Posted by: carlsafina | Wednesday, July 29 09

An end to coral? The cost of losing it all.

Some people say conservation and energy policy are “no fun.” Look at the below and ask how much fun is the lack of conservation and the inadequacy of world energy policy. No fun? We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“… The latest research indicates substantial risk to calcifying organisms at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 450 parts per million (p.p.m.), with all coral reefs halting their growth and beginning to dissolve at concentrations of 550 p.p.m. (ref. 12). The best Halfway to Copenhagen [currently planned international] emissions pathway would result in CO2 concentrations above this level shortly after 2050.

Unless there is a major improvement in national commitments to reducing greenhouse gases, we see virtually no chance of staying below 2 or 1.5 °C. Coral reefs, in addition, seem to have certainly no chance if the work of Jacob Silverman and colleagues [below] is correct.”


Silverman, J., Lazar, B., Cao, L., Caldeira, K. & Erez, J. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L05606 (2009).

“Calcification rates in stony corals are expected to decline significantly in the near future due to ocean acidification. In this study we provide a global estimate of the decline in calcification of coral reefs as a result of increase in sea surface temperature and partial pressure of CO2. This estimate, unlike previously reported estimates, is based on an empirical rate law developed from field observations for gross community calcification as a function of aragonite degree of saturation (Ωarag), sea surface temperature and live coral cover. Calcification rates were calculated for more than 9,000 reef locations using model values of Ωarag and sea surface temperature at different levels of atmospheric CO2. The maps we produced show that by the time atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 will reach 560 ppm all coral reefs will cease to grow and start to dissolve.”

AND the collapse of Caribbean reef structure:

“Recent rapid declines in hard coral cover have occurred across the Caribbean region. We provide, to our knowledge, the first region-wide analysis of changes in reef architectural complexity, using nearly 500 surveys across 200 reefs, between 1969 and 2008. The architectural complexity of Caribbean reefs has declined nonlinearly with the near disappearance of the most complex reefs over the last 40 years. …The widespread loss of architectural complexity is likely to have serious consequences for reef biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and associated environmental services.”

I still know “educated” people who don’t think there’s a problem, or think fixing this would be too expensive. They never seem to ask the cost of losing it all. —C



  1. The cited research article seems to conclude that all coral reefs on Earth will be dissolving when the CO2 concentration in the air reaches 560 ppm. How are we to reconcile this with the findings of geologists that millions of years ago, the CO2 concentration in the air was ten to twenty timed the current concentration of approximately 385 ppm. Were there no corals long ago?

    • According to coral experts i’ve discussed this very question with, there were no hard corals for a long stretch of time under those conditions.

      • Well Carl,
        I agree fully and am sad that humanity will eventually succumb to the vengenance of mother nature when father greed runs out of options after having consumed everything in site and made for a toxic planet.

        Even if population growth is reversed and CO2 growth is abated, there is enough concentration of pollutants that the planet’s ice would continue to melt, and then what.

    • From 4.5 billion years ago to now our planet keeps on changing with different occupants over geologic times. We are living but in a second of time using a 24-hour metaphor for our planet and I expect man will not see another thousand years, but some insects might.

  2. Even if the world body were successful to mitigate CO2 emissions, it’s too late as the glacriers will continue to melt, toxins continue to be discharged into the oceans and waterheds, and until there is a crisis, very little will take place to change climate change and later will be too late anyway.

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