a question and a debate

Osha Gray Davidson osha at oshadavidson.com
Sun Nov 12 18:42:28 EST 2000

Dear Ove,

Please, slow down a second! I appreciate you message, but let me remove 
some confusion.

I had nothing whatsoever to do with writing or publishing the GCRMN study. 
(I wish I had; I think represents important work).

Your questions and opening for debate seem like a fine idea, but I'm afraid 
they go far beyond my brief comment. I assumed the questioner was 
summarizing the GCRMN study as saying that "
>coral [will be] gone in the next 20 years or so." That struck me as 
>simplistic. Now, perhaps I'm wrong, and that is the essence of the study. 
>If so, I will stand corrected.
Regardless, the questions you raised are important ones and I'm sure those 
qualified will rise to the challenge and debate it.

Once again, let me make it absolutely clear: I don't want to take credit 
for someone else's work. The
>"Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2000" was prepared by Clive 
>Wilkinson, coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.
By the way, I wrote a book for lay-readers about coral reefs, published in 
1998. I devoted several chapters to threats facing coral reefs (including 
one on warming) and was criticized by some reviewers for peddling doom and 
gloom. Now I'm perceived as being overly optimistic? Have to admit, that's 
a new one for me.


At 04:50 PM 11/12/2000, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg wrote:
>Dear Osha,
>Congratulations to you and the others on publishing the GCRMN study and 
>brochure.  Very useful indeed and a major contribution to reef science and 
>Your email caused me some concern however.  In particular, your 
>description of the "simplistic" nature of the message "coral being gone in 
>the next 20 years or so" (mainly coined by journalists) seems to be 
>simplistic in itself.  To say this is to miss the essence and careful 
>study that resulted in conclusions that perhaps underlie this paraphrasing 
>of the science.  Perhaps a reading of the background to the broader 
>statements underlying this one would be useful at this point.  In fact, I 
>invite you to tell me (and the others that have flagged this possibility) 
>where the science is flawed.
>That aside, I see your email as an opportunity to begin a wider debate.
>As I am sure you realise, the fact that oceans are warming rapidly (up to 
>5 degree per century according to a recent NOAA press release) and we have 
>seen increasingly (not decreasingly) severe outcomes (as is recorded in 
>the excellent GCRMN account - 19% lost in the thermal event of 1998) from 
>these increasingly severe thermal events, there is a major issue 
>brewing.  One degree per century would be enough.  By 2020 (which I guess 
>is your "simplistic" reading of the Mar FW Res 1999 study), we will be 
>regularly over the sea temperatures that we currently know to cause (and 
>can use to predict today - see HotSpot program) major coral mortality 
>events.  What is perhaps more worrying, we will regularly see anomalies 
>that will be double and even triple those we have seen in the past two 
>decades by 2020.  We have nothing to tell us that this wont 
>happen.  Currently, we have little evidence of the ability for coral reefs 
>to evolve with a sea temperature that is changing at the rate of 1-5 
>degrees per century.  Again, we the evidence that corals will rapidly 
>adapt to an ever increasing sea temperature is not jumping out at us.  In 
>fact, we mostly have evidence to the contrary (mortality events, no 
>decreasing trend in severity or frequency etc.).
>So - I ask you - where is the "simplicity" in the Mar FW Research (1999) 
>hypothesis argument?
>A.  Is it in the sea temperature measurements?  Are the rapidly warming 
>seas a figment of our imagination?  Has Al Strong at NOAA been misreading 
>his data?
>B.  It is in the climate models?  Are the Max Planck, IPCC, CSIRO, Hadley 
>Centre, UN atmospheric and geophysical scientists got it all wrong?
>C.  Is it in the coral biology and the assessment of the impacts 
>fundamentally flawed? Have we completely misinterpreted the meaning of the 
>thermal events and outcomes of the past 20 years?  Can we say that 
>bleaching is trivial and will not effect coral communities in the long 
>term?  Are the Okinawan reefs going to repopulate within the next 2 
>Years?  Is 19% loss every few years trivial - how many even 1998 thermal 
>events could reefs sustain before corals become minor components?  Can we 
>say that adaptation over a few years is possible (with an ever increasing 
>stress profile)?  Have the faunal changes that occurred during the 
>interglacial transition been misinterpreted?
>Remember, this is not an argument about corals going extinct.  They 
>probably wont.  It is an argument about reef health and function.  That 
>then flows over into the meaning of this for human users.  If corals 
>become minor components to reef communities, can we say that the reefs 
>they built will continue to function as they have when they were coral 
>I look forward to your comments and to a wider debate among members of the 
>coral reef community.  As I have indicated, the 1999 study was in some 
>ways a "target" ... one which we needed to erect rigorously and one, 
>which, if we can destroy scientifically, we will all rejoice (me 
>included).  I stress the word "scientifically" - it is not enough to say 
>you don't believe (as I have heard from some).  We must debate this in 
>hard scientific terms with the idea of resolving the core issues.
>I look forward to joining the debate on my return from COP6 on Nov 24th
>Best wishes,

Osha Gray Davidson          Home page: www.OshaDavidson.com
14 S. Governor St.          Phone: 319-338-4778
Iowa City, IA 52240
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