[Coral-List] Darwin was WRONG about reef formation

Robert W Buddemeier buddrw2 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 19 17:31:45 UTC 2020

Yes, detail and precision are hallmarks of science.
Yes, science advances by the process of falsification.
Everything is uncertain, and thus, until we arrive at absolute perfection,
everything can ultimately be demonstrated to be "wrong."

In my opinion these principles can be and often are carried to
anti-intellectual extremes, to which I attribute much of the public
distrust of science.

Unashamed confession:  I haven't read the article, just Doug's summary.  I
also have not read Darwin's original work on the subject.  I have, however,
done some work on the surface and shallow subsurface of atolls.

My understanding is that Darwin set out to identify the origins of those
interesting open reef structures scattered around the Indo-Pacific.  He
came up with the NET CONTINUING growth of fringing reefs on the coasts of
subsiding volcanoes (continuing is not necessarily continuous, although
that would be a logical supposition in Darwin's time).  It was an extremely
insightful conclusion, and fundamentally correct.  Did it explain
everything we now know about atolls, almost 2 centuries later?  Of course
not -- he can't be faulted for not being prescient, any more than Wegener
can be faulted for not explicating the details of plate tectonics in
support of his continental drift conclusion.

So Darwin's theory needs refinement.  Initial theories pretty much all do.
My question is, why the big headline now?  The Eniwetok (Enewetak) drilling
project not only documented the coral-on-top-of-basalt theory; it also
demonstrated the (recognized and published at the time) existence of
unconformities, various kinds of diagenesis, and solution and erosion
effects in the carbonate column.  Read the drilling logs and articles (USGS
Prof Paper 260 & many many others).  Nobody used that to proclaim Darwin
wrong then; the real excitement was (I think appropriately) that he was
right about the basalt.

It concerns me that this title  *appears to me* to be a case of unwarranted
sensationalism, presenting the cumulative detail of 70 years of integrated
reef research as having delivered a surprising result by demonstrating that
a major scientific step forward taken over 150 years ago was not complete
or completely correct.

C'mon folks; when you are standing on the shoulders of a giant, don't
gratuitously kick him in the head.

Bob Buddemeier


On Sat, Oct 17, 2020 at 5:31 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
> Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
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> century. Think of it as one of the coolest months of August in California
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> <
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