Tuesday, February 07, 2012

UNSUSTAINABLE GROWTH

"I'm sure there was some hyperbole in what I said to draw attention to the issue"
-Ted Danson

Pity the poor coral reef. Made up of millions of little creatures who die and leave behind a structure for others to grow and live on, these objects can get so massive they can create entire islands which slowly erode away. Reefs are often the topic of any environmental discussion of the ocean, and global warming has been blamed for causing damage to these structures. For example, we have this story from Brad Lendon at CNN:
Coral reefs are dying around the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia at rates that may be the worst ever recorded, scientists said this week.

Death rates as high as 80 percent have been recorded for some species, according to the study performed by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.


“It is certainly the worst coral die-off we have seen since 1998. It may prove to be the worst such event known to science,” said Andrew Baird, a principal research fellow for James Cook University in Australia.
...
Baird blamed “human-induced global warming” for the decline of the corals and said action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions that help retain heat in the atmosphere.

“This is not just about warmer temperatures: it is also threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions of people and potentially the stability of our region,” Baird said in a statement.
Of course its global warming. And this isn't an isolated story, the "high acidity in our oceans" line has been used a lot warning about reefs and the doom of the seas.

But then we get a story like this from Jo Prendergast at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
New research has found some coral reefs in the Indian Ocean are growing at an unsustainable rate due to warming water temperatures.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science says the most southerly reefs on the West Australian coast, have increased their growth rates by up to 23 per cent.
So, wait... the warming is causing more coral to grow? And get this, the scientist says... the growth is unsustainable. As in, its going to grow too much and stop! But, then, if its growing too much and it stops, that's good, right? I mean, doesn't "too much" mean its more than it ought to be, and needs to stop?

And what caught my attention here is that both articles talked about warm water currents and "bleaching" which basically is when chemicals and creatures grow in the warmer water to the point that it becomes unhealthy for the coral, and it dies off. Which, as the AIMS scientist notes in the second article is cyclical and predictable. That's part of how it works.

Which shouldn't surprise anyone. Cycles like this in the natural world are visible everywhere, from seasons to overpopulation followed by death and disease. Something grows a lot, then dies off, then grows a lot... its not shocking, after all you can't get an island of coral without a lot of growth, followed by it dying off, forming the foundation for the atoll.

What bothers me here is the need to inject global warming politics into the situation. What we're seeing here is not unusual or terrifying. We're just looking at it more closely than ever and spotting things we hadn't before.

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