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As Disease Ravages Coral Reefs, Scientists Scramble for Solutions

A research diver looks for signs of stony coral tissue loss disease in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

A research diver looks for signs of stony coral tissue loss disease in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. JIM ABERNETHY

As Disease Ravages Coral Reefs, Scientists Scramble for Solutions

As oceans warm, coral reefs are suffering not only from bleaching but from deadly outbreaks of disease. Researchers are developing remedies, but the key question is whether these solutions can work on a large-enough scale to save vast reef systems from Florida to Australia.

In September 2014, William Precht received an alarming phone call. “I’m seeing something funky out on the reef,” a colleague reported. “It looks like disease.” At the time, Precht, a marine biologist and environmental consultant working in coral reef restoration, had been monitoring a Port of Miami dredging project to ensure preservation of the nearby ecosystem. When Precht donned his scuba gear and dove to the site to investigate a few weeks later he couldn’t believe what he found. “The whole reef was lit up in disease,” he recounts. There were more than 30 coral colonies (each 4 to 16 inches across) with white bands and lines on them, and other corals were entirely white. “You could see this line of mortality moving across the reef — I was blown away.”

Precht was witnessing the early signs of a new and rapidly spreading coral disease outbreak sweeping along the Florida coastline, threatening the third-largest reef ecosystem in the world. The outbreak first appeared in pockets of diseased coral near Miami. Four years later, it covers 96,000 acres of reef extending about 275 miles from West Palm Beach to the lower Florida Keys. By some estimates, as much as 35 percent of the coral population has been lost. Several species have nearly vanished, including majestic colonies of pillar corals (Dendrogyra cylindrus), a threatened species that can reach heights from 6 to nearly 10 feet. The few surviving colonies are now known as “the last unicorns.”

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Europe Inundated by Snow Down to Greece & Harvard Study Shows Oceans Are Getting Colder

This winter is once again extremely brutal in Europe. Extremely heavy snow has fallen as far south as Greece in the range of even 3 to 5 feet in various places. This is the third year of extreme cold in Europe which has been fueling more resentment about global warming taxes. Once again, Europe has been thrown into economic chaos for much of the region is not able to cope with snow lacking the historical experience.

Meanwhile, scientists have revealed that the oceans are still getting colder at deeper levels in a slow-moving trend that was set in motion by the last Little Ice Age. The idea that the oceans have been retaining the heat so that is why the planet has not warmed up as forecast 30 years ago flies in the face of those ideas as well.

The Real Lesson of Katrina: the Worst is Yet to Come

The Real Lesson of Katrina: the Worst is Yet to Come

Three weeks and three days before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans 10 years ago, a paper of mine appeared in the scientific journal Nature.

It showed that North Atlantic hurricane power was strongly correlated with the temperature of the tropical Atlantic during hurricane season, and that both had been increasing rapidly over the previous 30 years or so. It attributed these increases to a combination of natural climate oscillations and to global warming.

Had Katrina not occurred, this paper and another by an independent team would merely have contributed to the slowly accumulating literature on the relationship between climate and hurricanes.

Instead, the two papers inspired a media firestorm, polarizing popular opinion and, to some extent, scientists themselves, on whether global warming was in some way responsible for Katrina.

While the firestorm was mostly destructive, benefiting only the media, it had a silver lining in inspiring a much more concerted effort by atmospheric and climate scientists to understand how hurricanes influence and are influenced by climate.

We have learned much in the intervening years.

no-hurricane-katrina-satimage-20050829_uwisc-cimss

Sea Level and Storm Surges

An obvious point is that slowly rising sea levels increase the probability of storm-induced surges even when the statistics of the storms, such as top wind speed, themselves remain stable. Storm surges are physically the same thing as tsunamis but driven by wind and atmospheric pressure rather than the shaking seafloor, and they typically arrive near the peak of the storm’s fury.

As with Katrina and Sandy, they are often the most destructive aspects of hurricanes. Had Sandy struck New York a century ago, there would have been substantially less flooding, as sea level was then roughly a foot lower. As sea level increases at an accelerating pace, we can expect more devastating coastal flooding from storms.

 

 

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July Was Warmest Month On Record NOAA Reports, Lists All “Signifiicant Climate Anomalies And Events”

July Was Warmest Month On Record NOAA Reports, Lists All “Signifiicant Climate Anomalies And Events”

While some, perhaps not California farmers, will disagree with NOAA’s assessment of the world’s atmospheric conditions, earlier today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared that July was the warmest month ever recorded for the globe and was also the record warmest for global oceans, putting a full stop to a year that has been characterized by numerous perplexing atmospheric outliers around the globe but perhaps none other more so than NOAA’s earlier assessment that the winter of 2015 was also the warmest on record despite the much discussed US winter, where for the second year in a row the economic slowdown was blamed on a colder than usual winter. Go figure: perhaps here too we need double seasonal adjustments.

Among some of the highlights noted by NOAA:

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2015 was the highest for July in the 136-year period of record, at 0.81°C (1.46°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.08°C (0.14°F). As July is climatologically the warmest month of the year globally, this monthly global temperature of 16.61°C (61.86°F) was also the highest among all 1627 months in the record that began in January 1880. The July temperature is currently increasing at an average rate of 0.65°C (1.17°F) per century.
  • The July globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.73°F (0.96°C) above the 20th century average. This was the sixth highest for July in the 1880–2015 record.
  • The July globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.35°F (0.75°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest temperature for any month in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set in July 2014 by 0.13°F (0.07°C). The global value was driven by record warmth across large expanses of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

 

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