Australia suffers not only the loss of coral reefs.

Research just in reveals that extreme events from climate change (2011-2017) have damaged 45% of Australia’s coastal habitats, including coral reefs, mangroves, kelp forests and seagrass.  These habitats provide food and shelter for a huge range of marine and estuarine species, including large fish, turtles and dugongs.  Vital for fisheries, these key habitats are also used and much loved by local and international visitors. 

The rate of their loss is extremely worrying, especially given that these changes have essentially occurred during an increase in global temperature of 1°C above the preindustrial era. As we go towards warming of 1.5oC, these serious impacts are more than likely to be amplified.

Extreme weather likely behind worst recorded mangrove dieback in northern Australia (Photo: Norm Duke)

Much of the damage has been driven by unusually long and hot underwater heat waves.  Other changes have been due to knock-on effects.  For example, large amounts of kelp forests have disappeared from the south-east coast of Australia due to the spread of sea urchins and tropical grazing fish species as higher latitudes warm.

The future is of concern.  The authors used ecosystem models to evaluate long-term outcomes from changing extreme events, which are predicted to become more frequent and intense with return times diminishing rapidly.  In the latter case, this means that many ecosystems are failing to recover in time prior to the next extreme event.

Check out the peer-reviewed study here.



IPCC errors: facts and spin

There is a great new must read article at RealClimate outlining and analyzing all those errors in the IPCC AR4 report you keep hearing about.  Check it our here.

Currently, a few errors –and supposed errors– in the last IPCC report (“AR4″) are making the media rounds – together with a lot of distortion and professional spin by parties interested in discrediting climate science.  Time for us to sort the wheat from the chaff: which of these putative errors are real, and which not? And what does it all mean, for the IPCC in particular, and for climate science more broadly?

Let’s start with a few basic facts about the IPCC.  The IPCC is not, as many people seem to think, a large organization. In fact, it has only 10 full-time staff in its secretariat at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, plus a few staff in four technical support units that help the chairs of the three IPCC working groups and the national greenhouse gas inventories group. The actual work of the IPCC is done by unpaid volunteers – thousands of scientists at universities and research institutes around the world who contribute as authors or reviewers to the completion of the IPCC reports. A large fraction of the relevant scientific community is thus involved in the effort…

Read the rest here

Alaskan King salmon fishery collapses


Must be global warming… (just kidding, but it could be).   From todays NYT:


MARSHALL, Alaska — Just a few years ago, king salmon played an outsize role in villages along the Yukon River. Fishing provided meaningful income, fed families throughout the year, and kept alive long-held traditions of Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabascan Indians.

But this year, a total ban on commercial fishing for king salmon on the river in Alaska has strained poor communities and stripped the prized Yukon fish off menus in the lower 48 states. Unprecedented restrictions on subsistence fishing have left freezers and smokehouses half-full and hastened a shift away from a tradition of spending summers at fish camps along the river.

“This year, fishing is not really worth it,” said Aloysius Coffee, a commercial fisherman in Marshall who used to support his family and pay for new boats and snow machines with fishing income.

At a kitchen table cluttered with cigarettes and store-bought food, Mr. Coffee said he fished for the less valuable chum salmon this summer but spent all his earnings on permits and gasoline. “You got to sit there and count your checkbook, how much you’re going to spend each day,” he said.

The cause of the weak runs, which began several years ago, remains unclear. But managers of the small king salmon fishery suspect changes in ocean conditions are mostly to blame, and they warn that it may be years before the salmon return to the Yukon Riverin large numbers.

Salmon are among the most determined of nature’s creatures. Born in fresh water, the fish spend much of their lives in the ocean before fighting their way upriver to spawn and die in the streams of their birth.

While most salmon populations in the lower 48 states have been in trouble for decades, thanks to dam-building and other habitat disruptions, populations in Alaska have generally remained healthy. The state supplies about 40 percent of the world’s wild salmon, and the Marine Stewardship Council has certified Alaska’s salmon fisheries as sustainable. (In the global market, sales of farmed salmon surpassed those of wild salmon in the late 1990s.)

For decades, runs of king, or chinook, salmon — the largest and most valuable of Alaska’s five salmon species — were generally strong and dependable on the Yukon River. But the run crashed in the late 1990s, and the annual migrations upriver have varied widely since then. “You can’t depend on it any more,” said Steve Hayes, who manages the fishery for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Officials with that department and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which jointly manage the fishery, say variations in ocean conditions related to climate change or natural cycles are probably the main cause of the weak salmon runs. Certain runs of chinook salmon in California and Oregon have been weak as well in recent years, with ocean conditions also suspected.

In Alaska, fishermen also blame the Bering Sea pollock fishing fleet, which scoops up tens of thousands of king salmon each year as accidental by-catch. The first hard cap on salmon by-catch is supposed to take effect in 2011, but the cap is not tough enough to satisfy Yukon River fishermen.

The Yukon River fishery accounts for a small fraction of the state’s commercial salmon harvest. But the fish themselves are considered among the best in the world, prized for the extraordinary amount of fat they put on before migrating from the Bering Sea to spawning grounds in Alaska and Canada, a voyage of 2,000 miles in some cases.

Most commercial fishing is done on the Yukon River delta, where mountains disappear and the river branches into fingers on its way to the sea. Eskimos fish with aluminum skiffs and nets from villages inaccessible by road. Beaches serve as depots and gathering places.

Kwik’Pak Fisheries, in Emmonak, population 794, is one of the few industrial facilities in the region. Forklifts cross muddy streets separating storage buildings, processing facilities and a bunkhouse for employees from surrounding villages.

For decades, almost all commercially caught king salmon were sold to buyers in Japan. But in 2004, Kwik’Pak began marketing the fish domestically, and for a few years fish-lovers in the lower 48 could find Yukon River kings at upscale restaurants and stores.

Increasingly bleak future for the Great Barrier Reef?

Screen shot 2009-09-02 at 10.12.30 PM

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released it’s Outlook Report 2009 today (direct link to PDF’s here). The report is a independently peer reviewed assessement of the impacts of climate change, catchment runoff, fishing, coastal development and an array of other impacts on the reef. Alongside the report comes the signing of a new State and Federal Government plan to protect the GBR, tightening regulations for farmers and improving water quality in the GBR lagoon:

“This is about a renewed plan that is underpinned by new and ambitious targets,” Ms Bligh told Parliament today.

“… Through the measures identified in the renewed reef plan we aim by 2013 to halve the runoff of harmful nutrients and pesticides and ensure at least 80 per cent of agricultural enterprises and 50 per cent of grazing enterprises have adopted land management practices that will reduce runoff.”

Ms Bligh said the reef’s resilience had to be built up so it could cope with the effects of climate change, predicted to cause more frequent coral bleaching among other things.

“The poor quality of water running into the reef from catchments has been identified in report after report as a major threat,” she said.

Ms Bligh said two million people visited the coast between Bundaberg and Cairns each year, spending more than $5 million and underpinning 50,000 jobs in the tourism industry alone.

Fisheries contribute a further $290 million annually to the economy, she said.

“We must strike a delicate balance – a balance between making the most of this natural asset and affording it every protection possible,” she said. (Read More)

Profesor Steffens takes Senator Steve Fielding to task for climate ignorance

A few weeks ago we posted about how Australian Senator Fielding attempted to convince the Australian senate that global warming didn’t exist by questioning the link between global warming and CO2 using a few highly questionable graphs and cherry picked science (Fielding the hard questions? Not likely). Along with Bob Carter (who seems to be suffering credibility issues these days), Senator Fielding invited Professor Steffen, the Executive Director of ANU’s Climate Change Institute along to answer a few questions on the relationship of carbon dioxide and global warming. In an intriguing move, Prof Steffan (one of the co-authors of the ‘Climate change poised to feed on itself‘ article) declined the invitation, leaving Fielding to comment:

“I can’t see how any responsible senator could vote on an emission trading scheme without listening to what the world of science has to say on the issue.
The briefing will take place on 12 August, the day after Parliament resumes.

“I also wrote to the government’s climate change expert, Professor Will Steffen, but he declined my invitation to provide senators with a briefing,” Senator Fielding said.

“I’m at a loss as to why Professor Steffen doesn’t want to put forward his position if he believes in it so strongly.

“Given the science is still inconclusive I’m not willing to gamble with thousands of Australian jobs and escalating electricity prices.

Frankly, Senator Fieldings offer of “a scientific briefing on climate change with Professor Bob Carter before they vote on the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme” is laughable. So why exactly did Professor Steffan refuse the invitation? In a nut shell, Prof Steffan rightly believes that amongst the climate science community, there is no debate of the relationship between anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and global warming, and that Senator Fielding and his Heartland Institute colleagues not only do not represent “the other side of the scientific debate”,  but lack scientific credibility entirely. So much for a “Independent Due Diligence Report” – apart from Fielding et al’s deliberate attempts at scientific obfuscation, the science is entirely conclusive.



Climate change deniers are betraying the planet – Paul Krugman


Paul Krugman, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times has written an interesting article likening the members of the US Senate who voted against the Waxman-Markey climate change bill as “a form of treason against the planet

212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

An extreme opinion? Maybe so, but Krugman’s argument is convincing:

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

How people like this get into power in the first place is more than a little disturbing. Krugman’s conclusions could be equally applied to Australian politics, with the recent attempt by Senator Steve Fielding to railroad the Australian climate change bill by concluding that “climate change isn’t real

… the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

A place at the negotiating table?


Fisheries must be included in the ongoing discussions of how the world’s most vulnerable can adapt to climate change. The future consequences for global fisheries are uncertain, but what is certain is that there will be winners and losers, and we can bet the losers will be those who don’t have much already, says a recent policy article published in Nature by Nicholas Dulvy and Edward Allison.

Warmer and more acidic waters could result in decreased fish stocks, altered fish migration routes and loss of important fish spawning grounds. Dulvy and Allison highlight that it is the poorest coastal nations of the world that are most susceptible to climate change effects on aquatic ecosystems. People of these vulnerable countries are highly dependent on fisheries for income and food security, while having limited societal capacity to adapt to the ongoing changes:

African and southeast Asian countries are the most economically vulnerable to climate change impacts on their fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Of the 33 nations identified as being most vulnerable to climate impacts on their fisheries sectors, 19 are among the world’s least developed countries, whose inhabitants are twice as reliant on fish and fisheries for food as those of more developed nations.

The authors plea that aquatic resources, and the people dependent on them, are included in upcoming global climate treaties. More specifically, they offer some policy recommendations. For example, combined targets of emission reductions and sustainable fisheries management could be reached by reducing the overinflated global fishing fleet. Countries doing so could gain carbon credits as this action represents a legitimate mitigation activity. Furthermore, a more flexible and diversified fishing sector, which can adapt to changes in catch composition and stock abundances, should be promoted. Finally, fisheries policies should be integrated into a wider development process. For example, artisinal fishers can be provided with alternative livelihoods that lessen their dependence on fisheries, while the social-ecological resilience of vulnerable fishing communities can be promoted by improving their infrastructure, access to markets and social services.

World Ocean Conference (Part III): Climate change to cause wave of refugees

picture-392ABC Radio,  May 12th 2009: Australian scientists are warning there could be a wave of economic refugees from South-East Asia and the Pacific if climate change is allowed to devastate the Coral Triangle, north of the Australia. Representatives from 70 countries are meeting in Indonesia today to discuss the health of the world’s oceans. Researchers from the University of Queensland will tell them that unchecked global warming could take a terrible toll. From Indonesia in the west to Solomon Islands in the east and the Philippines in the north, this marine environment is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. More than three quarters of the world’s reef-building coral species and a third of the world’s coral reef fish can be found within these waters.


(Photograph ‘Dawn Rip-Wave No.2, Atlantic Ocean’ courtesy of Flickr)

Poseidon Controls the Iron Hypothesis

picture-389An article in press at Global Biogeochemical Cycles has shown that iron fertilisation can actually decrease the amount of carbon sinking to the ocean floor due to complex ecosystem processes.The iron fertilisation hypothesis was originally proposed as a rapid solution to climate change by increasing the photosynthetic uptake of CO2 by phytoplankton otherwise limited by their source of iron. Unfortunately, one of these climate change experiments was eaten by hungry crustaceans (see “Hungry Crustaceans Eat Climate Change Experiment”).

However, in another experiment, the scientists at the University of California at Berkeley continued to monitor the phytoplankton bloom and changes over an annual cycle with “Carbon Explorers”, floats that recorded data down to depths of 800 meters after the iron fertilisation experiment. These floats were placed both near and away from the iron induced phytoplankton blooms. Initially, these researchers discovered evidence in support of the Iron Hypothesis with a phytoplankton bloom leading to movement of carbon particles to at least 100m below the surface and this was reported in Science in April 2004.

Over the longer term the Carbon Explorers observed a different pattern which may be related to complex ecosystem processes that occurred during the following annual cycle. Despite the demise of the phytoplankton bloom the following winter, there was no carbon rain to match. In fact, there was greater particulate carbon falling at the site away from the original iron fertilisation. It turns out that the zooplankton survive the winter at depths below where the phytoplankton live due mixing of the oceans. Storms that cause this mixing create a conveyer belt of phytoplankton to the deeper dwelling zooplankton.

Larvae (zoea) of the spider crab (left) and the mitten crab (right) between 1 and 10 days old.

Larvae (zoea) of the spider crab (left) and the mitten crab (right) between 1 and 10 days old form part of the zooplankton ( 'hungry crustaceans').

If the water is continually mixed to depths with low light, then the phytoplankton do recuperate and the zooplankton eventually starve. At the site away from the iron fertilisation, the ocean mixing was intermittent and the phytoplankton were able to survive at the surface. The following spring, a bloom in phytoplankton fed the hungry zooplankton and led to increased carbon rain.

It seems that creating the right conditions for increasing oceanic carbon capture is in the hands of Poseidon and not something that can be easily predicted.

(Photograph courtesy of Flickr, zoea drawings from New Quay and UCSD)

Australia delays emissions trading, but is still comitted to “saving the Great Barrier Reef”

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has ‘changed tack‘ from his post election promises last year in which he said that ‘failure to act on climate change could be disastrous’, and that delaying emission reductions would be “reckless and irresponsible”. Due to the global recession (and presumably other factors), local emissions trading is now halted untill 2011, and of more intrigue, greenhouse gas cuts have been upped 15% to 25% reductions by 2020. See my colleague John Quiggin‘s blog for excellent discussion of conditional & unconditional targets, and 2020 reduction levels. What is worthy of note is this excerpt from the Prime Ministers speech discussing 450ppm as the target for stabilization:

“…the Government has also listened carefully to international and environmental stakeholders committed to realising the best possible outcome at Copenhagen, which is scheduled for the end of this year, in order to achieve the best and most ambitious outcome necessary to stabilise long term greenhouse gas emissions at 450 parts per million, because applied to Australia’s own circumstances long term, that creates the best economic and environmental dividend to Australia, including as I said importantly before, providing a scientific basis for us having a real prospect of saving the Great Barrier Reef.” (Read more)