[Coral-List] Darwin was WRONG about reef formation

Jacki O northwestpets01 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 19 18:26:27 UTC 2020

   Hi Denny, thank you for posting what you found. I love when people
   investigate history and share!


   Marine Bio student

   University of Washington

   From: [1]Dennis Hubbard via Coral-List
   Sent: Monday, October 19, 2020 10:51 AM
   To: [2]Douglas Fenner
   Cc: [3]coral list
   Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Darwin was WRONG about reef formation

   Hi Doug:

   Great commentary.... thanks. The whole issue with Darwin's "reef
   theory" is

   incredibly complex and illustrates how much we as scientists are just

   fallible as lay folks. It's just my opinion, but I think that part of

   "controversy" arose from the fact that Darwin chose to publish his

   in a book titled "Coral Reefs". It is a wonderful volume but the title

   infers that it provides an explanation for all reefs. A long time ago,

   tracked down a series of papers (mostly in Nature) that were written by

   big thinkers of the day, including Darwin, Dana, Gieke, Agassiz and a

   of other excellent geomorphology scholars. The bottom line is that few

   agreed with each other (surprise!!). As an interesting sidebar, I spent

   some time tracking all the disparate articles by Darwin and his

   contemporaries, assuming that they each had their own theories and were

   making their arguments in separate venues. On closer examination, I

   realized that nearly all the discussions were published in Nature. My

   initial assumption was that this was perhaps a special issue on what

   called the "reef problem". Once I gathered all the papers, I realized

   they were largely letters to the editor of Nature over a single year

   the common publication dates). Given the location of Nature's

   house close to most of the reef workers at the time, I can imagine

   learned scholars reading each issue, sitting down and composing a

   letter to the editor and walking it over to *Nature*. I bring this up

   because it sounds a lot like the Coral Listserve..... you are in good



   On Mon, Oct 19, 2020 at 8:43 AM Douglas Fenner via Coral-List <

   coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

   >      I've just been told by a source that surely knows, that the

   > Reviews are NOT peer reviewed!!!!  I am astonished, how can this
   be???:  So

   > beware.  I'd suggest that needs to be changed.

   >      One comment I received said most reefs aren't atolls.  I don't

   > what the count is, but Wikipedia says there are about 440 atolls.  No

   > theory covers everything in the universe.  That is true with Darwin's

   > theory of reef formation.  His theory applies to reefs on oceanic

   > volcanoes, and it doesn't include the theory about sea level changes,

   > describes very real aspects of coral reef formation which Darwin

   > cover.  In addition, the world's three largest barrier reefs, the

   > Barrier Reef, the barrier reef of New Caledonia, and the Belize

   > reef, are all on continental shelves and Darwin's theory does not

   > they did not form because the continents were sinking (New Caledonia
   is a

   > small fragment of continent).  Further, the Caribbean has four atolls

   > of Belize and Mexico, three in Belize and one in Mexico (Chinchorro

   > which are on raised continental blocks not volcanoes, and thus the

   > doesn't apply to them (Cozumel may become an atoll if sea level rises

   > enough, it is similarly on a continental block).  I read in Wikipedia

   > Nicaragua has eight atolls in the Caribbean, my guess is they are

   > And then there are a wide variety of reef shapes that don't fit into
   any of

   > the three shapes Darwin had in his theory.  Patch reefs, faroes, bank

   > reefs, etc etc.  Atolls aren't always complete rings, there are

   > and a variety of other shapes.

   >       As an interesting side bar, there is a book entitled "Reef

   > Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the meaning of coral" by David

   > Dobbs, 2005, Pantheon Books.  Recounts the story of how Louis

   > famous biologist at the time, argued that Darwin's theory of natural

   > selection was wrong, and of course lost.  His son, Alexander Agassiz,

   > to avenge his father by proving that Darwin's theory of reef
   formation was

   > wrong.  He was no more successful than his father.

   >       Even given all that, Darwin's theory would not predict that all

   > would be atolls, unless volcanoes had ceased forming in the oceans

   > there were no reefs on continental shelves, neither of which are the

   > He'd predict reefs in a wide variety of stages from fringing to
   barrier to

   > atolls on oceanic volcanoes, depending on their age.  Which is pretty

   > what we have.  By the way, not only do volcanoes in the ocean
   subside, but

   > a large part of the loss of material above the water line is due to

   > erosion, not subsidence.  I live on such a volcano, Tutuila in

   > Samoa, and erosion is VERY active here in the relatively high

   > HUGE volumes of material have been eroded from Tutuila (which is tiny

   > compared to the main islands in Hawaii), I estimate cubic MILES of

   > much of which was weathered into clays and then eroded into the sea.

   > spite of vast amounts of erosion into the sea, the sediment didn't
   kill the

   > reefs, they are alive today.  Because it has been going on for about

   > million and a half years, it is slow enough that at any one time the

   > of sediment is something the reefs can survive.  By and large the

   > look clean today.  It is amazing what you can accomplish if you have

   > time.

   >       Darwin didn't know why volcanoes subsided.  There are two

   > One is that the growth of a volcano in the ocean puts that weight on

   > plate on which it stands, which in turn floats on the very viscous

   > semi-fluid of hot rocks below the plate, just as continents float

   > icebergs in the same way in what is called "isostasy".  As a result,
   as the

   > volcano builds, it depresses the plate at that location, much as a

   > on a water bed depresses the bed surface where the weight is.  Even

   > islands have surprisingly large volumes, the volume of Tutuila where

   > live, tiny compared to the main Hawaiian Islands, is over 2000 cubic

   > KILOMETERS of basalt rock.  Yeow.  Some shield volcanoes are

   > Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii are volcanoes
   that are

   > not only the world's tallest mountains (tallest from base, not

   > tops) and the volume of Mauna Loa alone is greater than the entire

   > Nevada mountain range in California, I've been told.  The volcano

   > the plate underneath it, and so as the volcano builds it also sinks

   > I've read that there are fossil reefs on the side of the Big Is of

   > that are over 1000 feet deep in the ocean, they formed at the surface

   > were carried down as the volcano sank.  Obviously the volcano builds

   > than it sinks usually.  The sinking is slow compared to the building
   of the

   > volcano and so it is always behind and so continues for a while after

   > volcano ceases erupting.  All this happens relatively quickly on a

   > geological time scale, it stops in a few million years.  This is not

   > process that produces the reef sequence Darwin outlined, it takes
   about 12

   > million years at a minimum to produce an atoll.  The second process
   is that

   > the plate itself sinks.  The plate is formed at a mountain ridge that
   is a

   > spreading center, in the Pacific it is in the southeastern Pacfic.

   > erupts at the crest of the mountain range in between two plates that

   > moving away from each other opening a crack between them.  The plate

   > initially hot and the surface is relatively shallow.  The plate then

   > away from the spreading center (often at about 7-10 cm a year, about

   > speed growth of toenails), carrying any volcanoes that form on the

   > with it, and as it cools it very slowly sinks.  Eventually it reaches

   > trench, where the plate is subducted down into the earth.  Usually a

   > is reached within about 100 million years.  That might seem like a

   > time, but the ocean floor is young everywhere compared to most

   > material, which can be well over 3 Billion years old in places.  The

   > carbonate at the bottom of the drill hole, right above the volcanic

   > rock of the volcano it sits on at Einewetak Atoll in the Marshall

   > where an atoll was first drilled, is 60 million years old.  This
   article is

   > talking about atoll formation on the order of a few hundred thousand

   > years.  That's on top of a stack of carbonate atoll that is up to at

   > 60 million years old.  What they are talking about is relatively

   > superficial and young.  Which doesn't mean it isn't real, it
   certainly is

   > very real.

   >       I await comment from a geologist or anyone who has read the

   > article, will surely be a while before we hear.

   >       For an author of a book or annual review, which doesn't get

   > review, I'd suggest that in the long term, your reputation will be in

   > better condition if you try to get lots of comment voluntarily before

   > publishing, to try to avoid the situation the authors of this review

   > find themselves in, of public criticism by experts in the field.  It
   is to

   > the long term best interests of authors to have peer review, even if
   in the

   > short term it can be very painful and without it can lead to

   > notoriety.  Best to avoid the wrong kind of attention in the long
   term, by

   > getting comments from experts and following their advice where

   > That's just my personal opinion.

   >        So this will continue to be interesting to see how it unfolds.

   >        I think there is also a parallel with Darwin's theory of

   > selection.  Not having read all of Darwin's works, I'd lay a bet he

   > said that his theory covered everything about evolution.  Indeed, he

   > himself not only wrote a book on natural selection, but also a

   > separate book on sexual selection.  A different mechanism, not as

   > as far as I know  it is still supported by evidence.  It's why male

   > peacocks have such giant tails they can barely fly, and why male
   seals of

   > many species are huge compared to females.  He recognized very well
   and had

   > strong evidence that natural selection was not the whole story.  And
   it has

   > been added to further and probably will continue to be added to.  So

   > is "genetic drift" which is random and in very small populations

   > drift can be more powerful than natural selection.  And there is

   > evolution, sociobiology ("selfish gene") and probably others.  Nature

   > more complicated than any one theory, and coral reefs are especially

   > diverse and complicated.  None of which proves that Darwin was wrong,

   > natural selection is still well known to be one of the major drivers

   > evolution.  And of course Wallace came to the same conclusion as
   Darwin on

   > natural selection at the same time, their first papers were read at

   > same time, and Steven Jay Gould points out that a forester actually

   > outlined natural selection in print well before both of them.  But

   > spelled it out in so much detail with so much supporting evidence in

   > book "The origin of species" that he became famous and we remember
   him as

   > the father of evolutionary theory.  By the way, there are a few

   > evolutionary processes that actually follow Lamarkian evolution, even

   > though he was long pilloried for an incorrect theory.  The latest is

   > "methylation" of DNA, an acquired genetic character that is passed on

   > subsequent generations.  Currently a hot topic.

   >       Cheers,  Doug


   > On Fri, Oct 16, 2020 at 11:51 AM Douglas Fenner <

   > douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:


   > > or so says a new article:

   > >

   > > Popular piece:

   > >

   > > Study: Darwin's theory about coral reef atolls is fatally flawed

   > >

   > >

   > >


   > >

   > > Original review:

   > >

   > > The origin of Modern Atolls: Challenging Darwin's Deeply Ingrained

   > >

   > >

   > >

   > > My thoughts, based on reading the popular article and the abstract

   > 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

   > > which all the evidence shows has indeed subsided with the ocean

   > plate

   > > as it moves across the ocean, then yes, sea level fluctuations with

   > > glaciation cycle are widely acknowledged to affect the coral reef

   > > structure.  It appears that maybe the new thing in this review is

   > 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,

   > > their being a flat topped bank in between time may be new.  This is

   > > further embellishment on top of the Darwin theory, NOT a disproof
   of his

   > > theory, which is heavily documented.  The argument back then was

   > > 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

   > > 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

   > > 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

   > >

   > > "Don't think of it as the warmest month of August in California in

   > > last century. Think of it as one of the coolest months of August in

   > > California in the next century."

   > > <


   > >

   > >

   > > The toxic effects of air pollution are so bad that moving from

   > > fuels to clean energy would pay for itself in health-care savings

   > > productivity gains

   > > <


   > --

   > > even if climate change didn't exist.  In the US alone,

   > > would save 1.4 MILLION lives in the US alone.  And save $700
   Billion a

   > > year.

   > >

   > >


   > >

   > > "Already, more people die

   > >from

   > > heat-related causes in the U.S. than from all other extreme weather

   > events

   > > ."

   > >

   > >


   > >

   > >

   > >

   > _______________________________________________

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   Dennis Hubbard - Emeritus Professor: Dept of Geology-Oberlin College

   Oberlin OH 44074

   (440) 935-4014

   * "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*

   Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"


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