[Coral-List] Canaries in coal mines

Mark Spalding mark at mdspalding.co.uk
Thu Jun 10 04:56:27 EDT 2004

John Ware makes an interesting point about needing good science and perhaps a better calibrated detector than corals to assess the progress of global warming, and I agree. 

But actually the canary in the coal mine strikes me as an excellent analogy. Sometimes the science lags behind the facts - any miner who saw a dead canary in a cage would not linger in the tunnels because he thought the canary approach is not very scientific and can't be calibrated. 

I don't think any scientist predicted a mass-death event of the 1998 scale to occur so soon, and yet that particular dead canary has driven (and led to the funding for) a lot of science to try to understand the problem. Of course we need the science, but the rising waters around the worlds coral islands and the horrific wastelands (now recovering) around the central Indian Ocean in 1998 are powerful rejoinders to action.

Finally, I just heard the retired biogeographer Professor Stott put forward as a "scientist" and given prime time on BBC news to argue that there is still no causal link between rising temperatures and CO2 levels in the atmosphere. I think we still need the drama of practical evidence such as coral bleaching to counter such stuff - you could say we still need canaries to counter the ostriches!

Mark D Spalding, PhD
Marine Ecologist
Research Associate, Cambridge Coastal Research Unit
University of Cambridge
Postal address: 17 The Green, Ashley
Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 9EB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1638 730760
e-mail: mark at mdspalding.co.uk

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