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Coral Reefs Can Take The Heat, Unlike Experts Crying Wolf

December 28, 2018

By Paul Homewood

From GWPF:



Scientists from James Cook University have just published a paper on the bleaching and death of corals on the Great Barrier Reef and were surprised that the death rate was less than they expected, because of the adaptability of corals to changing temperatures.

It appears as though they exaggerated their original claims and are quietly backtracking.

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to exaggerate once is a misfortune, to do it twice looks careless, but to do it repeatedly looks like unforgivable systemic unreliability by some of our major science organisations.

The very rapid adaptation of corals to high temperatures is a well-known phenomenon; besides, if you heat corals in a given year, they tend to be less susceptible in the future to overheating. This is why corals are one of the least likely species to be affected by climate change, irrespective of whether you believe the climate is changing by natural fluctuations or because of human influence.

Corals have a unique way of dealing with changing temperature, by changing the microscopic plants that live inside them. These microscopic plants, called zooxanthellae, give the coral energy from the sun through photosynthesis in exchange for a comfortable home inside the coral. When the water gets hot, these little plants effectively become poisonous to the coral and the coral throws them out, which turns the coral white — that is, it bleaches.

But most of the time, the coral will recover from the bleaching. And here’s the trick: the corals take in new zooxanthellae, that floats around in the water quite naturally, and can selectselecting different species that are better suited to hot weather.

Most other organisms have to change their genetic make-up to deal with temperature changes — something that can take many generations. But corals can do it in a few weeks by just changing the plants that live in them.

They have learned a thing or two in a couple of hundred million years of evolution.

The problem here is that the world has been completely misled about the effects of bleaching by scientists who rarely mention the spectacular regrowth that occurs. For example, the 2016 bleaching event supposedly killed 93 per cent, or half, or 30 per cent of the reef, depending on which headline and scientist you want to believe.

However, the scientists looked only at coral in very shallow water — less than 2m below the surface — which is only a small fraction of all the coral, but by far the most susceptible to getting hot in the tropical sun.

A recent study found that deep-water coral (down to more than 40m) underwent far less bleaching, as one would expect. I estimate that less than 8 per cent of the Barrier Reef coral died. That might still sound like a lot, but considering that there was a 250 per cent increase in coral between 2011 and 2016 for the entire southern zone, an 8 per cent decrease is nothing to worry about. Coral recovers fast.

But this is just the tip of the exaggeration iceberg. Some very eminent scientists claim that bleaching never happened before the 1980s and is entirely a man-made phenomenon. This was always a ridiculous proposition.

A recent study of 400-year-old corals has found that bleaching has always occurred and is no more common now than in the past. Scientists have also claimed that there has been a 15 per cent reduction in the growth rate of corals. However, some colleagues and I demonstrated that there were ­serious errors in their work and that, if anything, there has been a slight increase in the coral growth rate over the past 100 years.

This is what one would expect in a gently warming climate. Corals grow up to twice as fast in the hotter water of Papua New Guinea and the northern Barrier Reef than in the southern reef. I could quote many more examples.

This unreliability of the science is now a widely accepted scandal in many other areas of study and it has a name: the replication crisis. When checks are made to replicate or confirm scientific results, it is regularly found that about half have flaws. This is an incredible and scandalous situation, a view shared by the editors of eminent journals and many science institutions. A great deal of effort is going into fixing this problem, especially in the biomedical sciences, where it was first recognised.

But not for Barrier Reef science. The science institutions deny there is a problem and fail to correct erroneous work. When Piers Larcombe and I submitted an article to a scientific journal suggesting we needed a little additional checking of Great Barrier Reef science, the response from many very eminent scientists was that there was no need. Everything was fine. I am not sure if this is blind optimism or wilful negligence, but why would anybody object to a little more checking? It would cost only a few million dollars — just a tiny fraction of what governments will be spending on the reef.

But the truth will out eventually. The scare stories about the Barrier Reef started in the 1960s, when scientists first started work on it. They have been crying wolf ever since. But the data keeps coming in and, yes, sometimes a great deal of coral dies in a spectacular manner, with accompanying media fanfare. It is like a bushfire on land — it looks terrible at first, but it quietly and rapidly grows back, ready for the scientists to peddle their story all over again.

Peter Ridd was, until fired this year, a physicist at James Cook University’s marine geophysical laboratory.

  1. A Man of No Rank permalink
    December 28, 2018 9:33 pm

    A familiar side story here. An experienced, honest lecturer at a posh University – James Cook University – is sacked. His mistake was to challenge the ‘Climate change killing the Coral Reef’ brigade. One obviously doubts if this will be the employer’s stated reason for his sacking.
    And then the court case for unfair dismissal is abandonded for a while leaving Peter Ridd to stew. Lets all hope that he can ride this one out.
    Jennifer Marohsay reports the story here:
    My own family is stacked out with Science graduates – but these days we search out alternative careers for the grandchildren.

    • December 29, 2018 1:54 pm

      A science degree is probably still an excellent investment, it provides a path to many careers besides science, such as engineering.

      • martinbrumby permalink
        December 29, 2018 8:51 pm

        Now you have me worried.
        The Clime Syndicate thermogeddonists as Engineers?
        How do you fancy driving across a bridge designed by Michael Mann?
        Or living downstream of a dam built by Ben Santer?

  2. Jeff permalink
    December 28, 2018 11:10 pm

    Coral, a heat loving organism clustered around the equatorial regions, most luxuriant and fast growing on the equator, no seas are too hot for it, half the oceans are too cold for it.
    But we are told it is under dire threat from a warming climate.

  3. It doesn't add up... permalink
    December 29, 2018 1:40 am

    I wish Peter Ridd a successful 2019. He deserves it.

  4. December 29, 2018 1:56 am

    Inside Science BBC Radio 4 Thursday
    Tamsin Edwards was on the panel for open science questions.
    she just asserted
    ‘The State of Climate report says about coral
    if we get 1.5C warming 70-80% of coral will go
    ..and if it’s 2C all of it will go’
    sounds TOSH

    Peter Ridd: Coral Reefs Can Take The Heat, Unlike Experts Crying Wolf
    The Australian, 26 December 2018

    Scientists from James Cook University have just published a paper on the bleaching and death of corals on the Great Barrier Reef and were surprised that the death rate was less than they expected, because of the adaptability of corals to changing temperatures.

    • December 29, 2018 2:02 pm

      Shameful from Tamsin, a physicist, but when you don the robes of a “Climate Scientist” you can pontificate about anything.

      • Athelstan permalink
        December 29, 2018 5:11 pm

        Edwards is no scientist, she is, an apologist and advocate and that’s all she is.

  5. tim leeney permalink
    December 29, 2018 8:55 am

    So is the court case dead? Incidentally, what is happening with the absurd Michael Mann litigation?

  6. Athelstan permalink
    December 29, 2018 5:15 pm

    Ye Gods! the sanest bit of society; we knew this years and years ago, the Aus climastology pissants/ bog green monsters exclaiming – “coral bleaching means runaway global warming” = the same old same old= more chicken little doom mongering alarmunist BS.

  7. Gerry, England permalink
    December 29, 2018 7:20 pm

    ‘…to exaggerate once is a misfortune, to do it twice looks careless, but to do it repeatedly looks like’…climate science in action.

    • dave permalink
      December 30, 2018 10:48 am

      Mark Twain once wrote that it is typical of a scientist to spend his life piling up a mountain of evidence to prove he is right, and then fail to notice that his mountain proves him wrong.

      • dave permalink
        December 30, 2018 11:02 am

        We sometimes say, in comments, that “climate activism” is become a religion; but it is only half way there. It is, presently, an “enthusiasm,” which is fast-turning into a “tradition.” And, here, is a relevant quote from an old-school anthropologist about,

        “…the stupendous force of tradition…” which turns the ordinary into the awsome and awful.

  8. December 30, 2018 5:49 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  9. matthew dalby permalink
    December 30, 2018 11:50 pm

    We’ve all seen pictures on T.V. of reefs that have been affected by bleaching, however I can’t remember ever seeing pictures of a reef that was bleached say 5 or 10 years ago. This makes me suspect that such reefs are now healthy again, because if they were still dead I’m sure the BBC, Guardian etc. would be the first to broadcast it as proof of impending doom. Often it’s not what is said, but what isn’t said that can be most revealing. Since bleaching seems to be regular and natural (and reefs recover quickly) this is a story that alarmists will be able to keep recycling for decades, long after all their claims will add up to far more than 100% of coral killed by climate change.

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