by CINDY on MARCH 15, 2012 (repost)

4 a.m. Bali, December 2007, the first Tuesday of the two-week UN climate talks. My phone rings, waking me up. Blearily, and a little crossly, I answer it.

I was in Bali to run Greenpeace International’s media for the meeting. The caller was someone called “John” who said he was an intern for a US NGO that I had never heard of. It was a small NGO, he said, who couldn’t come to the meeting, but “john” asked me for a copy of the UNFCCC’s media list for the meeting. Continue reading

‘The Australian’ goofs it up again while IPCC chief calls for ‘sane voices’ in local climate debate.

As The Australian claims sea level rise is not linked to global warming, the world’s most influential climate scientist has called on “sane and rational voices” to speak out and correct the record.

Here is another piece from a journo (Graham Readfearn) who by contrast seems to always get it right!  Murdering Science, the Graham LLoyd way., January 15, 2012

More than 250 scientists have gathered in Hobart today for a summit of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s climate science body. The Oz marked the summit’s opening with a front-page “exclusive” story which claimed there was “no link” between sea level rises and global warming. Continue reading

A new low for Arctic sea ice

AFP: September 11, 2011

PARIS — The area covered by Arctic sea ice reached it lowest point this week since the start of satellite observations in 1972, German researchers announced on Saturday.

“The extent of the Arctic sea ice has reached on September 8, with 4.240 million square kilometres (1.637 million square miles), a new historic minimum,” the University of Bremen’s Institute of Environmental Physics said in a press release.

The new mark was about half-a-percent under the previous record low set in September 2007, it said. Continue reading

East coast in Irene’s path, scrambles to prepare .

Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2011

UPDATE:  See Scott Mandia on CNBC talking about Irene, the flood risk and other issues.

The north-east seaboard of the US, including Washington and financial centre New York, rushed to prepare for a possible mauling from Hurricane Irene that will hit the coast this weekend.  From the Carolinas to Cape Cod, more than 50 million people were potentially in Irene’s path. States, cities, ports, industries, oil refineries and nuclear plants scrambled to activate emergency plans, while residents stocked up on food and water and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats. Continue reading

Ecological selection drives genetic divergence in a reef building coral

A new study published in the open source journal PLoS ONE (Bongaerts et al 2010) sheds light on the connectivity of corals within and between reef habitats, with some pretty surprising findings. Whilst previous research has identified distinct differences in morphology and genetic structure over small spatial scales, these new findings from the outer-shelf reefs on the Great Barrier Reefs demonstrates that coral populations from directly adjacent habitats can show strong genetic isolation. To test this, the authors used the ubiquitous ‘birds-nest’ coral (Seriatopora hysterix), sampled across a depth gradient of ~30m across two outer-shelf reefs:

Whilst strong genetic structuring of both coral host and the symbiotic algae was observed across the samples taken across a depth profile (2, 6, 27 m depth), high genetic similarity was observed between reefs. This suggests that high levels of gene flow can exist between populations from the same habitats at geographically more distant locations (~20 km).

Scleractinian coral Seriatopora hysterix (the spikey pink / cream looking coral by the post in the second photograph) at 30m depth on Yonge Reef, GBR.

The results from the host and symbiont genetic profiling are pretty convincing:

Such striking differences between relatively shallow environments (e.g. 2 and 6m) implies adaptation of the entire coral (host plus symbiont) to distinct environmental niches. These strong associations to particular reef environments present a compelling case for ecological speciation in reef corals, in that evolutionary processes are occuring in the absence of physical barriers. In this case, corals become so adapted to a specific environmental niche, that selection drives them to become genetically distinct from neighbouring populations. While speciation is understood to be a critical mechanism for diversification on coral reefs, previously it was assumed that physical geographical barriers that isolated populations  (i.e. allopatric speciation) were the primary driving force of diversification in reef corals.

The study not only highlights the complexity of connectivity in reef building corals, but also points to the importance of conserving different reef habitat types in the design of marine parks. In this instance, corals in neighbouring reef systems 20,000m apart were highly similar, whereas corals in adjacent habitats separated by ~25m in depth showed strong differentiation. Given the projected increases in coral bleaching under future climate change scenarios, conservation of deeper reefs (e.g. 27m depth) is of key importance, as these reefs may act as a vital reproductive source for shallower reef areas to recover following disturbance events.


Bongaerts et al (2010) Genetic Divergence across Habitats in the Widespread Coral Seriatopora hystrix and Its Associated Symbiodinium. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010871

Starck raving Reefgate?

Just when you thought that all the ‘gates’ had rusted off their hinges, another one has blown open!

Welcome to “Reef Gate” as created by diving enthusiast Walter A Starck who has taken issue with GBRMPA scientist, Lawrence McCook, and 20 other leading marine scientists.  Dr. McCook and his colleagues published a scientific review of the impact of marine protected areas within the Great Barrier Reef which shows “major, rapid benefits of no-take areas for targeted fish and sharks, in both reef and non-reef habitats, with potential benefits for fisheries as well as biodiversity conservation.”

As background, Dr Walter Starck has spent a good deal of time diving on the Great Barrier Reef and regularly contributes to the highly compromised Institute of Public Affairs claiming that the Great Barrier Reef is in good shape and that concerns of scientists and reef managers otherwise are sensationalised and overblown.  While he has not published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper for over 30 years, Dr. Starck is a regular contributor to popular magazines including one, the Golden Dolphin,  which he edits and funds himself.

Starck also does not believe in anthropogenic climate change (see under his signature under “Science and Technology Experts Well Qualified in Climate Science” on an open letter UN Secretary General His Excellency Ban Ki Moon BUT DOES BELIEVE in ‘crop circles’ which many enthusiasts of his ilk believe are caused by extraterrestrials.

Walter Starck began the exchange on April 16 by addressing an open letter to Prof Russell Reichelt, Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  In his letter, Starck complained to Prof Reichelt that McCook et al. 2010 had not declared serious conflicts of interest arising from their employment and funding by GBRMPA. He also suggested that McCook et al. paper was slim on evidence and deliberately missed key evidence that would otherwise have told a different story about marine protected areas. Curiously, he did not reveal these other papers and data sets.

Not giving Prof Reichelt much time to reply, Dr Starck wrote two weeks later to Hon Min Peter Garrett to complain about GBRMPA’s failure to deal with the allegations.   This prompted a careful response in the form of a GBRMPA press release and letter of reply from Prof Russell Reichelt.

In his letter, Prof Reichelt carefully addresses each of Dr. Stark’s claims and makes a number of important points which lead to quite different conclusions to those of Dr Starck:

For example, Prof Reichelt points out that the paper by McCook et al has been reviewed and accepted by a prestigious international scientific journal. As with any publication in a leading journal, the McCook et al. paper would have had to go through rigorous and independent review. As part of this process, the paper’s data sources, methodologies and conclusions would have been scrutinized by 2-4 independent and anonymous expert reviewers. Given that GBRMPA had no control over the journal’s quality assurance process (the journal being no less than the Proceedings of the US Academy of Sciences!), the idea that GBRMPA would have been able to influence the paper such that  it would erroneously support GBRMPA’s desired position without the burden of evidence is, simply, far-fetched.

The second major point is that, contrary to Starck’s claims, McCook et al. 2010 did list their sources of support for the study. Among those listed were GBRMPA and the Pew Foundation.   Given that all authors had also clearly indicated their address and association with their employers, it doesn’t look like much of a cover-up! At this point, the claim of ‘serious misconduct’ seems a bit of a stretch at best!

The third major point that Prof Reichelt makes is that McCook et al is actually a review paper not a research report and hence builds on the results, methodologies and conclusions of many other papers (all listed at the back of the paper). That is, the claim by Dr Starck that McCook et al precariously rests on the conclusions of a single figure or data set is at odds with the actual contents of the paper.

In a reply to Prof Reichelt’s letter, Walter Starck tries unsuccessfully to keep the issue alive.   Further unsubstantiated accusations of cherry-picking and of misconduct follow – as well as claims that there was he was being prevented from accessing the data.  Again this is curious given that Dr. Starck makes this claim without having ever asked anyone for access to the data. As far as I understand, no one has any problem with him accessing the data.

Perhaps the greatest irony here is that Dr. Starck is well known for making claims about how great the health of the Great Barrier Reef is without a single shred of scientifically published evidence.  It seems that he has one standard for reef science and another one for the basis of his own conclusions about the Reef and, dare I say it, crop circles.  Perhaps if Dr Starck wishes his concerns to be taken seriously, he should publish his ideas through the peer-reviewed scientific literature rather than proffer unsubstantiated opinions and allegations that do little to further the otherwise careful science that has and is being done to understand and preserve our Great Barrier Reef.

There Once was an Island: Te Henua e Nnoho

Here’s a fascinating documentary of a Pacific Island community in Papua New Guinea facing the reality of sea level rise and climate change:

Takuu atoll is an idyllic home to articulate, educated people who maintain a 1200 year-old culture and language with pride – but all is not well in paradise. Takuu is disintegrating and when two scientists arrive to investigate, the people realise their attempts to preserve the atoll are currently making the situation worse (more here).

The story of bottled water: manufactured demand

The best 8 minutes you’ll spend this week (well, at work anyhow…)

The Story of Bottled Water, released on March 22, 2010 (World Water Day) employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industrys attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.