Signs of resilience and recovery from the coral reefs of Florida


Here is some good news from the Caribbean – despite a >95% decline in staghorn coral since the 1970’s, there are some signs of resurgence:

Dropping 12 feet below the ocean’s surface less than a mile off Fort Lauderdale’s beach-front towers, a diver might wonder if he or she somehow got magically transported to a remote coral reef in the Caribbean.

Covering the sea bottom is a forest of maize-colored, healthy staghorn coral with grouper, grunts, damselfish and other assorted tropicals swimming all around. If not for the dusky, green water, bits of floating trash and gobs of algae covering some of the surrounding soft corals, the scene could be the Bahamas or Bonaire.

Why is a threatened species of coral thriving near urban Broward County? (Read More)

Comment moderation on Climate Shifts

Recently we have been getting a bunch of comments on Climate Shifts that i’ve decided not to ‘approve’ after being held for moderation – these have either been obvious ‘sock puppets‘ or comments that fail to justify their own existence – see below for two examples.

Screen shot 2009-09-01 at 9.43.45 AM

Whilst all of us are more than eager to reply to 99.9% of honest comments or criticism, it’s a waste of our time responding to backhand comments that have no substance. Having said that, Climate Shifts is an open forum: have your say. If you don’t agree with what we post, tell us! If you have any ideas, comments or critique, comment on the blog or feel free to drop us an email at

Copenhagen flop: skeptic arguments 101

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Back at the start of the decade, Coral List (a list-serv email discussion run by NOAA) had some great topics up for debate amongst the coral reef scientific community. These days Coral List continues to make for a fantastic place for information and discussion, yet the intense debate of old seems increasingly thin on the ground. Every once in a while though, there are some pretty fantastic debates, like the recent ‘Copehagen Flop’. The original post debated the relevance of an article in a Danish newspaper (“Climate summit flop feared“) citing multiple hotel reservation cancellations in Copenhagen as evidence of a poor showing for the upcoming UN climate change conference in December 2009.

After this topic was debated a while, another post came up questioning the rational of the Copenhagen as temperatures have been dropping whilst CO2 is rising, sunspots are overdue, climate change is a growth industry, and how geologists know better. Enter John Bruno, who i’m guessing is long tired of the same old ‘skeptic’ arguments. See below for the entire article in it’s entirety – it’s one of the most concise and well written critiques i’ve read in a while. Posting from Brisbane Australia, where it’s pretty freaking hot too (last week we hit an August record of 35.4°c – in the middle of our winter).

From: John Bruno <>
Date: 29 August 2009 9:48:16 AM
To: coral-list@coral.aoml.noaa.go
Subject: Copenhagen flop: skeptic arguments 101

Climate change skeptics have a basket of well-worn arguments for why humans are not in fact changing the earth’s climate.  Gene deploys many in his wonderfully cranky and cynical post.  I have found it entertaining and even useful (when arguing with skeptics) to become familiar with the most common skeptic arguments.  Most skeptics use the same pool of 3-5, although the most popular change over time.   The fantastic web site SketicalScience tracks, ranks, outlines and debunks the most popular:

Also see:

Currently, the most popular argument is the well-debunked “it’s the sun stupid” argument, which Gene includes in his post.  Read up on this argument at these links:

The second most popular skeptic argument is that “climate changed before”.  I am pretty sure you don’t have to have a PhD in geology to be aware of the fact that the earth’s climate fluctuates.  My kids learned about ice ages and geological eras in kindergarten.  And the reality of past natural climatic fluctuation in no way refutes evidence that current trends are strongly influenced by human activities.  In fact quite the opposite; the relative speed of the current changes compared to the many past cycles suggest something is different about this cycle.  Also see:

Gene alludes to the third most popular, “there is no consensus” argument:

And also the very popular (currently at position #4) “the earth is actually cooling!” argument.  This is of course nonsense that is is based on cherry-picking small periods in the longer-term climate record.  The most popular this year is choosing 1998 (by chance? – I doubt it) as the beginning and examining how global temperature has change since then.  Indeed, by some (but not all) measures there is a slight cooling since 1998.  But such cherry-picking is (to anyone trained in science) a silly and disingenuous way to test for trends in the longer term climate record.  We have blogged about and made fun of this skeptic argument pretty extensively at ClimateShifts:

Also see:

Gene also works in the “models are unreliable” argument (the 5th most popular)

and the “global warming stopped in 1998” argument (currently ranked in 8th place), which is related to the “the earth is  actually cooling!” argument

and very frequently tied in with the “it’s freaking cold!” (15th place) argument

AKA “it’s cold today in Wagga Wagga”:, where Gene, like so many skeptics, confuses local and short term weather for climate.

Additionally, as the National Climatic Data Center recently reported, ocean temperature this July has been the hottest in the last 130 years of record keeping:

And as I recently blogged about, a new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters (Easterling and Wehner  2009) demonstrates that short term periods of no-trend or even cooling (nested within longer term warming) are in fact predicted by Global Climate Models;

Finally, Gene takes a slightly new angle on the well-worn “climate changed before” argument.  Most skeptics are not geologists; most skeptics (including about half of all adult Americans) are not scientists of any type.  Moreover, most geologists are not skeptics as is evidenced by the various briefing articles and position pieces published by the American Geophysical Union, e.g.,

titled “Human Impacts on Climate” which begins “The Earth’s climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.”

Cheers from Chapel Hill, where it is freaking hot!


John F. Bruno, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Marine Science
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-330

Update: I thought to better put this in context, I’d add the post I was responding too.  Gene Shinn is a well-known carbonate geologist. (John Bruno)

I read all the responses about the Copenhagen flop on the list
with great interest and feel they skirt the underlying issue. I serve
on a large global climate change committee and am exposed to the
research and opinions from both sides of the issue several times each
day.  Most of the skeptics are geologists that look to the geologic
record for guidance. The warmers look to mathematical models that
project far into the future. Those on the pro warming side of the
issue often work for companies, government agencies, or Universities
involved (think paychecks) in CO2 sequestration projects or involved
in the cap and trade business. The other side, mainly geologists, are
well aware of former climate changes  before humans arrived on the
scene. The public does not know who to believe.
     I suspect the real reason attendance will remain low in
Copenhagen (unless the climate starts warming again) Is they are
skeptical, or unsure, of what the climate will do in the future.
Temperature has been dropping (abundant low temperature records were
set in July) and many researchers have shown temperature has overall
been  flat since 2000.  At the same time temperatures have been
dropping (over the past two years)  CO2 has continued to rise!  It is
hard not to  notice that temperatures have fallen. Just read the news
papers. I suspect this observation  has not gone unnoticed by a
growing body of scientists,  politicians, and investors.  Investors
are no dummies.  Clearly climate change is a huge growth industry.
Does anyone not believe that many of the attendees will be there
looking for a way to make money? I doubt they will be there because
they fear the earth will burn up! Have coral-listers really looked
into the money already being made on cap and trade and the sale of
pollution credits? The next few years will be the proof of the
pudding and Sunspot cycle 24 is still overdue. Gene PS: There is a
Foundation  cranking up for the "preservation of CO2." It's all about
increasing agriculture production. They will be looking for your tax
exempt contributions.  Ain't this a great country or what!

No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
eshinn at
Tel 727 553-1158

Using ‘fake trees’ to cut carbon


A recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMECHE) suggests some pretty interesting approaches to geo-engineering carbon reducing structures, including artificial trees, algae-coated and reflective buildings. See above for the artificial tree idea, which according to the ABC News are envisioned to be 12 metres tall, and absorb enough CO2 from the air to offset 20 cars. Neat stuff.

Two degrees of warming – a note by John Quiggin

“Now that it looks as if some sort of agreement may come out of Copenhagen, its natural to ask what sort of agreement we need. The current targets being proposed suggest that warming should be limited to 2 degrees over the next century. That implies stabilising atmospheric C2 concentrations at 450 ppm, and an agreement to cut developed country emissions by 20-25 per cent by 2020, with convergence to a level 90 per cent below current developed country levels by 2050 would be adequate (note that this part of the post is based on my reading of Garnaut, Stern & IIPCC, not my own expertise).

At least some discussion in Australia suggests that these targets are hopelessly weak and by implication that it would be better to oppose any action than to lock ourselves into an agreement of this kind. I disagree, and I will try to spell out why.

First up, as in other debates about climate change, it is important to pay attention to the science, rather than to rely on prejudice or on supposed authorities who are either unqualified or whose qualifications aren:t relevant. Thats why I have refused to debate climate science delusionists here, instead pointing them to the results of scientific research, summarised by the IPCC and other bodies.

But the case here is a bit different. The big impacts of climate change will be on agricultural production and natural environments and the relevant experts are ag scientists/economists and ecologists. The views of climate scientists like James Hansen, while very important in projecting the climatic effects of CO2 emissions, have no particular standing when it comes to assessing the damage associated with any particular climatic change.”

(Read more over at John Quiggin‘s blog)

New report on global climate engineering


A new report/analysis of three methods of  climate-engineering is available online from Copenhagen Consensus Center.

Climate engineering could offer an extremely cheap, fast solution to climate change, according to this comprehensive analysis of its costs and benefits.

An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Climate Change by Dr. Eric J Bickel and Lee Lane shows that we might be able to cancel out this century’s global warming by spending no more than $9 billion, and that climate engineering might be able to achieve as much for the planet as carbon cuts at a fraction of the cost.

Three methods of solar radiation management are explored in this research. Solar radiation management involves bouncing sunlight back into space, to avoid warming.

The authors look at stratospheric aerosol insertion (launching material like sulfur dioxide or soot into the stratosphere to mimic the effects of volcanoes, which create a hazy layer scattering and absorbing sunlight); marine cloud whitening (spraying seawater droplets into marine clouds to make them reflect more sunlight); and the deployment of a space-based sunshade (launching many tiny transparent screens into space that would focus a small amount of the sun’s light away from Earth).

Air capture focuses on capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and securing it in land or sea-based sinks. This technology, according to Dr. Bickel and Lane, is not as promising as solar radiation management from a technical or cost perspective. Dr. Bickel and Lane find that the cost of stratospheric aerosol insertion would be in the magnitude of $230 billion, with benefits fifteen-times higher.

Marine cloud whitening with a fleet of unmanned ships would be extremely cheap: for about $9 billion, all of the global warming for the century could be avoided, with benefits adding up to about $20 trillion.

Dr. Bickel and Lane conclude: “the results of this initial benefit-cost analysis place the burden of proof squarely on the shoulders of those who would prevent such research.”

I don’t know what to think about this idea.  I guess I am open to considering and exploring it.  But the skeptic in me wonders if this will actually work-could people really control something as complex as the earth’s climate without screwing it up even more?   And the purist in me wishes we could just not mess it all up in the first place.  John Tierney shares my skepticism.  And since Bjørn Lomborg seems to be supportive of the approach (and is also director of the institute that sponsored the report) I have to wonder… But his short letter about the report (you can read or download it here) seems to make sense.  Am I missing something?

John Tierney has a nice story about climate engineering in general and the report here.

Read the full report here and blogs about the report here and here.

From the Lomborg letter:

Global warming will mean that more people die from the heat. There will be a rise in sea levels, more malaria, starvation, and poverty. Concern has been great, but humanity has done very little that will actually prevent these outcomes. Carbon emissions have kept increasing, despite repeated promises of cuts.

We all have a stake in ensuring that climate change is stopped. We turned to climate scientists to inform us about the problem of global warming. Now we need to turn to climate economists to enlighten us about the benefits, costs, and possible outcomes from different responses to this challenge.

World leaders are meeting in Copenhagen this December to forge a new pact to tackle global warming. Should they continue with plans to make carbon-cutting promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled? Should they instead delay reductions for 20 years? What could be achieved by planting more trees, cutting methane, or reducing black soot emissions? Is it sensible to focus on a technological solution to warming? Or should we just adapt to a warmer world?

Much of the current policy debate remains focused on cutting carbon, but there are many ways to go about repairing the global climate. Our choices will result in different outcomes and different costs.

The optimal combination of solutions will create the biggest impact for the least money. A groundbreaking paper by economists Eric Bickel and Lee Lane is one of the first – and certainly the most comprehensive – study of the costs and benefits of climate engineering. Deliberately manipulating the earth’s climate seems like something from science fiction. But as President Barack Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, has said it has “got to be looked at,” and many prominent scientists agree.

Bickel and Lane offer compelling evidence that a tiny investment in climate engineering might be able to reduce as much of global warming’s effects as trillions of dollars spent on carbon emission reductions.

Climate engineering has the advantage of speed. There is a significant delay between carbon cuts and any temperature drop – even halving global emissions by mid-century would barely be measurable by the end of the century. Making green energy cheap and prevalent will also take a long time. Consider that electrification of the global economy is still incomplete after more than a century of effort.

Many methods of atmospheric engineering have been proposed. Solar radiation management appears to be one of the most hopeful. Atmospheric greenhouse gases allow sunlight to pass through but absorb heat and radiate some down to the earth’s surface. All else being equal, higher concentrations will warm the planet.

World sets ocean temperature record


The news is in – according the the National Climatic Data Center, this July has been the hottest in the last 130 years of record keeping:

The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average. The tongues of warm water could help melt sea ice from below and even cause thawing of ice sheets on Greenland, said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado.

Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land, because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land.

“This warm water we’re seeing doesn’t just disappear next year; it’ll be around for a long time,” said climate scientist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. It takes five times more energy to warm water than land.

The warmer water “affects weather on the land,” Weaver said. “This is another yet really important indicator of the change that’s occurring.” (Read More at AP)

Positive feedback effects of climate change become increasingly apparent


A positive feedback is define as “processes that amplify climate change”, such as reduced absorption of CO2 by the oceans and the ice-albedo effect. As time goes on, scientists are finding more and more of these positive feedback mechanisms, further increasing the warming effect. One of the long predicted positive feedback mechanisms is the release of methane in the Arctic by permafrozen seas and soils – a natural process exacerbated by global warming. Recent research from Spitsbergen (an area off the Arctic where climate change is occurring at unprecedented rates) suggests that this methane escape is a growing cause for concern:

Scientists say they have evidence that the powerful greenhouse gas methane is escaping from the Arctic sea-bed. Researchers say this could be evidence of a predicted positive feedback effect of climate change. As temperatures rise, the sea-bed grows warmer and frozen water crystals in the sediment break down, allowing methane trapped inside them to escape.

The research team found that more than 250 plumes of methane bubbles are rising from the sea-bed off Norway. The joint British and German research team detected the bubbles using a type of sonar normally used to search for shoals of fish. Once detected, the bubbles were sampled and tested for methane at a range of depths.

Writing in Geophysical Research Letters, the team says the methane was rising from an area of sea-bed off West Spitsbergen, from depths between 150m and 400m.The gas is normally trapped as “methane hydrate” in sediment under the ocean floor. “Methane hydrate” is an ice-like substance composed of water and methane which is stable under conditions of high pressure and low temperature.

As temperatures rise, the hydrate breaks down. So this new evidence shows that methane is stable at water depths greater than 400m off Spitsbergen.  However, data collected over 30 years shows it was then stable at water depths as shallow as 360m. (Read More at BBC News)

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Diving with humback whales


I guess this is what people expect when you tell them “I’m a marine biologist”. These incredible images of humpback whales were taken by underwater photographer Marco Queral in the south Pacific Ocean.

‘Their enormous size itself must be considered as an immediate life-threatening danger.

‘I must be very cautious when they approach and investigate me.

‘I believe they are gentle by nature but I am always aware their kind greeting of a tail swing may easily kill me by accident.

‘Also, they are usually more shy and cautious toward humans and boats than dolphins are, perhaps because they are not so accustomed to seeing humans offshore.

‘I think their bashfulness and timidity have been ingrained into their DNA as they have been chased and hunted by humans for centuries.’ (Read More)