Corals can’t handle the heat cold

New Study Shows that Florida’s Reefs Cannot Endure a ‘Cold Snap’

Scientists detail unprecedented loss of coral reef species during 2010 cold weather event

reef

Florida’s coral reefs experienced unprecedented mortality during a severe 2010 cold-water event. Credit: Diego Lirman

Miami — August 26, 2011 — Remember frozen iguanas falling from trees during Florida’s 2010 record-breaking cold snap? Well, a new study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science shows that Florida’s corals also dropped in numbers due to the cold conditions.

“It was a major setback,” said Diego Lirman, associate professor at the UM Rosenstiel School and lead author of the study. “Centuries-old coral colonies were lost in a matter of days.”

The chilly January temperatures caused the most catastrophic loss of corals within the Florida Reef Tract, which spans 160 miles (260 kilometers) from Miami to the Dry Tortugas and is the only living barrier reef in the continental U.S.

Members of the Florida Reef Resilience Program, a group comprised of Florida scientists and resource managers, conducted a month-long survey of 76 reefs sites from Martin County to Key West, both during and shortly after the unusually cold weather.

The research team compared the mortality rates of corals from the cold event to warm-water events, such as the highly publicized bleaching event in 2005, and concluded that the cold-water event cause even more widespread morality than previous warm-water events. The results were published in the August 2011 issue of the journal PLoS One.

The study found coral tissue mortality reached over 40-percent for several important reef-building species and that large colonies in shallow and near-shore reefs were hardest hit. This is in contrast to a less than one-percent tissue mortality caused by warm-water events since 2005. Coral species that had previously proven tolerant to higher-than-normal ocean temperatures were most affected by the cold-water event.

“This was undoubtedly the single worst event on record for Florida corals,” said Lirman.

Ice-cold Arctic air swept into Florida in early January 2010, plummeting air temperatures to an all-time low of 30°F (1°C) and dropping ocean temperatures to a chilly 51°F (11°C).

“The 2010 cold-water anomaly not only caused widespread coral mortality but also reversed prior resistance and resilience patterns that will take decades to recover,” the study’s authors conclude.

Florida’s reefs are located in a marginal environment at the northernmost limit for coral development. Corals have adapted to a specific temperature range and are typically not found in areas where water temperatures drop below 60°F (16°C).

Changes in climate patterns as well as others impacts, such as coastal development, pollution, overfishing and disease have put added stress on coral reefs worldwide. The authors cite the need to improve ecosystem resilience through reef restoration, pollution reduction efforts and the use of management tools, such as marine protected areas, in order for coral reefs to survive future large-scale disturbances.

“We can’t protect corals from such an extreme event but we can mitigate other stresses to help them recover,” said Lirman.

The paper, titled “Severe 2010 Cold-Water Event Caused Unprecedented Mortality to Corals of the Florida Reef Tract and Reversed Previous Survivorship Patterns,” was supported by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, The Nature Conservancy, and the ARRA program.

About the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School
The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of the diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit www.rsmas.miami.edu.

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33 Responses to Corals can’t handle the heat cold

  1. David Wise says:

    “We can’t protect corals from such an extreme event but we can mitigate other stresses to help them recover,”

    If only there were a way that humans could somehow warm up the planet we could save these coral and many more from needless devastation.

  2. And if any one of the researchers expected the cold to be less harmful than warm water needs their biologist title revoked. You have a tropical species living at the extreme of its range because the conditions are already a bit cold. Corals can handle a temperature increase if the algae they have can handle it or get replaced by a species that can, however cold kills everything.

  3. CodeTech says:

    The one typo of “morality” caused by a cold water event is actually appropriate.

    Cold is the enemy. Cold is bad. Corals and ALL living creatures prefer warm to cold. Corals exist where they do because of a lack of cold. Florida is on the extreme edge of the coral zone because it occasionally gets cold. Since I live in a winter climate, I know cold…

    Why is this news to anyone? Why is it that when it comes to “climate science”, every discovery is amazing and new, when most of it has been known for centuries? If I was more cynical, I’d say it’s because people who know nothing are always finding out new things…

  4. G. Karst says:

    Cold and ice are anti-life. Man has retreated from it’s onslaught since our misty and mythical beginnings. Cold has always brought disease and plague. Warmth gives life and health.

    It is only very recently, that Man has reversed natural perceptions. This is a profound anomaly and speaks directly to the current disconnect between Man and Nature (reality).

    It is not just Corals, who will fail to thrive, should significant cooling occur. Warming is a pleasant walk in the park. GK

  5. David, UK says:

    “The 2010 cold-water anomaly not only caused widespread coral mortality but also reversed prior resistance and resilience patterns that will take decades to recover,” the study’s authors conclude.

    Oh, get over it. Nobody died.

  6. DirkH says:

    Climate Change is still killing the corals!
    “Changes in climate patterns as well as others impacts, such as coastal development, pollution, overfishing and disease have put added stress on coral reefs worldwide. ”

    Gotta give a nod to the AGW gods even when one writes about cold killing corals. Completely perverse rituals of not very intelligent scientists.

  7. Jason says:

    Pansy-ass corals should develop a better strategy or they won’t last a million years. What? They are of the oldest organisms on the planet? Well then they better learn how to support multiple species of algae to support wider variety of conditions. They do that now? Just not at the same time? Bingo…

    Why don’t we “help” the corals by replacing the algae they live on? Or having them live on a mix, and whatever thrives under present conditions will thrive. This single-algae scheme is too vulnerable.

  8. Nuke says:

    G. Karst says:
    August 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm
    Cold and ice are anti-life. Man has retreated from it’s onslaught since our misty and mythical beginnings. Cold has always brought disease and plague. Warmth gives life and health.

    It is only very recently, that Man has reversed natural perceptions. This is a profound anomaly and speaks directly to the current disconnect between Man and Nature (reality).

    It is not just Corals, who will fail to thrive, should significant cooling occur. Warming is a pleasant walk in the park. GK

    It’s obvious that AGW is causing the cold. Just do the math. 2 + 2 = 5?

  9. Gary Hladik says:

    Um, this is the way of nature. There’s nothing magical about the pre-cold snap ecosystem, and threre’s no reason to lament the decline of a “politically correct” species. If water conditions remain favorable, the corals will return. If not, a new ecosystem will develop, one that’s no more or less magical than its predecessor. Get over it, folks.

  10. nc says:

    The warmists see the writing on the wall, this we are going to cook thing is unraveling, so they are starting to realign themselves to coldists, send money.

  11. Mac the Knife says:

    “It was a major setback,” said Diego Lirman, associate professor at the UM Rosenstiel School and lead author of the study. “Centuries-old coral colonies were lost in a matter of days.”

    It was neither a ‘major setback’ nor a ‘major opportunity’. It is just nature responding to natural and continually changing weather. Setting the anthropogenic emotionalism aside, it is simply natural selection, expressed as ‘Survival Of The Fittest’. Think of this as Evolution In Action…..

  12. Bruce Cobb says:

    It “must” be “carbon’s” fault. After all, what else could it be? I’m at least 95% sure of it. Or, perhaps it’s aliens, but the liklihood of it being them drops to 65%. The science is very clear on this – just look at the “literature”.

  13. Garry says:

    “Extreme events” will cause extreme results to corals which live on the extreme edges of their survival range.

    And speaking of “extreme weather events,” make sure that any Hurricane Irene AGW alarmists are told of 259 “Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492-1996″ listed at the National Hurricane Center. Not to mention the additional 207 “Cyclones that may have 25+ deaths” also listed there.

    http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastdeadlyapp1.shtml

  14. JeffC says:

    Didn’t Darwin has a theory about this sort of thing ?

  15. Resourceguy says:

    This study probably killed off more AGW grants and dollars than any cold snap. The corals may recover but the biased climate science has been harmed for far longer.

  16. Latitude says:

    For the same reason the orange groves are moving further south….
    ….it’s getting colder you dummies

    “Pristine” coral reefs has been the biggest money makers for these guys for over a decade…….

  17. Steve from Rockwood says:

    “unprecedented”… does that mean it’s worse than we thought?

  18. Luther Wu says:

    It’s still all my fault. And yours. Just ask the faithful at RC- they’ll have the ‘correct” spin on this in no time.

  19. tarpon says:

    The inshore fish died at alarming rates in winter 2010 …

  20. 1DandyTroll says:

    Well, there’s no wonder why the norse dudes thought hell was a cold place and not some so so luke warm place.

  21. TrueNorthist says:

    These corals are obviously faking it. Why can’t they get a job and quit sucking of the fat of the land. Lazy beggars.

    ;)

  22. jono says:

    I do not have to go further than my collection of old National Geograpics to pull up the report on our seas, death of corals corelates to periods of sea cooling. Wow, its amazing what we have learnt since the late 70`s, I must learn to stop reading,

  23. Don K says:

    Random comments.

    1. A perfectly reasonable study. Something sets the poleward limits on shallow water tropical reef corals. We’ve made a step toward confirming that it is cold water temperatures that sets the limit.

    2. Presumably one of the signs of global warming would be shallow water coral reefs expanding poleward. Probably not happening. We’d surely notice and Joe Romm would be explaining how that means we are all gonna die.

    3. There are several thousand genera of corals. Not all are warm water, reef formers, or shallow water. There are, for example, extensive deep water coral reefs off the coast of Ireland

    4. Corals are not the oldest multicellular lifeform, but they’ve been around a long time. Sponges and colonial protozoa almost certainly predate corals. IIRC, the oldest “known” corals are Lower Cambrian — a bit more than 500,000.000 years old. But it’s sometimes hard to recognize what phylum fossils of critters from that era belong to. By the Middle Ordovician, creatures that anybody can recognize as a coral were forming reefs.

    5. The idea that ocean acidification is going to kill off corals is surely blatant nonsense. Corals didn’t make it through half a billion years by going belly up at the first environmental problem. Acidification might kill of a few genera, but even that strikes me as having a higher climate-crap quotient than science really should have.

  24. Chuck Nolan says:

    Sounds to me like some GM scientist needs to get cracking and develop a strain of coral able to withstand colder climates.
    That should fix it. Then we could grow coral anywhere.

  25. dp says:

    This is just nutz. Coral, like many things – trees, for example, has a happy range of environment within which it content and thriving. Outside that, no. It can’t make it. Other corals will move in and take over. It is nature’s way.

    I love that I have several thriving coffee trees here in the Seattle area, but I have to provide certain creature comforts they cannot provide for them selves. Unlike the famous ambulatory asters that move up and down the mountain slopes seeking that perfect environment mankind is hell bent to deprive them, my coffee trees need to come indoors if the nights are too cool, and they winter over in my living room. Even there nature is harsh as I have cats that seem to like the soil in the coffee tree pots and so I have to place slotted sheets of foam core art board over the dirt to keep the cats out. It isn’t easy being green (tm, Kermit).

  26. John H says:

    There’s more to Goldilocks than Porriage !!!!

  27. pat says:

    Doh. This has been obvious to oceanographers in Hawaii for about 70 years. However in the last 10 years we have been invaded by flat landers who have infinite scientific proof that raising temperatures, to that of say, 1930, will devastate all life in the ocean. This idiocy promulgates government and because no one has the clout, financial or political, to call them on it, permeates the literature and lectures. You may literally lose your job and pension by pointing out the falsity.

  28. John Marshall says:

    At last some truth about coral.

    Alarmists have claimed for years that corals will die out with rising sea levels and rising temperatures when these are the things that corals love.

    One thing about corals is that their spores are ocean wide so a dead area soon recovers.

  29. Richard S Courtney says:

    Friends:

    The study finds that cold kills corals.

    OK, but corals existed before the last Ice Age. Clearly, they were all killed. Either corals evolved in the last 10,000 years (Oh! Some coral reefs are older than that!) or they adapt to cold.

    [sarc on] Living things adapt to environmental change? Surely not. [sarc off]

    Warm or cold the corals will survive but their types and abundances will vary. No rational person can doubt this.

    Richard

  30. Robw says:

    I am a bit confused. We all ” know ” AGW causes it to get warmer, colder, wetter, drier, snowier, less snow, more ice, less ice, black and white, up and down, right and left. So why are people surprised that AGW induced cooling is killing the coral?

  31. Latitude says:

    Flat landers do not realize how big the ocean really is……
    …..and that most of what they call “corals” are weeds

  32. john gault says:

    I’m not saying this in the context of global warming; it’s simply my experience here in florida.

    I have had a hibiscus for a few years now and it got to a height of about 6ft. Until the winter of 2008/2009 it got very cold here and killed the bush. Grew back in the spring only to die back again in the winter — again very cold. And again it died last winter. Now it’s about 18-24″ and just started flowering, but I expect it to die again this winter if it gets so cold.

    We use to have very mild winters here and that’s why my hibiscus could grow through the winter (or at least not wither away) and attained good height, but now since it dies every winter it’s only able to grow to about 2 feet and then is killed by the cold winter.

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