Indonesia's Aceh province, 80% of the bleached corals died, and Malaysia closed several popular dive sites after nearly all the coral were damaged by bleaching. However, in the Caribbean's Virgin Islands, coral bleaching was not as severe as experienced in 2005, according to National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Miller. I'll discuss the reasons for this in a future blog post. In other portions of the Caribbean, such as Venezuela and Panama, coral bleaching was worse than that experienced in 2005.


Figure 1. An example of coral bleaching that occurred during the record-strength 1997-1998 El Niño event. Image credit: Craig Quirolo, Reef Relief/Marine Photobank, in Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs

What is coral bleaching?
Coral bleaching is a whitening of the corals that occurs when stresses such as high water temperatures, increased water acidity, or pollution disturbs the symbiotic relationship between the corals and the algae that live inside them. Bleaching episodes occur when ocean temperatures rise above 85 - 87°F (29.5 - 30.5°C.) Peak warming events took place in the western Indian Ocean and north-western Pacific in 1997/98, in the north of Australia and central Pacific during 2003/04, and in the Caribbean in 2005. About half of the reefs affected by bleaching in these episodes have recovered, and one recent study cautions that non-lethal bleaching episodes and subsequent recovery of corals is often under-reported.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef at risk
With summer now in full swing in the Southern Hemisphere, coral bleaching concern now shifts to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Ocean temperatures along the reef are currently up to 1°C above average, due, in part, to the current moderate to strong La Niña event. NOAA's Coral Reef Watch has issued its highest level of coral bleaching alert for the northern 2/3 of the Great Barrier Reef, since the La Niña event is predicted to persist into at least April. Also of concern is the tremendous run-off occurring in the wake of the record flooding that has affected the neighboring Australian province of Queensland. While the floods have now peaked and the rivers of Queensland are now falling, the $5 billion disaster dumped a large amount of sediments, pollutants, fertilizers, and pesticides into the southern portion of the Great Barrier Reef, and this will act to increase the stress on the corals. However, the floods may end up indirectly benefiting some portions of the Great Barrier Reef. The cloud cover and strong winds that accompanied the flooding rain storms also acted to cool the waters along the reef. According to an analysis I did of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre global ocean temperature data, sea surface temperatures along the southern portion of the reef, between 15°S and 20°S latitude, were the warmest ever for September, 1.27°C above average. These waters cooled significantly, relative to average, during October and November, and were just 0.12°C warmer than average during November. Cooler waters will mean less potential for coral bleaching, though the pollution in the flood run-off water may end up killing some corals.


Figure 2. Forecast stress on coral due to warm ocean temperatures for Australia, Jan - Apr 2011. The northern 2/3 of the Great Barrier Reef are under the highest alert level for coral bleaching. Waters are cooler along the southern portion of the reef, due, in part, to the storms that have brought record flooding to portions of Queensland, Australia. Image credit: NOAA Coral Reef Watch.

Long term outlook for world's coral reefs: grim
The large amount of carbon dioxide humans have put into the air in recent decades has done more than just raise Earth's global temperature--it has also increased the acidity of the oceans, since carbon dioxide dissolves in sea water to form carbonic acid. Corals have trouble growing in acidic sea water, and the combined effects of increasing ocean temperatures, increasing acidity, pollution, and overfishing have reduced coral reefs globally by 19 percent since 1950. Another 35 percent could disappear in the next 40 years, even without the impact of climate change, according to a report released in October 2010 by the World Meteorological Organization and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Coral loss has been the most severe in Earth's hottest ocean, the Indian Ocean. Up to 90% of coral cover has been lost in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Tanzania and in the Seychelles. Global warming has heated up most of the tropical ocean surface waters by about 0.5°C (0.9°F) over the past 50 years, and the remarkable bleaching episodes of 1998 and 2010 both occurred when strong (natural) El Niño episodes heated up Pacific tropical waters to record levels. If the Earth continues to heat up this century as expected, coral bleaching episodes will grow more frequent and intense, particularly during strong El Niño episodes. The twin stresses of ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures will probably mean that by 2050, it will be difficult for any coral reefs to recover when subject to additional stresses posed by pollution or major storms, according to a talk presented by Stanford climate scientist Ken Caldeira at last month's American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting.


Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature in the Australian region over the past one hundred years, year-by-year (red line), and decade-by-decade (grey bars.) The 2010 value is preliminary and does not include data for December 2010. If ocean temperatures and ocean acidity continue to rise in Australian waters at the same pace as has occurred over the past 100 years, the Great Barrier Reef will be in significant danger by 2050. Image credit: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Coral expert J.E.N. Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, had this to say in an excellent interview he did with Yale Environment 360 last year: "the science is clear: Unless we change the way we live, the Earth's coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children's lifetimes.

"You may well feel that dire predictions about anything almost always turn out to be exaggerations. You may think there may be something in it to worry about, but it won't be as bad as doomsayers like me are predicting. This view is understandable given that only a few decades ago I, myself, would have thought it ridiculous to imagine that reefs might have a limited lifespan on Earth as a consequence of human actions. It would have seemed preposterous that, for example, the Great Barrier Reef--the biggest structure ever made by life on Earth--could be mortally threatened by any present or foreseeable environmental change. Yet here I am today, humbled to have spent the most productive scientific years of my life around the rich wonders of the underwater world, and utterly convinced that they will not be there for our children's children to enjoy unless we drastically change our priorities and the way we live."

Reefs are the ocean's canaries and we must hear their call. This call is not just for themselves, for the other great ecosystems of the ocean stand behind reefs like a row of dominoes. If coral reefs fail, the rest will follow in rapid succession, and the Sixth Mass Extinction will be upon us--and will be of our making.


I might add that not only are reefs the ocean's canaries, they are incredibly valuable in their own right. According to the World Meteorological Organization, coral reefs provide economic services--jobs, food and tourism--estimated to be worth $30 billion per year. NOAA put this figure at twelve times higher, $375 billion each year. Corals cover just 0.2% of the world's oceans, but contain about 25% of all marine species.

Next post
I'll be back with a new post on Tuesday at the latest.

Check out wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt's post on the notable weather extremes of December 2010. It was truly an extreme month!

Jeff Masters

Coral Bleaching. (Dawnlisa)
Since the end of April the coral in the Andaman sea has started bleaching due to the increase in sea water temperature. If things don't cool down soon the coral may die. You can see the white patches in the photo that are mainly table coral and normally a dark colour.
Coral Bleaching.
A parrot fish at the coral reef (BoazR)
as seen from the underwater observatory
A parrot fish at the coral reef
coral reef (js64)
coral reef

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Just had a little sleet near Pensacola Bay, lasted for a couple minutes.
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Quoting Chicklit:
So, is the GOMEX low going to ride up the east coast as a snow storm?


I saw some of the new models runs suggesting a blizzard for the northeast.
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FLPanhandleJG - well at long as the current weather patterns hold, our odds of some white stuff get better and better! Keep the faith!!
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Quoting AllyBama:
thanks for the graphics and weather statements everyone..I was so hoping that the system would track farther south and bring me some snow but not this time! lol
ya don't want it anyway its just a mess and a pain in you know where
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Quoting AllyBama:
thanks for the graphics and weather statements everyone..I was so hoping that the system would track farther south and bring me some snow but not this time! lol


yep I knew it would probably do this.. but there is still more winter left.. So maybe next time.. looks like cold rain for us.. I wanted to get up earlier but i guess I was too tired.. Well hope everyone that is in this mess to be safe..
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thanks for the graphics and weather statements everyone..I was so hoping that the system would track farther south and bring me some snow but not this time! lol
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So, is the GOMEX low going to ride up the east coast as a snow storm?
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600 AM CST SUN JAN 9 2011

THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR PORTIONS OF SOUTH CENTRAL ALABAMA...SOUTHWEST ALABAMA...NORTHWEST FLORIDA...SOUTHEAST MISSISSIPPI AND THE COASTAL WATERS OF ALABAMA AND NORTHWEST FLORIDA.

.DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT

...ICE STORM WARNING STARTS AT 6 PM FOR CHOCTAW AND WILCOX COUNTIES...
...WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY STARTS AT 6 PM FOR NORTHERN COUNTIES OUTSIDE OF THE ICE STORMS WARNING...

...GALE WARNING STARTS THIS AFTERNOON AND CONTINUES THROUGH TONIGHT FOR BAYS AND COASTAL WATERS...

...WIND ADVISORY FOR THE COASTAL ZONES STARTS AT NOON...

...COASTAL FLOOD WATCH STARTS 6 PM FROM MOBILE TO DESTIN...

A STRONG LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM WILL MOVE EAST ACROSS THE NORTHERN GULF ON TODAY AND TONIGHT... BRINGING INCREASING WINDS AND SEAS TO THE COASTAL AREAS.

WINTRY PRECIPITATION IN THE FORM OF SLEET AND FREEZING RAIN TO THE NORTHERN SECTIONS OF THE AREA...POSSIBLY STARTING LATE THIS MORNING OVER THE INTERIOR OF SOUTHEAST MISSISSIPPI AND WESTERN CHOCTAW COUNTY ALABAMA.

A MIXTURE OF RAIN AND SLEET SPREADING EAST ACROSS THE NORTHERN SECTIONS NORTH OF A NEW AUGUSTA TO ANDALUSIA LINE THIS AFTERNOON AND TONIGHT. THE GREATEST CHANCE OF ICE ACCUMULATION WILL OCCUR AFTER MIDNIGHT ACROSS FAR NORTHERN PORTIONS OF THE AREA WHERE ICE STORM WARNINGS AND WINTER EATHER ADVISORIES ARE IN EFFECT.

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The backside is starting to get near Dallas. Also, they switched the radar into "snow mode" at the end of the loop, which is going to help the overall detection of who is getting precip or not (and it eliminates bright-banding reflectivity).

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GOMIRLoop
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tks Walshy
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Quoting AllyBama:
so, is the low:

a) tracking as projected
b) tracking north of projection
c) tracking south of projection
d) who knows

lol

a/b
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so, is the low:

a) tracking as projected
b) tracking north of projection
c) tracking south of projection
d) who knows

lol
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test
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GOM IR Loop


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812. Skyepony (Mod)
Yesterday Baffin/Newfoundland Bay was still melting.
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811. Skyepony (Mod)
93P is trying to pull together. Looks big & torn where to close it's low.
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Pictures from flooding in Germany. Serious und maybe even more threatening in some regions the coming days, but not catastrophic yet.
http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/0,1518,738513,00.html
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806. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting weatherbro:
could the dead birds and fish be related to the magnetic shift?


If they are all related, probably not related to magnetic shift. The ones in Italy were some lighter colored birds. The beaks were blue with a lack of oxygen, causing disorientation, causing the flying into hard objects.
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Quoting Xandra:
More about Al Gore’s movie Link



Enough about Gore's silly movie. He won't debate anyone on the issue and has turned down many serious offers to do so. Don't take my word for it.. Check it yourself.

We out!
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804. Skyepony (Mod)
At least four persons were killed and many injured in mudslides and flood related incidents in Sri Lanka, where over 600,000 people have also been affected by deluge, officials said today. Seven have been hospitalised after they were rescued from rubble. A few others believed to be trapped under the rubble after earth slip reported in Kandy 116km from Colombo. Regional education officials have decided to close all schools in central province as the bad weather condition was likely continue till tomorrow. Meteorological department said the bad weather with heavy rains and strong winds will prevail in several areas in the country and continue till tomorrow. Transportation was crippled due to roads and railway lines being under water in the eastern province, which was the worst affected area by continuous rains over the last two weeks. Nearly 600,000 people were affected by rains and flood situation in the country''s central and eastern regions. Sluice gates of several man made lakes were opened as the rain continued in several parts of the country.
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803. Skyepony (Mod)
The river Mosel, which runs through Luxembourg, has flooded in several areas due to rapidly melting ice and snow. As predicted earlier this week, high waters are wreaking havoc through Luxembourg. The worst affected areas are the Mondorf tunnel on the A13 towards Pétange, the stretch between Weiler-la-Tour and Schlamestee and the road between Reckange and Ehlange. The roads connecting Angelsberg and Mersch, Redan and Beckerich and Livange to Bettembourg have also been hit by high waters. The situation hasn't quite yet hit the crisis level of the Remich floods last month (pictured), but due to predicted temperatures of six or seven degrees this weekend the water level is expected to keep rising through to the end of the week. The Automobile Club Luxembourg (ACL) advises travellers to avoid affected areas.
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802. Skyepony (Mod)
Rising waters threatened many German river regions on Friday, as rain and milder temperatures continued to melt snow and ice. The Rhine and Mosel could see widespread flooding over the weekend. A nationwide thaw has caused many waterways to swell. Of particular concern are the water levels along the Rhine near Koblenz, which could reach eight metres and cause flooding. “The last time for that was back in 2001,” said a local official, explaining that a level of 7.20 metres would flood the point known as the Deutsches Eck where the Mosel meets the Rhine. With the Rhine’s water levels expected to peak only at the start of next week, the city’s fire brigade is already preparing for parts of the Koblenz old town to be submerged. The flooding also threatens the construction site of a national garden show to be held there. Water levels on the Mosel could rise to 10 metres this weekend, according to officials. With widespread house flooding expected at nine metres, communities have begun preparing sandbags and pumps. People at the other end of the country were also bracing themselves for flooding, as water levels along the Oder River continued to rise. Polish officials were attempting to clear a 40-kilometre blockage between Stettin and Swinemünde with 13 icebreakers. Water levels in Brandenburg along the Oder had reached the highest flooding alert levels by early Friday. However, officials in the eastern state said they were not yet preparing an evacuation of the region. “Our priority remains the dyke,” said county administrator Gernot Schmidt, adding they had prepared 25,000 sandbags to reinforce it. Other regions in Germany were also expecting flooding this weekend. In Saxony-Anhalt several smaller rivers including the Unstrut, Bode, Ilse, Aller, Mulde and Weiße Elster were threatening to burst their banks. Officials in Lower Saxony expected the Weser to spill over onto farmland. And in Baden-Württemberg waters along the Necker, Tauber and parts of the Danube were also expected to rise substantially.
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Quoting weatherbro:
could the dead birds and fish be related to the magnetic shift?

it was only fireworks
nothing to see here move along

lol
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could the dead birds and fish be related to the magnetic shift?
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799. Skyepony (Mod)
WU TX webcams.
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Gun control: I am in control of my gun. I am liscensed to carry my gun concealed in my state and 27 other states. If you enter my property uninvited, real estate or automobile, you have the rest of your life to prove to me your intent...
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Watch out for some severe weather tomorrow in parts of Florida, this squall line in the Gulf means business..
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
its only good with severe weather its not showing much other than a bow offshore south LA


Oh, ok....thanks anyway. Ice accummulating fast here in Ms...power still ok, but to get worse this afternoon
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Things appear to be getting nasty over the Dallas area from reports from friends.

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Quoting EYEStoSEA:


Keeper, could you please post that Plymouth Rarar with the black background....the best IMO
its only good with severe weather its not showing much other than a bow offshore south LA
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More about Al Gore’s movie Link
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


Keeper, could you please post that Plymouth Rarar with the black background....the best IMO
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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
726. calusakat 11:08 AM EST on January 09, 2011
At the very least, the lack of security was totally disgraceful. It empowers the 'Jared the Moron' types of the world to feel 'in control'.


So t it has come too this:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." except they be required to be armed or have a security detail present.

Damn, I knew hanging out with Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren and pacifists was dangerous, just not how dangerous.

Guess only answer is to get a Glock with a 30 round clip.

Think Monday night storm is going to trend north of me but my brother disagrees. Wonder how he's going to take it when I tell him he's got to add security detail to the church budget.

I thought getting away from this was why my 7x Great-Grandfather left Switzerland. Guess he should have gone to Pakistan.



Taking your absurd observation to its absurd conclusion then the President of the United States should not have a need for a security detail either.

There are bad guys out there.

I suppose that you don't lock your doors at night or when you leave on vacation. Same must go for your car when you park it in a very crowded mall parking lot either.

Are you one of those folks who have a Facebook account with every last detail of your life on it?

Get used to this one fact. The world out there wants to kill you.

Doubt me? Grab a row boat over on the Atlantic coast and start rowing due east way out of sight of land and until you are exhausted and see how long it is before you realize that going out too far will result in your being lost and likely dying out there.

Protecting the lives of our elected officials is an obligation not a courtesy.

Can someone please send some rain to South Florida.

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Quoting PensacolaDoug:



Why won't Gore?
???
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Buoy 42035 recording 50 mph gusts

(okay, not showing 50 in the graphic...though I saw better than 50 somewhere...)



Seems that the rainfall sensor is non-functioning.
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Afternoon all. Another wonderfully "just right" Sunday afternoon is in progress here in Nassau, Bahamas. I do surely hope it continues this way for the rest of the winter.... lol

Haven't looked at the progress of the latest winter storm yet. What's the prognosis?
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Lotsa energy and straight line winds I bet in this Line also atmo..

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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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