New climate stress index model challenges doomsday forecasts for world's coral reefs

Believe it or not, that’s the actual headline from the Wildlife Conservation Society press release. This model they tout incorporates field data. – Anthony

A WCS scientist recording data on coral cover in coastal Kenya. A new climate stress model using both environmental data and field observations provides scientists with a more accurate predictive tool than more widely used models based on solely temperature and coral survival thresholds, according to a new study by WCS and other groups. Credit Emily Darling/WCS

A WCS scientist recording data on coral cover in coastal Kenya. A new climate stress model using both environmental data and field observations provides scientists with a more accurate predictive tool than more widely used models based on solely temperature and coral survival thresholds, according to a new study by WCS and other groups. Credit Emily Darling/WCS

Complex model performs better than common temperature threshold predictions

Recent forecasts on the impacts of climate change on the world’s coral reefs–especially ones generated from oceanic surface temperature data gathered by satellites–paint a grim picture for the future of the “rainforests of the sea.”

A newer and more complex model incorporating data from both environmental factors and field observations of coral responses to stress provides a better forecasting tool than the more widely used models and a more positive future for coral reefs, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups.

The study authors point out that, according to the climate stress index model first developed in 2008, coral reefs are responding to more factors than temperature and therefore more resilient to rising temperatures. They conclude that global climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reefs but the future of these ecosystems is more varied than predictions from the more widely used “temperature threshold” models.

The paper titled “Regional coral responses to climate disturbances and warming is predicted by multivariate stress model and not temperature threshold metrics” appears in the online edition of Climatic Change. The authors are: Timothy R. McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Joseph Maina of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Australia Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions; and Mebrahtu Ateweberhan of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Warwick.

“Our new multivariate stress model suggests that the future of coral reefs is considerably more nuanced and spatially complex than predictions arising from the threshold models,” said Dr. Tim McClanahan, WCS’s Senior Conservation scientist and a co-author on the study. “According to our findings in the Western Indian Ocean, some places will do well and others will not. The key to accurate predictions is using all available environmental data and complementing it with on-the-ground observations on reef cover, coral communities, and other environmental variables that are key to understanding how corals respond to the interaction between all these variables.”

In the study, the authors compared the abilities of three common thermal threshold indices against a stress model that includes temperature but also light and water quality and movement variables and used the models to predict coral cover and susceptibility to bleaching during a past large stress event: specifically the 1997-98 coral bleaching event in the Western Indian Ocean. The field information used in the test included a compilation of 10 years of coral community data before the bleaching event, two years after the bleaching event, and data during the period of coral recovery between 2001-2005.

While the three temperature threshold models (sea surface temperature, cumulative thermal stress, and annual thermal stress) were highly variable with little agreement to field data after the 1998 rise in temperature and coral mortality, the multivariate model based on 11environmental variables combined using a fuzzy logic systems revealed a more accurate fit with the recorded coral cover and susceptibility in the recovery period that followed.

“This latest research suggests a more optimistic future for the world’s coral reefs,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Executive Director of WCS’s Marine Program. “The ability of certain coral communities to resist and recover from climatic factors provides hope for the future of the oceans. Our imperative is now to seek out and protect those locations that are refuges from climate change, and reduce other human stresses such as fisheries to ensure the long term survival of coral reefs.”

###

This research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, and the World Bank Targeted Research Group on Coral Bleaching.

To access the article, go to: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-015-1399-x

Advertisements

84 thoughts on “New climate stress index model challenges doomsday forecasts for world's coral reefs

  1. Coral has survived for millions of years through all types of climate change. Individual reefs may suffer as climate changes but the species will survive elsewhere.

      • Indeed. They also tell us that the coelacanth in endangered due to warming. The fish species known, for very good reason, as a “living fossil” as it is 400 million years old and has therefore lived through multiple ice ages and hotter-than-now-by-many-degrees times.

  2. To Quote:
    “While the three temperature threshold models (sea surface temperature, cumulative thermal stress, and annual thermal stress) were highly variable with little agreement to field data after the 1998 rise in temperature and coral mortality, the multivariate model based on 11 environmental variables combined using a fuzzy logic systems revealed a more accurate fit with the recorded coral cover and susceptibility in the recovery period that followed.”
    So the 3 models had little agreement to the field data. But, through the magic of “fuzzy logic” it becomes more accurate?
    O.K. I’m lost.

    • It’s not “3 models”. It’s models that use 3 temperatures (thresholds for thermal stress) that fail to replicate real world reef responses to changes.
      The 11parameter model they developed of course is still mathematically under-determined from the living reef system. But that level of modeled system complexity should give rise to emergent phenomena that occurs in the real reef, such as system redundancy resilience and robustness to stress.
      Imagine how millions of years of rapid sea level changes have selected for reef systems able to not just survive, but thrive.

    • Classic academic overloading of a single sentence. In English:
      The three types of temperature-only models that they are replacing are junk.
      They have a new model that uses several variables and fuzzy logic (That phrase has a bad reputation but in general it means that they are not presuming sharp thresholds for “good/bad” but adding multiple effects together)
      This new model gets much better agreement with observations than the old temperature-only models.

  3. Illustration shows a snorkeller with long fins interacting with branching corals over a shallow reef. I hope he’s not kicking the branching corals and then mapping “damage”. I have a pair of short fins specifically for snorkelling over shallow reefs.

  4. Its always been over hyped in recent years.
    “Mass coral mortalities in contemporary coral reef ecosys-
    tems have been reported in all major reef provinces since
    the 1870s (Stoddart 1969; Johannes 1975; Endean 1976;
    Pearson 1981; Brown 1987; Coffroth et al. 1990)”
    “Why, then, should the coral reef bleaching and mortality events
    of the 1980s command great concern? ”
    “An alternative explanation for the increased frequency
    of disturbances to coral reefs can be attributed to more
    observers and a greater interest in reporting in recent
    years”
    ftp://www1p.isis.unc.edu/pub/marine/brunoj/Bleaching%20papers%20for%20NCEAS%202/Glynn%201993_coral%20bleaching.pdf

  5. This study is garbage. All they’ve said is that they used more fudge factors in order to better fit the inconsistency between the current models (useless) and reality, where corals do not suffer due to temperature. All they do is hindcast better. My bet is that there is no predictive power in their new model.

    • No, I think water quality and light transmission are no brainer considerations for the health of coral, fish, plant life, all way down to microscopic creatures in the sea. Real pollution, that we don’t care about anymore turns out to be important for the health of sea life. Who are these organizations? I thought all environmental orgs, indeed all biologists and ecologists except for Susan Crocker and Jim Steele had been irretrievably co-opted and corrupted. I might consider donating to a real anti pollution group like I used to!

      • Gary Pearse
        June 2, 2015 at 5:49 am
        Sorry, I meant ‘Crockford’ the world’s only polar bear expert.

        That’s not true and you know it.

      • “Real pollution, that we don’t care about anymore turns out to be important for the health of sea life.”
        Around 15 years ago, the obsession with covering only the deleterious of a gas with proven beneficial effects on life, while ignoring real pollution, is what turned the light on in my head.
        Since then, the authentic science has come in lopsidedly to support the benefits to life from increasing CO2 and weaken the case for deleterious effects from it.
        Any paper, research or claim that states “It’s worse than what we thought” in recent years not only contradicts observations most of the time but almost always uses the anti scientific method……..having a conclusion, then fitting facts/data to match it

      • Sorry CommieBob if you are a biologist. I indulge in hyperbole a bit when I’m either pleased about an unexpected finding or teed off about the repetitive hogwash. I’m happy to find scientists who try to go where their research actually leads them, rather than other things leading them.

      • There is plenty of real pollution that still exists in our air, water and soils. Yet the lions share of attention is focused on the CO2=pollution position. A great deal of money and resources to better manage the real pollution………….flushed down the toilet as well as taking the attention/focus away from where it belongs.
        All environmentalists/green interests, should be furious with the hijacking of climate science and environmentalism to accomplish a fraudulent ideology. Instead, they are supporting the wolf in order to protect the sheep.

      • Gary Pearse June 2, 2015 at 6:19 am

        No, I’m not a biologist. When you work in the Arctic, you get to know everyone else working there. I have great respect for the polar bear scientists that I got to know. The fact that a couple of them drank the global warming Kool-Aid doesn’t diminish the fact that they are true experts on the subject of polar bears.
        We forget that Isaac Newton believed some truly kooky stuff. We forgive him for that and venerate him for the stuff he got right. In the same way, I am inclined to forgive some of my old acquaintances for their belief in CAGW.

      • Newton was at his heart an Alchemist. He quite likely spent more time and effort on Alchemy than on physics. One actualy brought him usefull resultes, while the other did not.

      • Newton may have been an alchemist, but I don’t recall reading that he used the media of the day to ask the general public to spend taxpayers money supporting his lifestyle & beliefs.

    • Not sure I would jump to the conclusion that it’s garbage. It sheds light on the reality that the ecosystem health is dependent on many factors, not just temperature. I think we all agree that that makes intuitive sense. On the other hand I am with you in that since they have tuned the model to hindcast the model does not necessarily let them make accurate predictions about the future.

  6. How much research funding did they leach from a gullible public to come up with a finding so utterly obvious it’s ridiculous…it’s a bit more complicated than we thought ?

  7. What happens in a climate model does not seem to happen in the real world.
    There is coral in the Great Barrier Reef and coral in Papua New Guinea where the water is much warmer. (I am not a marine biologist but the species or coral look the same (at least in the dive book)). There is a superb coral reef in Dominica where the water is very warm.

    • The water temperature in Dominica is way to high for coral to live. In addition, CO2 from underwater volcanic vents causes ocean acidification, leaving the whole area a barren marine wasteland.
      Here is a link describing the devastation:
      http://www.visit-dominica.com/querydetail.cfm?Id=159
      Oh wait, there is something wrong here.
      The CO2 seems to have no effect at all, and ocean acidification is either not happening or not a problem. The hot water thermal vents have minimal effect, limited to 2-5 feet, and nothing further away than that.
      Marine critters of every description are out and about, having a ball. The dire forcasts of the models do not seem to bother them at all.

      WARNING:

      Anyone who confuses Dominica with the Dominican Republic will be skinned!

      • I must confess I had never heard of Dominica, well it is a long way from the UK. But many thanks for the link to “visit dominica” web site. You might just have solved my “where to go for my next dive trip” What’s the weather like in Nov & Dec. question. Sorry to go a bit off topic, but it is always good to learn about somewhere new

      • For Harrowsceptic:
        I went in early November and the weather was just perfect. You are starting to push into the rainy season though. As best I can tell, the all day clouds and rain in the West Indies is from December through Feburary. The rainy season there must be something awesome, though. The eastern and central highlands get an astonishing 400 inches of rain. The waterfalls under those conditions must be just stupendous. Hikers are cautioned about following any trails which go into a river gorge, as flash flooding is a real concern, and huge torrents can be apon you faster than you can run uphill.
        But I had good weather, and the island was just breathtaking.
        Just a note on the rainy season. Most sites around list the season as corresponding to the hurricane season, June through October. Typical rainfall amounts are listed as 10 inches/month. In round numbers, that is just 1 cm./day. And that is just your typical tropical afternoon rain shower. This is not the cloudy/rainy all day, every day vacation wrecker.
        For great scuba, check out Bonaire. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef which is accesable from shore. Dive sites are often marked not by the quality of the site, but by the presence of a nearby parking lot. I have never seen so many dive tanks. They have tanks stacked up on the beaches, in the resorts, in bars, restraunts, stores, coffee shops, on the docks, in taxi cabs.
        http://www.infobonaire.com/scubadiving.html
        http://www.padi.com/scuba-diving/scuba-diving-travel/vacation-spotlights/bonaire/

    • What happens in a climate model does not seem to happen in the real world.
      In other words, “The map is not the territory.”
      (And woe betide those who think it is.)

  8. Oh no. “Stupid had begun to think” Their stuff is easier to refute when they are screaming panic at the top of their lungs.

  9. You really misunderstand. The grant money is payed before the paper is produced. In your application for the grant you draw some vague conclusions of what you are seeking. Someone approves it and you get your money. Then you have to show to the approver that you have done what is needed. Quite simple, really. Grants are cool. You get your money upfront before you write a report

      • I have for sport. Government processes are similar. You don’t get reimbursed for your work. You need the money upfront. If you need to study spiders somewhere you need to get there and have special equipment etc.

      • I’m in the middle of a government sponsored grant. The money is not paid up front, it is strictly a reimbursement scheme, even for larger $ items costing $30K. Whether for equipment, travel or supplies, it is all on a reimbursement scheme. When we applied for the grant, we in no way guaranteed results, we simply said we were investigating an area (it’s in materials science).

      • Chris
        My experience is with the Australian government. State and National level. I have also been involved peripherally with Universities here , with their grant applications. They needed to buy stuff for further research (I was an equipment supplier).
        I don’t know what country you are in and the conditions of the grant. R & D had generous tax write -offs at one time (2 to 1). I don’t know if it is the same now.
        I would need to read the conditions of the grant before I could comment further. It seems risky to me from what you have said so far. You guys do some work and the government will pay you-maybe.

    • RACookPE1978
      Look outside your window . There is a real world out there and it is not just focused on climate. Although, these days, if you want to get some gravy then you join the gravy train. Unfortunately real research is stifled (in other areas of science). If I could come up with research that the EPA approved of I would be covered in money, hookers and cocaine. I’m probably a bit weird , I don’t have an interest in the three. Not stimulating enough.

  10. The new Chinese island causing a kerfuffle at present is very close to a coral reef.
    With all that dredging and dumping, I can not understand why Greenpeace, WWF, Dark Green, Al Gore, Tim Flannery, Mad Mann, IPCC, UNESCO, etc, etc, etc are not there taking those nasty Chinese folk to task over their dastardly deed.
    I sure hope Oh Bummer had not planned to take his daughters to see that reef.
    For those who may not have done a drop of geology, there are some enormous coral reef systems around the world, which have been extinct for MILLIONS of years. Their fossilised remains are remarkable.

  11. Question: Did they tune their model to the oceanic/atmospheric and location observations and then predicted that during the period of study the ocean flora and fauna responded in a way similar to the tuning period? Ummmm. This has a familiar ring to it. What are the scenarios into the future in the places they suggest will not do well? Will their modeled scenarios begin to diverge from observations? And how many years will I be in my grave before that question is answered?

  12. “.. the Australia Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions”
    What is it about Ozzies that they anoint themselves with such rubbish titles. Didn’t the Ship of Fools joker get an award from this org. Are they aware when you feel the need to put descriptors into names for institutions, political parties, countries…. that, according to the Bard..”…thou doth protesteth too much.” E.g. The DEMOCRATIC Republic of the Congo, political SCIENCE, social SCIENCES, Deutsche “Demokratische” Republik, Centre of EXCELLENCE… – all of the above aren’t. The latter is neither a centre or of excellence from their performance in the past, although perhaps this study is a glimmer of change in the offing.

    • They like to think they are “bigger”, better and “smarter” than everyone else, so use rediculous titles like this. After all, Australia is the smart country, right?

    • Well I’m an ozzie and also think its rubbish. Don’t tar us all with the same brush,. I would say where it has been used it probably means the opposite.

    • Fair go mate.
      We have Tim Flannery, Joe Blogs, Tim Flannery, Joe Blogs, Tim Flannery, Joe Blogs and Tim Flannery.
      And that’s just a few of them!!!

  13. The meme about the die off of coral reefs seems to have been around for four decades. Either they should have been disappeared thrice over by now or the inaccuracy of climate prognostication has a long track record.
    Pointman

  14. Since when is data or science “nuanced”? Nuance is a liberal key word. It is most often used in circumstances were spin and distortion can be employed to bend the outcome towards the desired direction. Factually-oriented people have a low vocabulary use of the word “nuanced.” It is far more prevalent in discussions of social policy issues by liberals (now called “progressives”, itself a more nuanced self-description).
    For my part, I ask where is the research that shows the optimum climate conditions for our biosphere? Strangely, nobody seems interested in this vital question. Not so strangely, the solutions that are frequently demanded in the most urgent voice, all converge on a socialist worldview: statism, bigger government, higher taxes, less personal liberty, even fewer people. That bigger picture tells me all that I need to know about “climate science”.

  15. The conclusion is not the least bit surprising. The fact they are coming to admit this soon is surprising. I was sure common sense was still about two decades away.

  16. They are so delicate you can’t bag them…ship them half way around the planet…and put them in aquariums.
    They do not grow in bays where salinity and temperature has massive changes with every tide change and rain.
    They do not get exposed to direct sun and heat at low tide…or rain when they are out of the water.
    ….it’s the three bears….it hs to be just right always
    http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/00/65300-050-8342E485.jpg

  17. Looks like some sanity in climate science.
    Whenever anyone claims that warmer water is causing all the coral bleachings and other problems, I point them to the Jardines de la Reina National Park, the national marine park that Cuba established. It shows what the reefs could be like without the damage done by overfishing and pollution. Corals can survive some pretty wide swings in temperature compared to the small changes in average ocean temperatures. A little bit of pollution can destroy them. You can find some videos of the reef on Youtube, and there was a 60 minutes segment on it some time ago.

  18. I can’t find this press release in a search of Wildlife Conservation Society website for articles on Coral??
    Why is there no link here to the press release, just the study? Was the press release not published on their website?

  19. If global warming (which has happened in 18 1/2 years) is killing coral, how did coral flourish for the past 10,000 years when temperatures were several degrees warmer (the amount depending on latitude) than present?

  20. Oops–I meant hasn’t happened!
    If global warming (which HASN’T happened in 18 1/2 years) is killing coral, how did coral flourish for the past 10,000 years when temperatures were several degrees warmer (the amount depending on latitude) than present?

    • that is an easy one. corals are only killed by man-made warming. natural warming, and warming caused by women does not harm corals. only man-made warming is harmful. the other types are beneficial.

    • In searching for the text associated with the missing video, I came up with this Youtube video address which might or might not be the right one. Hope that helps.

      PS. I’m already sold. We are living through a Science event equivalent to Galileo or at least the Piltdown man. Will we reach the other side????

  21. “They conclude that global climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reefs but the future of these ecosystems is more varied than predictions from the more widely used “
    Got to say this to keep the money flowing in and also to get papers published.

  22. A three line formatting test (I apologize)
    “italics”boldunderlineChemistry: C₂H₅OH + HNO₃ → C₂H₅NO₃ + H₂OPhysics: ²³⁵U + ¹n → blam!
    Thanks for IGNORING.
    GoatGuy
    [Better to use the “Test” thread for such formatting tests. .mod]

  23. It’s nice to see some sense sneaking its way into the alarmist camp, however, it will be a mute point when the projected warming doesn’t come to fruition.
    I’ve seen personally how bad of shape the barrier reef is off the coast of Belize but likewise have seen areas in the Caribbean where it is doing just fine. Sedimentation from development on shore and stirred up sediment from boats going too fast in the back reef seem to be common in the areas where the coral is bleached.

  24. “…the period of coral recovery between 2001-2005.”
    How is it possible that there could even be a coral recovery during a time that ocean warming and acidification have been accelerating? Isn’t that what alarmists have been telling us this whole time?

  25. So, the mighty CO2 molecule, has failed, yet again, to meet the standards set by consensus science. It will however, still receive it’s annual bonus, awards and attend seminars in exotic locales. Such is the shape of bureaucracies and CO2 is just another bureaucratic tool.

    • CO2 is a shiftless lazy layabout, not doing what its told, and keeps getting eaten by plankton.

  26. Coral likes warm, hates cold. When it gets really cold (during interglacials; ice ages) all the coral reefs in existence during the interglacial (like now) cease existence, totally, because coral cannot survive when it’s hundreds of feet above sea level. After the Eemian interglacial of 125,000 years ago, sea level fell over 400 feet and stayed that way for 100,000 years. The Great Barrier Reef, as we know it today, seemingly timeless, is only 10,000 years old, and is destined for death in the next few thousand years when the next glacial period inevitably takes hold. Environmentalists should save their concern for coral surviving what is provably the coolest phase of the past 10,000 years for when coral will truly meet its maker.

  27. A newer and more complex model incorporating data from both environmental factors and field observations of coral responses to stress provides a better forecasting tool than the more widely used models

    My goodness I was worried there for a moment. The more widely used models seemed to have concluded that evolutionary theory was no longer relevant. Apparently the climate community seemed to have discounted that environment drives adaption instead believing global temperature caused coral stress because it causes them stress. Fortunately a genius climate scientist must have picked up the book, “Evolution for Dummies” and realized local environmental factors and field study are probably pretty significant pieces towards understanding the life and evolution of coral reefs.
    BTW wish they would use another word besides stress. Saying coral is not adapting fast enough to environmental changes makes sense, saying coral is stressed out is stupid. Regardless without a certain level of stress any species becomes stagnant and dies. Not enough stress can kill a species or culture just as well as excessive stress.

    • Saying coral is not adapting fast enough to environmental changes makes sense
      =====================
      coral has been around for hundreds of millions of years. they have survived disasters the wiped out almost all species on earth. could it be that they are adapting at the right speed to survive long term, and it is climate scientists that are mistaken in trying to determine how fast coral should adapt?

  28. The notion that warmth destroys Coral has always puzzled me. The Red Sea is the warmest sea in the world (excluding so-called inland seas), but there’s plenty of Coral there. I’d have thought, in my cute layman way, that corals which die because of warming would be replaced by corals which like warmer water – isn’t that what Nature does?

    • corals which die because of warming would be replaced by corals which like warmer water
      ===========
      which is exactly what happens. corals like warmth. they thrive in the tropics. they are much less common in cold water.
      as the water warms, cold water species are replaced by warm water species. which also explains why we find no polar bears living in Indonesia and no giant monitor lizards living at the poles.

  29. In general, nature is RESILIENT, including coral reefs. A recent paper by P.S. Kench and Colleagues (Geology,v.4, p. 515-518) shows that coral reefs grow in response to to sea level rise. Many animals are able to adapt to natural change. It’s harder for climate alarmists.

    • Sorry folks, when entering my ID, it didn’t input properly:
      [?? .mod]

  30. the future of coral reefs is considerably more nuanced and spatially complex than predictions arising from the threshold models,
    ================
    if your neighbors moved out of their house and new tenants moved in, would you assume that the empty house meant your neighbors had died and their house would remain empty forever?
    this is what the global warming models of coral bleaching assume. finally we see a study that at least checks to see what happens to coral after bleaching.
    the number 1 problem with global warming studies of coral. the people doing the studies know next to nothing about the life cycle of coral. which makes sense. coral has been around a whole lot longer than humans. a whole lot longer.
    you can be sure that climate science will go extinct long before corals.

  31. Does make you wonder if any of these doomed coral predictors ever stop to wonder about the mere fact coral has been around for 100s of millions of years, through deep ice ages and tropical warming periods, and seems to have survived. Has it not occurred to them that coral already exists in the tropics and in Antarctica? That coral extends down far deeper depths than just the top 10m where it cherry pick the brightest sunlight?
    Most coral reefs I’ve ever snorkled on has indeed been deeply impacted by man – but it seems to be blatent destruction by additional chemicals (fertilisers, sunscreen) or trawling by fishermen or blast fishing by locals. Now there is the REAL and immediate threat to coral reefs!

  32. There is weed refrences and that I think it is humorous that the actor who plays with Alistair is different the movies in each.

Comments are closed.