There is a widespread belief, cultivated at least in part by Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg that global warming has resulted in more coral bleaching.
“Bleaching events result from extended periods of calm weather during which mixing from wave action ceases and surface water becomes exceptionally warm. Such warming is especially marked in very shallow water such as on reef flats. At the same time the absence of waves also eliminates the wave driven currents that normally flush the reef top. Bleaching conditions require at least a week or more of calm weather to develop and this may happen every few years, only once in a century, or never, depending on geographic location. On the outer GBR it is uncommon due to ocean swell and currents even in calm weather. In the mid-shelf and inshore areas it is much more common due to the absence of swell and reduced currents.
Characteristic bleaching scars and isotope temperature records from coral cores commonly show evidence of past bleaching events going back thousands of years. There is no evidence for a recent increase in frequency and/or severity of bleaching events and nothing to link extended periods of calm winds with global warming.
In past geologic periods when global climate was warmer than at present corals enjoyed greater latitudinal distribution. The most likely effect of a warming climate on reefs would seem to be an expansion of their geographic distribution and there is some evidence this is already happening. In Florida recent growth of coral has occurred farther north than it did a few decades ago and in the same areas sub-fossil corals indicate previous such advances in the recent geologic past.
Hoegh-Guldberg has found an attractive GW niche in the well established guild of GBR doomscryers. It has provided notoriety, acclaim and generous research support. Whether his prophesies will stand up to the reality test remains to be seen. Based on the track record of science based doomscrying his odds don’t look too good. In fact sheep’s entrails and tea leaves seem to produce better results, probably because they at least incorporate some element of intuitive judgment.”
Last year Walter wrote a review titled ‘Threats to the Great Barrier Reef’, published by the IPA, it can be downloaded by clicking here.
This picture was taken at the Great Barrier Reef by Roger Steene: