Bob Buddemeier buddrw at
Tue Nov 17 10:29:57 EST 1998

My congratulations to Charles Delbeek for his report of a non-bleaching
event. [Note that this is different from a bleaching non-event, which is
what Bill Fitt tells us happens every (local) summer.]  I take this as a
sign that the potentially powerful distributed approach to reef reportng
and research is scientifically coming of age.

If we take for the moment the line of argument (which I consider
debatable) that global warming causes high SST events which cause
bleaching which causes coral mortality, and that the health of reefs is
already in global crisis stage, then the future is bleak indeed.  The
1995 IPCC summsary points out that warming over the last century has
beem 0.3-0.6 deg C, only some fraction of which has occurred over the
period of the last 30-40 years, which we tend to equate with the period
of serious reef decline.  The same report suggests that even with
unrealistically optimistic scenarios for future CO2 emissions, we are
headed for an additional +2 deg C over the next century -- in other
words probably 5-10x the change that has (assigning the bleaching blame
to temperature) already brought many reefs to their cute little
invertebrate knees.

Consider for a moment that mythical animal, the rational program
manager.  He/she, on review of the data, would almost surely say that
reefs are a clear write-off, and that we need to regroup and direct our
human and financial resources toward some ecosytem or organism that
could be saved.
[Buddemeier, R. W., 1991.  Climate Change and Biology:  A Proposal for
Scientific Impact Assessment and Response, pp 161-169 in Dudley, E. C.
(ed), The Unity of Evolutionary Biology, Vol. 1, Discorides Press,
Portland, Or.]

Oh no! everybody exclaims -- that's not so, we really can save the reefs
if we just work harder and raise consciousness levels.  Well, friends, I
have to suggest that this is not the message you are sending to a
scientifically literate audience if you concentrate on reports of how
widespread and rapid and frequent is DEATH. The important data are
really the when, where, why, and how of SURVIVAL (thanks again,

If you consider epidemiology in human populations, it is strongly
context (total population) based -- it looks at the occurrence,
distribution, and propagation of disease though healthy populations, and
by doing so identifies pathways, vectors, synergies, loci of natural
immunity, effective prophylaxis and protective measures at various
scales, etc.   It is these latter observations, I suggest, that have
been largely missing from the rush to judgment on the causes and effects
of "bleaching," and which are needed to make a convincing case that
research and conservation funds are really justified.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, the really significant observation is
that the dog did NOT bark during the night.

Ever onward, whatever the direction.


Dr. Robert W. Buddemeier
Senior Scientist, Geohydrology
Kansas Geological Survey
University of Kansas
1930 Constant Ave.
Lawrence, KS 66047

ph (785) 864-3965
fax (785) 864-5317
buddrw at

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