Trump focus and tweeting obscures universe-level news?

February 11, 2017

Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC, 3 Feb 2017:  In a Tweeting World, Important News Is Missed

…But some breaking news which is much more important was probably not discussed by these two people because of their poor record in the area of environmental protection.  I would be surprised if the conversation which was scheduled to last one hour included information from a recent scientific study on the impact climate change on the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia.

Put simply, if we continue to burn fossil fuel in a “business-as-usual approach” we will seriously damage and probably destroy all the corals on The Great Barrier Reef by the end of the 21st century.  It is ironic and saddening that  corals, which have been thriving since the end of the last ice-age eleven thousand years ago, will be destroyed because of our addiction to burning fossil fuels, even though it is now possible to meet our energy needs by using renewable forms of energy.  

According to newly published research by Griffith University in Australia, greater carbon concentration in the ocean will lead to some algae producing more potent chemicals that can kill corals.[1]  The research found that rising carbon emissions helped coral-killing seaweed grow more poisonous and therefore more destructive.  Professor Diaz-Pulido from Griffith University, one of the leaders of the research, said that a common brown algae species found in reefs worldwide was shown to be among those that caused the most damage. 

The researchers from Griffith University asked themselves the question, why are coral reefs dying in the Great Barrier Reef at such an accelerated rate? They were aware that corals die because of bleaching, when the temperature of the sea-water increases even by one degree Celsius. This has led to enormous damage among corals in southeast Asia and the Caribbean.  They were also aware that the crown of thorns starfish also damages corals.  The researchers asked themselves; is there anything else that might destroy corals?  To their surprise they found that rising CO2 emissions can trigger more potency in chemicals from some common “weed-like” algae that poison corals. The researchers also found that attempts to remove this weed-like algae was futile because of its ability to regenerate quickly and continue to attack the corals.  The only way to deal with the problem is by cutting carbon dioxide emissions. 

These new findings are very worrying. Scientists had known that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased dramatically in the past century from 280 parts per million before the industrial age began to more than 400 parts per million today.  All of this is attributable to our increased burning of fossil fuels to provide us with energy. When this carbon is absorbed by the oceans, it makes them more acidic. This has a negative impact on many species of plankton which make up an important component of the marine food chain.  Scientists fear that acidification will also have an impact on phytoplankton, which provides 50 percent of the oxygen which humans and other creatures breathe.

Mark Hay, a professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology, was one of the co-authors of the study.  He points out that it is this greater carbon concentration which leads to “some algae producing more potent chemicals that suppress or kill corals more rapidly”, in some cases in just weeks.[2]

[1]  Joshua Robertson, “Rising carbon emissions could kill off vital corals by 2100, study warns,” The Guardian,  February 3rd 2017.





[2] Ibid