Climate change and coral reefs: Trojan horse or false prophecy?


Ove is too shy and modest to say so, but he just published a critical response to a provocative  article by Maynard et al. (2009).  He also blogged about this episode here and here.  Ill paste the abstract below and also an excerpt.  The full article is hidden behind Springer’s Corporate Wall of Greed.  But if you want the full paper write Ove, Jez or me.  The debate goes on…

O. Hoegh-Guldberg (2008) Climate change and coral reefs: Trojan horse or false prophecy? A response to Maynard et al. Coral Reefs (2009) 28:569–575

Abstract Maynard et al. (Coral Reefs 27:745–749, 2008a) claim that much of the concern about the impacts of climate change on coral reefs has been “based on essentially untested assumptions regarding reefs and their capacity to cope with future climate change”. If correct, this claim has important implications for whether or not climate change represents the largest long-term threat to the sustainability of coral reefs, especially given their ad hominem argument that many coral reef scientists are guilty of “popularising worst-case scenarios” at the expense of truth. This article looks critically at the claims made by Maynard et al. (Coral Reefs 27:745–749, 2008a) and comes to a very different conclusion, with the thrust and veracity of their argument being called into question. Contrary to the fears of Grigg (Coral Reefs 11:183–186, 1992), who originally made reference to the Cassandra syndrome due to his concern about the sensationalisation of science, the proposition that coral reefs face enormous challenges from climate change and ocean acidification has and is being established through “careful experimentation, long-term monitoring and objective interpretation”. While this is reassuring, coral reef ecosystems continue to face major challenges from ocean warming and acidification. Given this, it is an imperative that scientists continue to maintain the rigour of their research and to communicate their conclusions as widely and clearly as possible. Given the shortage of time and the magnitude of the problem, there is little time to spare.

…many scientists are warning of the consequences for key ecosystems such as coral reefs if we continue down the pathway of unrestrained growth in atmospheric CO2 (Glynn 1996; Brown 1997; Hoegh-Guldberg 1999; Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007; IPCC 2007). Grigg (1992) warned of the need to explore the issues associated with coral bleaching and global warming using ‘‘careful experimentation, long-term monitoring and objective interpretation’’. Contrary to the opinion of Maynard et al. (2008a), this has been the modus operandi and our understanding of the drivers and the impacts associated with global climate change has made impressive and rigorous progress over the past 15 years. While more research is certainly needed to fill the gaps and uncertainties with respect to how the next few decades and century will unfold, there is little support for the conclusion that coral reefs will survive atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of 600–1000 ppm and increases in ocean temperatures of 2–6_C. For this reason, and the fact that we are currently on a pathway headed towards 1,000 ppm and beyond, we must also strive to communicate the extreme urgency of the situation to the broader scientific and non-science community, and to urge the international community to rein in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This will take measures that go far beyond those that have been proposed so far by the international community and will only come about if governments understand the dire circumstances that the world faces if we lose coral reefs and other critically important parts of the biosphere. Hopefully, a clear, objective and coherent voice from the coral reef community will be listened to. We can only hope.

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