From the hysterical collective.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg oveh at
Sat Nov 21 04:36:30 EST 1998

Dear Bob,

Thank you for your latest missive.  Just a wee question from some who work
on the area of cause, effect and recovery.  What evidence do you have that
the "other" dog did not bark last night?  Meaning - you seem to imply that
the link between small increases in temperature and bleaching is not solid
(by the way, I admire a devil's advocate to a point) and hence it seems fair
to ask: what is the evidence that you have and we, the hysterical
collective, don't seem to have?  Naturally, you may mean that the link
between global climate change and SST anomalies is debatable.  In this case,
let's debate this one too.  While it is admirable to warn us against
hysteria, it seems counter productive to flippantly imply that past opinions
are some how completely consumed by fuzzy logic and that your, currently
unsubstantiated, opinions are somehow immune.  

As for your reference to the "mythical" rational programmanager ("mythical"
meaning most are not???) and his/her response to current reports of the
nature and extent of coral bleaching.  I really fail to see your logic.  You
seem to imply that if we say that reefs are being greatly damaged by changes
to sea temperature, that your "rational program manager" would say that its
over so let's concentrate on another ecosystem.  With the greatest respect -
isn't this far-fetched (and oh, just a touch hysterical)!  Don't you think
we need to know more about where and when the dog has been barking?  Don't
you think that there will be mounting pressure to understand the
ramifications (if they exist) of these changes to a major tropical marine
ecosystem?   I predict that we will see a greater not reduced interest and
that "reporting the non-barking dog" is an academically correct yet
relatively trivial point.

At this point, the coral bleaching issue is clouded by many imponderables.
Did it occur in the past, will corals acclimate/adapt, do reefs recover, is
it getting worse and so on.  Coupled with the tendency for broader climate
change debate to be clouded by  similarly tricky questions (are we
experiencing an unusually warm period or is it just a blip in the broader
time frame, is it true that tropical oceans are mostly thermally inert?),
the message coming from scientists regarding the health of reef systems has
to be clear.  The internet collective was instrumental in documenting the
extent and severity of bleaching events in 1998.  This is turn has had an
important motivating infIuence in research and other circles.  To imply that
those of us who have contributed to the collective information about the
extent and severity of the current cycle of bleaching events are somehow
hysterical and are missing the point seems unfair and unproductive.

I look forward to hearing more from your keyboard.


PS - by the way, the dog just barked.

At 10:29 17/11/98 -0500, you wrote:
>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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