The end of coral reefs as we know them

“In the next few decades, a lot of coral will die — that’s pretty much a given. And to be clear, this reality is absolutely devastating. Regardless of whether snorkeling is your thing, reefs are essential to human well-being: Coral reefs dampen waves that hit the shore, support commercial fisheries, and drive coastal tourism around the world. They’re also home to an incredible diversity of life that inspires wonder.”

“But even as many corals die, reefs won’t exactly disappear. The 3D formation of a typical reef is made of hard corals that produce a skeleton-like structure. When the polyps die, they leave their skeletons behind. Animals that eat live coral, such as butterfly fish and certain marine snails, will likely vanish; plenty of other fish and crabs will stick around because they can hide among those skeletons. Algae will dominate on ailing reefs, as will “weedy” kinds of coral, like sea fans, that don’t typically build the reef’s structure.
Simply put, dead reefs aren’t so much lifeless as they are home to a new community of less sensitive (and often more common) species.”

“On the timescale of decades, even much of the reef rubble will fade away, as there will be no (or few) live corals to build new skeletons and plenty of forces to erode the ones that remain. Remarkably, about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that we pump into the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. When all that CO2 reacts with water, it makes the ocean more acidic, hastening the erosion of coral skeletons and other biological structures made of calcium carbonate.”

How La Niña will shape heat and hurricanes this year

“The periodic swings between El Niño and La Niña, collectively known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), is a natural phenomenon cycling every three to seven years. Over the past year, the El Niño also synced with other natural patterns like the warm phase of the Atlantic Ocean’s temperature cycle, driving thermometers up further. But humanity’s relentless injection of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere is pushing these changes to greater extremes.”

Spring is here very early. That’s not good.

“Warmer winters have meant fewer opportunities to revel in the snow, go sledding and skiing, or venture onto the ice. But beyond making certain activities less feasible, warmer winters are also set to have devastating environmental impacts.
Plants and animals could have their growth and hibernation patterns thrown off, for example. According to Theresa Crimmins, director of the National Phenology Network and an associate professor at the University of Arizona, plants’ pollination schedules could become misaligned if they’re emerging sooner than they normally would and the insects that pollinate them aren’t yet ready to do so. Plants that sprout earlier in the year could also have a tougher time surviving if an unexpected cold front or frost comes back and kills off the initial buds.

Pests like mosquitoes could become more prevalent, too, says Crimmins, and potentially contribute to more diseases, since colder winters tend to depress their population.

A shift in winter could have major impacts on water supply as well, leading to a much smaller snowpack than people in the American West and Southwest currently rely on. Frozen snow that slowly melts over time is a major source of water for these parts of the country, and that resource could be severely reduced if there isn’t much snow to work with. During warmer winters, there’s typically less snow and more rain, which leads to smaller snowpacks and potentially huge dips in water as less snowmelt flows into rivers.

“Water supply affects pretty much everything, not just our drinking water: water for agriculture, water for hydropower, water for municipal uses, water for environmental concerns. It’s really comprehensive,” says Cara McCarthy, a program manager at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Water from these snowpacks can also help make sure the ground doesn’t become too dry, a factor that contributes to more frequent and more severe wildfires. The National Interagency Fire Center’s forecast through June has projected that parts of the Midwest and Southwest face a higher risk of wildfires this year due to the limited snowfall they received and a higher potential for drought.”

Bats have a unique superpower. Climate change is turning it into a liability.

“Compared to other mammals, bats have a lot of surface area, and that means they tend to lose water more easily through evaporation across their skin”

“bats are at risk of drying out and dying from dehydration.”

“Temperatures above roughly 105°F can cause heat stress or even death among many species, especially if the animals nest in trees outside, where they’re exposed to the ambient temperatures. Heat waves in Australia, for example, have caused dozens of mass die-offs of flying foxes, big fruit-eating bats that use their noses and large eyes instead of echolocation to find food.”

“Wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of bats each year in North America alone, and globally they are known to harm more than 30 bat species. Typically, the bats — most of which are migratory species — die from colliding with turbine blades, though it’s not clear why these animals are drawn to them.

Making these threats more troubling is the simple fact that bat populations don’t recover quickly after die-offs, whether or not they’re climate-related. It goes back to their flight-enabled physiologies: Unlike birds, which drop their eggs off at a nest, bats have to fly while pregnant, which isn’t easy. That’s why most bats only have one pup per year”

“they face a wide range of threats beyond climate change, including a disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in North America.”

“By eating agricultural pests, such as moths and beetles, bats also provide up to $53 billion in economic value each year in the US alone. They eat pests that bother us, too, including mosquitos. And of course, bats pollinate agave plants as they slurp up their nectar, which give us, among other things, tequila.”

It’s Official: 2023 Was the Hottest Year on Record

“The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reports that 2023 was the hottest year in the instrumental temperature record. That’s in part because global temperatures were boosted by the El Niño phenomenon in which the eastern Pacific Ocean surface temperature periodically surges higher.”

“”Not only is 2023 the warmest year on record, it is also the first year with all days over 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period. Temperatures during 2023 likely exceed those of any period in at least the last 100,000 years,” noted Samantha Burgess, deputy director of C3S, in a press release.”

“The satellite temperature series run by climatologists Roy Spencer and John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) also basically concurs, reporting that 2023 is the hottest year in its 45-year record.”

“The C3S report observed that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations reached the highest levels ever recorded, 419 parts per million for carbon dioxide and 1902 parts per billion for methane. UAH’s Christy cautiously concedes that the “background climate-trend is about +0.1 °C per decade and could represent the warming effect of the extra greenhouse gases that are being added to the atmosphere as human development progresses.””

The Florida Barrier Reef’s Last Stand

“unseasonably hot water arrived this summer, meaning those coral colonies had to endure months of extreme water temperatures. A buoy off Florida recorded 101-degree water temperatures this July. When corals are stressed by hot or cold water, they lose their color—a result of expelling algae that provides corals with most of their energy—and eventually die.”

“If the reefs collapsed completely, it would be disastrous for the Florida Keys. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the reefs in Southeast Florida are valued at $8.5 billion and sustain 70,000 full- and part-time jobs. The barrier reef also protects the Keys from hurricanes and major storms by soaking up wave action.”