Andrew Montford at Bishop Hill kindly allows me to repost this here.
Anyone would think there was a big climate conference coming up, because the BBC is pumping out the climate propaganda left right and centre. A couple of nights ago we had Kirsty Wark fawning all over Chris Rapley on Newsnight (from 40 mins) and wondering why good people like him weren’t making the policy decisions. Today we have Roger Harrabin on ocean acidification (video here).
The samples are chalky white for millions of years from the fossils of tiny shellfish. That’s until this dramatic point 55 million years ago [the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum; PETM], when the oceans suddenly got hotter and more acidic and the shellfish disappeared. It took shellfish 160,000 years to recover and scientists say humans are changing the seas ten times faster than at this catastrophic event…
We then get a brief interview with Professor Daniela Schmidt of Bristol University (the recipient, like her colleague Stefan Lewandowsky, of a Royal Society research fellowship). Here’s what she had to say:
My children will be alive in 2100. I would like them to be able to swim above a coral reef and enjoy its beauty. I would like them to be able to eat mussels and oysters and crayfish and if we continue to release CO2 at the current rate this is not going to happen.
Golly. Sounds pretty scary eh? Fortunately I was somewhat reassured by this paper in Geology, by the same Professor Schmidt, which discusses the same abiotic zones in the oceans at the time of the PETM. As the paper draws to a close, Prof Schmidt says this:
[Recent] papers highlight the migration of phytoplankton to follow their niche, and suggest that the extreme warmth led to an absence of calcifiers in tropical waters. Intriguingly, though, this abiotic zone appears several tens of thousands of years after the onset of the extreme temperatures and the acidification, is associated with changes in lithology, and follows a gap in the record.
If the abiotic zone appears tens of thousands of years after the temperature rises, I’m wondering why, when interviewed by Roger Harrabin, Professor Schmidt says she is worried about whether her children are going to see coral reefs and eat shellfish. Perhaps the excitement went to her head.
The rest of the paragraph is worth a look too:
This potentially slow response contradicts everything we know about ecosystem response to decadal temperature variability; for example, the North Atlantic Oscillation (Beaugrand et al., 2009; Beaugrand et al., 2002) or the California upwelling system (Chavez et al., 2003; Chavez et al., 1999). Aze et al. explain the abiotic zone by comparing it to the temperature adaptation of modern foraminifers. One would expect, though, that Paleogene foraminifers which evolved in an ∼15 °C warmer environment than today (Huber and Caballero, 2011) were generally adapted to these warmer temperatures. As so often, new papers ask more questions than they answer, such as: why are these abiotic zones not found at other open ocean sites nearer the equator? If the high-end temperatures are reasonable estimates, these might point to physiological limits at which enzymes start denaturalizing. Given the high metabolic rates in response to these high temperatures, the size of the supply of food needed to sustain the organisms is a pressing question and might have played a role in a regional exclusion. More work is needed, though, to move from assessments of past climates to predictive models for policy makers of the impact of future climate change on marine ecosystems, such as the cascading effects of these potential abiotic zones on food webs.
So the abiotic zone (or is it zones?) are not even seen at all tropical locations! Astonishing. There is quite a lot more to this story than the BBC would like you to know, isn’t there?
I’m not holding my breath for a correction though: Roger doesn’t correct things. The BBC will run with it all day.