[Coral-List] Darwin was WRONG about reef formation

Russell Kelley BYOGUIDES russell at byoguides.com
Mon Oct 19 00:00:40 UTC 2020

Hi Doug / List

It’s a useful contribution but bound to irk geologists (like me) a tad.

Part of the problem is the Darwin subsidence theory is so generalised that it is basically true to some degree, at some time, in any atoll origin story.

The other part of the problem, as it so often the case, is when we jump time scales in our story telling e.g. from “Deep Time” to 'Deepish' time e.g. the cyclic ice ages of the Plio / Pleistocene and thence into the high resolution framework of Carbon and Uranium series dating radiometric time and the deep sea cora data sets that go with it. So in general, generalisations are fun and easy to teach. They’re also rarely true.

We see the same problem with the geologists and biologists arguing about what defines the Anthropocene. On one side are some Deep Time people poo-pooing the significance of the Anthropocene compared to their favourite deep time global cataclysm. On the other side are people wanting to use a fistful global distributed benchmarks / data frameworks unavailable in Deep Time. Neither party is entirely right or wrong - their storytelling / arguments are flawed because of the telescoping timescales and resolve of the data sets that go with them. For the record I say define the Anthropocene using atomic testing radioactivity and then start a new high resolution eco-bio-geological timescale that includes all the groovy isotopic / bio-geochemical data sets going forward. Why hamstring the documentation of the planet’s destruction using a blurred lens hubble telescope in a distant galaxy recording to VHS when it could be writ large in pristine Ultra High Definition live on TV - if anyone would broadcast it.  

However I digress  ;-) 


Russell Kelley

Churchill Fellow 2019

Recipient 2017 Australian Coral Reef Society Medal for Science Advocacy

Program Director
Coral Identification Capacity Building Program

Writer, project manager, television producer, science communication consultant.

Author: Reef Finder - the world’s first searchable underwater ID smart guide
Author: Indo Pacific Coral Finder - the world’s first searchable ID guide to corals  

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> On 17 Oct 2020, at 8:51 am, Douglas Fenner via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:
> or so says a new article:
> Popular piece:
> Study: Darwin's theory about coral reef atolls is fatally flawed
> http://news.rice.edu/2020/10/12/study-darwins-theory-about-coral-reef-atolls-is-fatally-flawed-2/
> Original review:
> The origin of Modern Atolls: Challenging Darwin's Deeply Ingrained Theory
> https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-marine-122414-034137
> My thoughts, based on reading the popular article and the abstract for the
> review:
> Yes, if you define an "atoll" as a ring of coral at the surface, and you
> carefully ignore that it is on top of an accumulation of up to a mile of
> coral reef carbonate, which is in turn on top of a two mile tall volcano
> which all the evidence shows has indeed subsided with the ocean floor plate
> as it moves across the ocean, then yes, sea level fluctuations with the
> glaciation cycle are widely acknowledged to affect the coral reef
> structure.  It appears that maybe the new thing in this review is that the
> present ring is relatively young and built on top of the raised ring left
> from low sea level stands when rainwater was dissolving the carbonate in
> the center of the ring.  Actually, I don't think even that is new, though
> their being a flat topped bank in between time may be new.  This is a
> further embellishment on top of the Darwin theory, NOT a disproof of his
> theory, which is heavily documented.  The argument back then was whether
> there was a volcano under the carbonate, which drilling proved was correct
> and is no longer in doubt.
>     Perhaps by reading the entire review it will be clear that the review
> isn't saying that Darwin was wrong about subsidence and a volcano being
> under the carbonate, or that there was a sequence from fringing to barrier,
> to atoll, but even the title of the review implies it is.  But of course
> you attract a lot more attention saying that "Darwin was wrong."
>      What do geologists think?
> Cheers, Doug
> -- 
> Douglas Fenner
> Lynker Technologies, LLC, Contractor
> NOAA Fisheries Service
> Pacific Islands Regional Office
> Honolulu
> and:
> Coral Reef Consulting
> PO Box 7390
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