Jules Verne sent his fictional submarine, the Nautilus, to the South Pole through a hidden ocean beneath a thick ice cap.
Ice shelves, massive floating bodies of ice, are well-known for their buffering effect on land-based ice sheets as they slow their flow towards the sea.
Earth had several periods of high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and high temperatures over the last several million years.
Humans are amazing creatures, in that they have show they can live in almost any climate.
The Australian summer just gone will be remembered as the moment when human-caused climate change struck hard. First came drought, then deadly bushfires, and now a bout of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef – the third in just five years. Tragically, the 2020 bleaching is severe and the most widespread we have ever recorded.
Coral bleaching at regional scales is caused by spikes in sea temperatures during unusually hot summers. The first recorded mass bleaching event along Great Barrier Reef occurred in 1998, then the hottest year on record.
Since then we’ve seen four more mass bleaching events – and more temperature records broken – in 2002, 2016, 2017, and again in 2020.
This year, February had the highest monthly sea surface temperatures ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef since the Bureau of Meteorology’s records began in 1900.
Not a pretty picture
We surveyed 1,036 reefs from the air during the last two weeks in March, to measure the extent and severity of coral bleaching throughout the Great Barrier Reef region. Two observers, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, scored each reef visually, repeating the same procedures developed during early bleaching events.
The accuracy of the aerial scores is verified by underwater surveys on reefs that are lightly and heavily bleached. While underwater, we also measure how bleaching changes between shallow and deeper reefs.
Of the reefs we surveyed from the air, 39.8% had little or no bleaching (the green reefs in the map). However, 25.1% of reefs were severely affected (red reefs) – that is, on each reef more than 60% of corals were bleached. A further 35% had more modest levels of bleaching.
Bleaching isn’t necessarily fatal for coral, and it affects some species more than others. A pale or lightly bleached coral typically regains its colour within a few weeks or months and survives.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
But when bleaching is severe, many corals die. In 2016, half of the shallow water corals died on the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef between March and November. Later this year, we’ll go underwater to assess the losses of corals during this most recent event.
Compared to the four previous bleaching events, there are fewer unbleached or lightly bleached reefs in 2020 than in 1998, 2002 and 2017, but more than in 2016. Similarly, the proportion of severely bleached reefs in 2020 is exceeded only by 2016. By both of these metrics, 2020 is the second-worst mass bleaching event of the five experienced by the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.
The unbleached and lightly bleached (green) reefs in 2020 are predominantly offshore, mostly close to the edge of the continental shelf in the northern and southern Great Barrier Reef. However, offshore reefs in the central region were severely bleached again. Coastal reefs are also badly bleached at almost all locations, stretching from the Torres Strait in the north to the southern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
For the first time, severe bleaching has struck all three regions of the Great Barrier Reef – the northern, central and now large parts of the southern sectors. The north was the worst affected region in 2016, followed by the centre in 2017.
In 2020, the cumulative footprint of bleaching has expanded further, to include the south. The distinctive footprint of each bleaching event closely matches the location of hotter and cooler conditions in different years.
Of the five mass bleaching events we’ve seen so far, only 1998 and 2016 occurred during an El Niño – a weather pattern that spurs warmer air temperatures in Australia.
But as summers grow hotter under climate change, we no longer need an El Niño to trigger mass bleaching at the scale of the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve already seen the first example of back-to-back bleaching, in the consecutive summers of 2016 and 2017. The gap between recurrent bleaching events is shrinking, hindering a full recovery.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
After five bleaching events, the number of reefs that have escaped severe bleaching continues to dwindle. Those reefs are located offshore, in the far north and in remote parts of the south.
The Great Barrier Reef will continue to lose corals from heat stress, until global emissions of greenhouse gasses are reduced to net zero, and sea temperatures stabilise. Without urgent action to achieve this outcome, it’s clear our coral reefs will not survive business-as-usual emissions.
About The Author
Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University and Morgan Pratchett, Professor, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
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Climate change is an interdisciplinary subject that both school children and adults think is important. And as we deal with the current crisis – which is also having its own effects on the environment – there is perhaps no better time to think about how to avoid the next, potentially even greater one.
The World Meteorological Organisation today published a definitive climate report card showing concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise, and the last five years were the warmest on record.
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After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential solutions to this global threat.
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Much like ExxonMobil, Shell lobbied against climate legislation and invested billions in fossil fuels despite knowing dangers of global warming
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NASA and NOAA jointly reported that 2016 was the warmest year on record. That’s no surprise, as the first six months of the year were all exceptionally warm.
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You probably don’t think clams are the most exciting animals on the planet. But anyone who dismisses these marine bivalve molluscs surely cannot be aware of just how important they actually are. Without knowing it, they have taught us so much about the world we live in – and how it used to be.
2016 is set to be the world’s hottest year on record. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s preliminary statement on the global climate for 2016
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NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (and several other institutions) reported April 2016 to be the warmest April on record for the planet. All of the previous twelve months now hold the “Warmest [INSERT MONTH HERE] on Record” title. That’s twelve months in a row, and that’s never happened.
2016 continues to be a momentous year for Australia’s climate, on track to be the new hottest year on record.
Senior military figures in the US warn of national and international security threats posed by the impacts of climate change.
New research confirms that increased greenhouse gas levels − rather than solar radiation impacts − are the key factor in global climate change.
Claims that the “the science isn’t settled” with regard to climate change are symptomatic of a large body of ignorance about how science works.
In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, no one would have thought that their burning of fossil fuels would have an almost immediate effect on the climate.
The perennial question of how clouds affect the Earth’s climate takes another twist, with one study expecting cooling and another the opposite.
With the help of satellite data, scientists have shown that low-level cloud cover in the tropics thins out as Earth warms. Because this cloud cover has a cooling effect on the climate, the two-degree warming target set by the Paris Agreement may arrive sooner than predicted.
The United Nations climate change conference held last year in Paris had the aim of tackling future climate change. After the deadlocks and weak measures that arose at previous meetings, such as Copenhagen in 2009, the Paris summit was different.
The State of the Climate in 2015 report, led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was released. Unfortunately, it paints a grim picture of the world’s climate last year.
After warming for nearly 50 years the Antarctic peninsula has begun cooling, though probably not for long, UK scientists say.
The dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the Little Ice Age wasn’t caused by New World pioneers cutting a swathe through native American agriculture, as had been previously thought.
New mapping of one of the most remote areas in Antarctica has revealed regions deep within Earth’s largest ice sheet that are particularly prone to rapid melting.
Experts say the results of a study of ancient zooplankton fossils offer a warning about mass extinction events: There’s a tipping point, at which dramatic declines in populations begin.
Think of an Australian landscape and you’re unlikely to picture snow-capped mountains or alpine meadows. But that’s what you’ll find atop the peaks of the country’s southeastern corner.
Reconstruction of climate events long before the Ice Ages shows that failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could eventually lead to temperatures rising by up to 10 degrees.
The fossil fuel industry has spent many millions of dollars on confusing the public about climate change. But the role of vested interests in climate science denial is only half the picture.
Following record-high temperatures and melting records that affected northwest Greenland in summer 2015, a new study offers the first evidence linking melting in Greenland to the anticipated effects of a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.
We’re not even halfway through the year but already you may have heard talk of 2016 being the hottest on record. But how can scientists be so sure we’re going to beat the previous record, set just last year?
New research illustrates that reactions of people, plants and animals to the changing climate are a key factor in unravelling the complexities of global warming.
Antarctica is already feeling the heat of climate change, with rapid melting and retreat of glaciers over recent decades. Ice mass loss from Antarctica and Greenland contributes about 20% to the current rate of global sea level rise.
Global temperatures for February showed a disturbing and unprecedented upward spike. It was 1.35℃ warmer than the average February during the usual baseline period of 1951-1980, according to NASA data.
Much has been written about the challenge of achieving the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement, which calls for global warming to be held well below 2℃ and ideally within 1.5℃ of pre-industrial temperatures.
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Antarctica and Greenland may be two of the most remote places on Earth but what happens in both these vast landscapes can significantly impact on human activity further afield.
It’s official: 2015 was the warmest year on record. But those global temperature records only date back to 1850 and become increasingly uncertain the further back you go
As recently as 6,000 years ago the Sahara was green and fertile. We’ve found evidence of large rivers crossing the region, lined by flourishing settlements. Then suddenly things changed. Trees died and the land dried up. Soil blew away or turned into sand and those rivers were no more. In just a few centuries, the Sahara was transformed from a region similar to modern South Africa into the desert we know today.
The Paris climate conference will set nations against each other, and kick off huge arguments over economic policies, green regulations and even personal lifestyle choices. But one thing isn’t up for debate: the evidence for climate change is unequivocal.
The idea that global warming has “stopped” is a contrarian talking point that dates back to at least 2006. This framing was first created on blogs, then picked up by segments of the media – and it ultimately found entry into the scientific literature itself.
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Wouldn’t it be great if scientists could make their minds up? One minute they’re telling us our planet is warming up due to human activity and we run the risk of potentially devastating environmental change.
National and international studies have shown that the Earth is warming, and with this warming, other changes are occurring, such as an increasing incidence of heat waves, heavy downpours and rising sea levels.
What will the weather be like next week, next season, or by the end of the century? In the absence of a second Earth to use in an experiment, global weather and climate model simulations are the only tools we have to answer these questions.
Antarctica’s glaciers have been making headlines during the past year, and not in a good way. Whether it’s a massive ice shelf facing imminent risk of collapse, glaciers in the West Antarctic past the point of no return, or new threats to East Antarctic ice, it’s all been rather gloomy.
People living across the US have lived through some odd weather in the past year. It’s been unusually warm and dry in the western US, while the East had a very cold and snowy winter. Meanwhile, scientists have been seeing Pacific marine species in places they’re not normally found and a huge spike in hungry, stranded sea lion pups on California shores.
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At first glance, asking whether global warming results in more snow may seem like a silly question because obviously, if it gets warm enough, there is no snow. Consequently, deniers of climate change have used recent snow dumps to cast doubt on a warming climate from human influences. Yet they could not be more wrong.
When you ask yourself what the biggest unanswered scientific questions are, “how did sea levels change over the past 100 years?” is unlikely to appear at the top of your list. After all, haven’t we already figured that out? It turns out that obtaining a complete picture of how our oceans have been changing is not a simple task, yet is vital for making future projections.
The most detailed study yet of the Greenland ice sheet illustrates the complex process that is causing billions of tonnes to melt ever year.
2014 has been confirmed as Australia’s third-hottest year, capping off a record-breaking decade, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement, released today.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has announced that 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record-keeping — by far. NOAA is expected to make a similar call in a couple of weeks and so is NASA.
In the wake of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, it can be difficult to imagine a place where law enforcement and a racially diverse population work together productively in the United States.
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The exotic lionfish, already a long way from the reefs of its Indo-Pacific home, is heading further north up the US coast as global warming causes big changes to ocean habitats.
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It’s being billed as “the biggest story of our time.” This weekend viewers of Showtime, the US cable channel, will be watching the first of an nine-part documentary series on climate change: some of the biggest names in Hollywood are involved.
If wealth and income weren’t already so concentrated in the hands of a few, the shameful “McCutcheon” decision by the five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court wouldn’t be as dangerous. But by taking “Citizen’s United” one step further and effectively eviscerating campaign finance laws, the Court has issued an invitation to oligarchy.