A “myth,” a mere “theory,” is killing coral reefs across the planet.
“This year’s extreme heat is putting the world’s coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists fear widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also fisheries that feed millions of people.
From Thailand to Texas, corals are reacting to the heat stress by bleaching, or shedding their color and going into survival mode. Many have already died, and more are expected to do so in coming months. Computer forecasts of water temperature suggest that corals in the Caribbean may undergo drastic bleaching in the next few weeks.
What is unfolding this year is only the second known global bleaching of coral reefs. Scientists are holding out hope that this year will not be as bad, over all, as 1998, the hottest year in the historical record, when an estimated 16 percent of the world’s shallow-water reefs died. But in some places, including Thailand, the situation is looking worse than in 1998.
Scientists say the trouble with the reefs is linked to climate change. For years they have warned that corals, highly sensitive to excess heat, would serve as an early indicator of the ecological distress on the planet caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases.
“I am significantly depressed by the whole situation,” said Clive Wilkinson, director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, an organization in Australia that is tracking this year’s disaster.
Here’s the picture globally as of September, 2010, according to scientists at NOAA:
* The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for August 2010 was the third warmest on record at 16.2°C (61.2°F), which is 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 15.6°C (60.1°F). August 1998 is the warmest August on record and 2009 is the second warmest.
* The August worldwide land surface temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 13.8°C (56.9°F)—the second warmest August on record, behind 1998.
* The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.50°C (0.90°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.4°F) and tied with 1997 as the sixth warmest August on record.
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for June–August 2010 was the second warmest on record, behind 1998, at 16.2°C (61.3°F), which is 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average of 15.6°C (60.1°F).
* The June–August worldwide land surface temperature was 1.00°C (1.80°F) above the 20th century average of 13.8°C (56.9°F)—the warmest June–August on record, surpassing the previous June–August record anomaly of 0.92°C (1.66°F) set in 1998.
* The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.51°C (0.92°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F) and was the fifth warmest June–August on record.
* For January–August 2010, the global combined land and ocean surface temperature of 14.7°C (58.5°F) tied with 1998 as the warmest January–August period on record. This value is 0.67°C (1.21°F) above the 20th century average.
Meanwhile, out in California, the Sacramento Bee reports:
An oil company headed by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch has contributed $1 million to the campaign to suspend the state’s landmark climate change law.
Flint Hills Resources does not have any oil interests in California but is a big opponent of climate change legislation around the country.
On Thursday, the Kansas-based refining and chemicals manufacturer threw its weight behind Proposition 23, the ballot initiative that seeks to suspend California’s greenhouse gas reduction law until the economy improves.
“This is a significant game changer,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group. “They want to stop the state that’s well known for leading the way when it comes to climate change legislation.”
California secretary of state’s office records show that Flint Hills is now the third largest backer of Proposition 23, behind Texas-based oil companies Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp.
On Thursday, Tesoro also donated $1 million to the Yes on 23 Committee, bringing its total contributions to about $1.5 million. Overall, the committee has raised more than $8.2 million, with nearly half, or about $4 million, coming from Valero.