Kiribati – a global warming refuge?

From an NSF press release, comes this strange new term, look for real estate prices to soar and airports to be built there soon. Oh, wait, that’s Tuvalu/Maldives, which global warming is supposed to inundate with sea level rise. Never mind. But then there’s this:

In September 2011, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a joint statement [emphasis mine]:-

[they]….. today stressed that climate change posed the most serious threat to the livelihoods, security and survival of the island nation’s residents and the inhabitants of the wider Pacific region, saying the phenomenon was undermining efforts to achieve sustainable development.

This NSF press release is going to put a crimp on the handout industry, me thinks.

Global Warming Refuge Discovered Near At-Risk Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati

Ocean currents may mitigate warming near handful of equatorial islands

Kiribati, and the 33 coral atolls that make up this nation, straddle Map showing Kiribati and the 33 coral atolls that make up this nation near the equator in the Pacific. Credit: NOAA

Scientists predict ocean temperatures will rise in the equatorial Pacific by the end of the century, wreaking havoc on coral reef ecosystems.

But a new study shows that climate change could cause ocean currents to operate in a way that mitigates warming near a handful of islands right on the equator.

Those islands include some of the 33 coral atolls that form the nation of Kiribati. This low-lying country is at risk from sea-level rise caused by global warming.

Surprisingly, these Pacific islands within two degrees north and south of the equator may become isolated climate change refuges for corals and fish.

“The finding that there may be refuges in the tropics where local circulation features buffer the trend of rising sea surface temperature has important implications for the survival of coral reef systems,” said David Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.

Here’s how it could happen, according to the study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists Kristopher Karnauskas and Anne Cohen, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

At the equator, trade winds push a surface current from east to west.

About 100 to 200 meters below, a swift countercurrent develops, flowing in the opposite direction.

This, the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), is cooler and rich in nutrients. When it hits an island, like a rock in a river, water is deflected upward on an island’s western flank.

This upwelling process brings cooler water and nutrients to the sunlit surface, creating localized areas where tiny marine plants and corals flourish.

On color-enhanced satellite maps showing measurements of global ocean chlorophyll levels, these productive patches of ocean stand out as bright green or red spots–for example, around the Galapagos Islands in the Eastern Pacific.

But as you gaze west, chlorophyll levels fade like a comet tail, giving scientists little reason to look closely at scattered low-lying coral atolls in that direction.

These islands are easy to overlook because they are tiny, remote, and lie at the far left edge of standard global satellite maps that place continents in the center.

Karnauskas, a climate scientist, was working with coral scientist Cohen to explore how climate change would affect central equatorial Pacific reefs.

When he changed the map view on his screen in order to view the entire tropical Pacific at once, he saw that chlorophyll concentrations jumped up again exactly at the Gilbert Islands on the equator.

Satellite maps also showed cooler sea surface temperatures on the west sides of these islands, part of Kiribati.

“I’ve been studying the tropical Pacific Ocean for most of my career, and I had never noticed that,” he said. “It jumped out at me immediately, and I thought, ‘there’s probably a story there.'”

So Karnauskas and Cohen began to investigate how the EUC would affect the equatorial islands’ reef ecosystems, starting with global climate models that simulate effects in a warming world.

Global-scale climate models predict that ocean temperatures will rise nearly 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the central tropical Pacific.

Warmer waters often cause corals to bleach, a process in which they lose the tiny symbiotic algae that live in them and provide vital nutrition.

Photo of a coral reef near the island nation of Kiribati.

Coral reefs near the island nation of Kiribati may be somewhat protected from global warming. Credit: NOAA

Bleaching has been a major cause of coral mortality and loss of coral reef area during the last 30 years.

Even the best global models, with their planet-scale views and lower resolution, cannot predict conditions in areas as small as these small islands, Karnauskas said.

So the scientists combined global models with a fine-scale regional model to focus on much smaller areas around minuscule islands scattered along the equator.

To accommodate the trillions of calculations needed for such small-area resolution, they used the new high-performance computer cluster at WHOI called “Scylla.”

“Global models predict significant temperature increases in the central tropical Pacific over the next few decades, but in truth conditions can be highly variable across and around a coral reef island,” Cohen said.

“To predict what the coral reef will experience in global climate change, we have to use high-resolution models, not global models.”

The model predicts that as air temperatures rise and equatorial trade winds weaken, the Pacific surface current will also weaken by 15 percent by the end of the century.

The then-weaker surface current will impose less friction and drag on the EUC, so this deeper current will strengthen by 14 percent.

“Our model suggests that the amount of upwelling will actually increase by about 50 percent around these islands and reduce the rate of warming waters around them by about 0.7 C (1.25 F) per century,” Karnauskas said.

A handful of coral atolls on the equator, some as small as 4 square kilometers (1.54 square miles) in area, may not seem like much.

But Karnauskas’ and Cohen’s results say that waters on the western sides of the islands will warm more slowly than at islands 2 degrees, or 138 miles, north and south of the equator that are not in the path of the EUC.

That gives the Gilbert Islands a significant advantage over neighboring reef systems.

“While the mitigating effect of a strengthened Equatorial Undercurrent will not spare corals the perhaps-inevitable warming expected for this region, the warming rate will be slower around these equatorial islands,” Karnauskas said.

“This may allow corals and their symbiotic algae a better chance to adapt and survive.”

If the model holds true, even if neighboring reefs are hard-hit, equatorial island coral reefs may survive to produce larvae of corals and other reef species.

Like a seed bank for the future, they might be a source of new corals and other species that could re-colonize damaged reefs.

“The globe is warming, but there are things going on underfoot that will slow that warming for certain parts of certain coral reef islands,” said Cohen.

“These little islands in the middle of the ocean can counteract global trends and have a big effect on their own future,” Karnauskas said, “which I think is a beautiful concept.”

-NSF-

About these ads

37 thoughts on “Kiribati – a global warming refuge?

  1. To me this reeks of CYA. as the models are not working, so we make up an excuse….

  2. Here’s how it could happen, according to the study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists Kristopher Karnauskas and Anne Cohen, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    So Karnauskas and Cohen began to investigate how the EUC would affect the equatorial islands’ reef ecosystems, starting with global climate models that simulate effects in a warming world.

    For a moment I thought this was real science. :P

  3. Water in a river flows around the rocks in the river. If there are broad shallows before the islands the cold water would tend to be diverted earlier. It also depends on the comparative volumes of the “floating” warm water flowing on top – wouldn’t it tend to “pile up” on top of the cold water due to friction. Besides, the local currents and temperatures don’t control global sea levels. The sea-level even in the Antarctic would rise if it rises elsewhere. How does this make it better for the elevation of the Kiribati compared to the others.

    “But a new study shows that climate change could cause ocean currents to operate in a way that mitigates warming near a handful of islands right on the equator.”

    The bulk of skeptical science published since Climategate has been chipping away at favorite AGW poster items (Polar Bears are over-running the arctic; Emperor Penguins have been hiding from all the AGW expeditions to Antarctica) and I now see a counter AGW flurry of papers fighting a rearguard action. Gee Tuvalu isn’t going under as we had hoped, so lets give a rationale for global warming to cool off the parts of the ocean (that have been found to be cooling off). We have already had “global warming makes things colder with more snow and ice” and now global warming is going to result in “Dalmatian” spots of cooler temps and lower sea levels scattered around the globe.

  4. It’s difficult to not be a conspiracy theorist when one sees all the obsfucation, “official” government research and convenient lies that are being hashed out to support a graceful exit from association with any predictions of the catastrophic effects of global warming by the pedastalled alarmists.

  5. More GIGO from models programmed to provide the desired result. I’m glad the National Scientology Foundation decided to waste time and money on such important work.
    Do I really need a /sarc tag???

  6. YEEEAGGGGGGGGGGGGGH!!!! OK, now that I’ve blown a gasket, this release is so full of weasel wording as to be meaningless. Yes. Meaningless. What utter and complete BS. And spoken with a straight face. They haven’t a clue how stupoid this looks to the average reader. Yes, ‘stupoid’. It was a typo, but then upon consideration, it was left in place. To other scientists, however, this writing looks like a grade 5 student’s science project. Meme-spouting, insert-appropriate-disaster-scenario-in-the-blanks type stuff. Oh man, I’m glad I’m getting old.

  7. “At the equator, trade winds push a surface current from east to west. About 100 to 200 meters below, a swift countercurrent develops, flowing in the opposite direction.”

    Um – if the trade wind current slows down, what makes the ‘countercurrent’ speed up?

  8. So it sounds as if they have discovered that negative feedback will stabilize the system.

    What’s new?

  9. But a new study shows that climate change could cause _________________________.
    How swell.
    With all of academia & climate researchers playing pin the [observation] tail on the [study] donkey
    an endless stream of [monitoring] discovery is possible.

    And regardless of how baseless the claim is, the act of writing it up in a report pays.
    So why not?

    As for this?
    “This upwelling process brings cooler water and nutrients to the sunlit surface, creating localized areas where tiny marine plants and corals flourish.”

    That is exactly the kind of cyclical process that is happening off the Oregon coast where record harvests of dungenus crabs are occurring in Lubchenco’s fabricated AGW Ocean Dead Zones which Jane falsely claimed were bigger, lasting longer, happening every year and reached a tipping point.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-deadzone15feb15,0,3979313.story

    “We seem to have crossed a tipping point,” Lubchenco said. “Low-oxygen zones off the Northwest coast appear to be the new normal.”
    Although scientists continue to amass data and tease out the details, all signs in the search for a cause point to stronger winds associated with a warming planet.
    If this theory holds up, it means that global warming and the build-up of heat-trapping gases are bringing about oceanic changes beyond those previously documented: a rise in sea level, more acidic ocean water and the bleaching of coral reefs.”

    “All signs”? No, all concoctions.

  10. I see those lovely little words appearing yet again! Simulate/simulation:Feign, pretend to have or feel, wear the guise of or act the part, counterfeit, having the appearance of, mere pretence, shadowy likeness of, unreal thing. Pocket Oxford English Dicionary, 1925! Never fails. ;-))

  11. “You know those islands we said were going to sink because of Global Warming but unfortunately never sank? Well we have a model explaining why they didn’t sink. But the model also predicts they definetely, 100% positively without a doubt, will sink in the near future if we don’t cut down our C02 emissions. And the models are never wrong.”

  12. Even the best global models, with their planet-scale views and lower resolution, cannot predict conditions in areas as small as these small islands, Karnauskas said.

    So the scientists combined global models with a fine-scale regional model to focus on much smaller areas around minuscule islands scattered along the equator.

    So it’s models all the way down? Not one thing was said about validating the models. The mention of satellite maps gave me hope…only to be disappointed. ::sigh::

  13. “Entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” –Noel Brown (1989), ex Director of the UN Environment Program [it’s now 2012]

  14. Urmm.. Wasn’t it discovered that heat wasn’t the cause of coral bleaching…. but scientists transferring a herpes virus from infected corals to uninfected corals? Virtually indistiguishable in transmission from the chitrid infection of amphibians?

  15. The article reads, “‘Global models predict significant temperature increases in the central tropical Pacific over the next few decades, but in truth conditions can be highly variable across and around a coral reef island,’ Cohen said.”

    Why do they present climate models as credible tools? Climate models show the central equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature anomalies should have warmed over the past 30 years, but they’ve actually cooled.

  16. Perhaps without realizing it the authors coined the Climate Science motto: “Global models predict significant temperature increases…, but in truth conditions can be highly variable…”

    Is it just me, or does it seem every paper dealing with climate models contains some variation of this weasel wording?

  17. I’ve been under the impression that both cold and warm can cause coral bleaching. Further, this bleaching does not necessarily result in the death of the coral. Over time symbiotic species of algae that are more tolerant of the ambient temperature take up residence. Coral can even change color as a result. As far as I know, coral bleaching is an entirely natural process that’s been going on for millions of years.

  18. OK, got it.
    The world is warming, the ocean levels will rise, but the reason we have not noticed it yet in the documented most vulnerable areas is because it won’t warm in those particular areas.

    Gee, they have an excuse or a model for every occasion.

  19. “Even the best global models, with their planet-scale views and lower resolution, cannot predict conditions in areas as small as these small islands, Karnauskas said.”

    Small wonder, eh, when the fact is that “even the best global models” still haven’t succeeded in getting anything right yet anywhere?

  20. Let me translate this: “We don’t know squat. And the thing we know least of all is how little we really know.”

    More variables in this system than the economy–and they can’t begin to get that one right.

    I had a lovely flight last night from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. Under the faint light of night, I can say I know one thing about the Arctic/subarctic right now: It looks d_mned cold. I was quite thankful for the climate change inside that fuselage, esp compared to the -76 degrees F at 39,000 feet.

  21. Well a more likely threat to that soon to be inundated aquarium nation is that American anglers, will stop going there to fish the bonefish flats.

  22. “”””” Eric Simpson says:

    May 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

    “Entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” –Noel Brown (1989), ex Director of the UN Environment Program [it’s now 2012] “””””

    Well in the spirit of “Pluto is no longer a planet”, perhaps it is time to suggest that these are not really “entire” nations. Seems that something is missing; like sustainability.

  23. On the bright side, this article is evidence that the “sinking island” meme is dead. It has been variously applied to the Maldives, and island off Alaska, Kiribati. I think there was an actual sinking island near Rabaul, which was used as “proof” of rising oceans, rather than obvious geological issues. All these memes are meant to get around the uncooperative warmth meters.

  24. This article achieves a new World Class level of stupidity. It reads like an amateur attempt at a graceful exit from association with the failure of their predictions of the catastrophic effects of global warming on sea level rises.

  25. The Earth was as much as 10 to 12C warmer during the Eocene and the temperatures more erratic (note the warming was mostly in the winter – think Willis’ thunderstorm thermostat hypothesis: How clouds and thunderstorms control the Earth’s temperature. )

    The Holecene (right) has had much more even temperatures. (The lower graph is temperature and the upper CO2)

    Peer reviewed paper on Eocene temperatures.

    Temperature seasonality in the early middle Eocene North Atlantic region: Evidence from stable isotope profiles of marine gastropod shells

    Abstract

    …. We have established intrashell stable isotope profiles of shallow-water gastropods from the warm early middle Eocene Epoch in order to determine the seasonality of coastal sea surface temperature (SST). Oxygen isotope profiles of shells from Texas and Mississippi suggest a seasonality of 8-9 degreesC along the early middle Eocene U.S. Gulf Coast, with a winter temperature of 19 degreesC and a summer temperature of 27-28 degreesC. Relative to the present temperatures in the area, the Eocene summer temperature was similar, whereas the winter temperature was 7-8 degreesC higher. A probable reason is a smaller impact than today by cold continental air from the north because of higher continental winter temperatures. Isotope profiles of shells from southern England indicate early middle Eocene seasonality similar to present day, about 10-12 degreesC, whereas the mean temperature was 8-10 degreesC higher in Eocene time. These data confirm previous temperature estimates of the early middle Eocene Epoch in France. Using the gastropod delta18O temperatures in this and previous studies, we have established preliminary maps of winter and summer SSTs of the Eocene North Atlantic. The latitudinal temperature gradient in the summer seems to have been insignificant, whereas in the winter the gradient was prominent but significantly less steep than today…. Atmospheric properties and feedback effects were likely of more importance for maintaining the reduced latitudinal temperature gradient.

    And the corals did just fine.

    CORALGAL FACIES OF THE UPPER EOCENE-LOWER OLIGOCENE
    LIMESTONES IN LETCA-RĂSTOCI AREA

    ABSTRACT. In this paper are described the coralgal facies identified in the Upper Eocene-Lower Oligocene limestone succession (Cozla Formation) outcropping in two quarries at Letca and Rastoci (Sălaj district, Romania). In the studied profiles the coral and algae limestones are interlayered with bioclastic limestones with foraminifera. On the top of relatively deep water deposits, coral and algae crusts and dendritic corals coated by algae were deposited. The environment registered a gradual deepening, the deposits being completely immersed, while bioclastic limestones with foraminifera were recurrently formed. This cycle is repeated, the whole succession being caracterized by several such “parasequences”.

  26. While the whole article was reminiscent of this month’s predictions from your local paper’s resident astrologer, this bit caught my eye as uncharacteristically specific:

    “The model predicts that as air temperatures rise and equatorial trade winds weaken, the Pacific surface current will also weaken by 15 percent by the end of the century.

    The then-weaker surface current will impose less friction and drag on the EUC, so this deeper current will strengthen by 14 percent.

    “Our model suggests that the amount of upwelling will actually increase by about 50 percent around these islands and reduce the rate of warming waters around them by about 0.7 C (1.25 F) per century,” Karnauskas said.”

    So, in about 90 years time, they reckon the Pacific surface current will have weakened by 15%, and the deeper current will increase by 14%. How on earth can they make these kinds of statements with a straight face? Do they have the faintest comprehension of how big the Pacific Ocean is, and what massive and complex forces its currents and upwellings are? They make it sound like measuring flow rates in a little mountain stream. And, using numbers the way they do to describe the way it all works, at that level of precision, is just laughable.

    These people have no sense of the absurd, or of proportion.

  27. Centuries ago there was a lot of backing and filling going on to keep the geocentric model of the universe as the “concensus” model and it did not give way easily. Our present understanding of the universe came not in a flash but in fits and starts over several centuries. We are still making discoveries.
    Some day CO2 will find its rightful role in the earth’s climate process. Actually, CO2 “knows” its rightful role but it remains for us to discover it. Then the backing and filling such as we see in this article will no longer be necessary.

  28. Let me guess…

    Kristopher Karnauskas and Anne Cohen fancied a taxpayer funder holiday in Kiribati, so…….

  29. Nothing much happened between 1900 and 1950, then suddenly nothing much happened between 1951 and 1997, then suddenly 1998 was the warmest year in the entire century. After that nothing much happened.

    Because there’s extensive and incontrovertible evidence that nothing much happened before and since 1998, we’ve tuned our models to show that the “nothing much happened” period is already ending, and that the Earth will warm to unprecedented levels which will make 1998 look like “nothing much happened” that year.

  30. Gail Combes;

    The latitudinal temperature gradient in the summer seems to have been insignificant, whereas in the winter the gradient was prominent but significantly less steep than today….

    So IF CO2 warms the planet, especially the poles, we’re headed back to the Eocene Optimum?? Probably with nice ‘Arctic Sea Ice’-free summers, enabling fast cheap trans-hemispheric sea transport?

    Bring it on!!

Comments are closed.