Peter Ridd and the Death of Science

Peter Ridd contributed the first chapter in Climate Science: The Facts 2017 “The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Corals and Problems with Policy Science”. This is the kind of critical review of the literature which in 2016 prompted the James Cook University to censure Ridd for not displaying responsibility in respecting the reputation of his colleagues. He was warned that if he continued to speak out he could face a serious misconduct charge.

As I understand it he lampooned the actions of the university in private emails and was stood down for violating the code of professional conduct of the university. The case is in court and the episode has become an international incident due to the threat to free speech posed by the university’s concept of collegiality and misconduct.

In this paper he wrote “The reef is photogenic, the water sparkles blue, the fish and coral are beautiful and delicate, and most who see it – particularly marine biologists – fall in love with it.” It has become an icon to symbolize the threat of global warming and from President Obama down the population of the world appears to be convinced that it is about to die. Peter Ridd and others dissent from that view and argue that reports of the impending death of the reef are exaggerated as Mark Twain wrote from London in response to concerns about his health.

The grain of truth in the story is that bleaching occurs every decade or so when warmer temperatures prompt the coral to expel the symbiotic algae which live inside the polyps. These are the organisms which and lay down the calcium carbonates structure. The bleaching appears to be a defence mechanism and the coral usually recovers. It is claimed that the bleaching is a recent thing that did not happen 100 years ago. The argument of this paper is that the coral is too resilient to be damaged seriously or permanently by any foreseeable changes in the temperature or the level of atmospheric CO2.

That means that the extra half a billion allocated to save the reef is just a piece of virtue -signalling by the Turnbull government at our expense. Of course it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good and a deal of good will fall to the marine scientists at James Cook.

The GBR grows in water with a temperature range from 25 in the south to 27.4 in the north. To my simple mind it is obvious that warming would shrink the reef at the top while it would grow further at the bottom, so in a generation or three there might be a perceptible migration towards NSW. Peter Ridd used to be paid to do more sophisticated analyses than that and he has looked at the growth rates of reefs in the hotter waters around Indonesia and Thailand.

Not surprisingly, for biological processes, he found a linear relation between temperature and growth rates and the corals in the south of our reef calcify at half the rate of corals in Indonesia and Thailand.

To be continued.

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27 Responses to Peter Ridd and the Death of Science

  1. Adelagado

    Rafe. First para should say ‘Ridd’ not ‘Cook”.

  2. Entropy

    Increased sediment and nitrate loads caused by poor farming practices are more of a risk than temperature.
    The problem is this money will be used to regulate the life out of producers whether they are good stewards of the land or poor. The regulatory mindset in full flower.
    Far better to use the half bill to buy out the point sources where overfertilisation and erosion occurs. You would probably find compulsory acquisition of a small number of beef and cane properties (you could probably count them on your fingers and maybe have to move to your toes) would give enormous bang for the buck. And solve “the problem” quite quickly.

    If it was temperature the diving at the Solomons would really suck. Yet it is very, very good.

  3. Entropy

    Not surprisingly, for biological processes, he found a linear relation between temperature and growth rates and the corals in the south of our reef calcify at half the rate of corals in Indonesia and Thailand.

    The southern reef tends to have “younger” corals too.

  4. Egor

    Correct.
    PNG coral blooms magnificently at much higher temps than GBR. Spearfishing heaven.
    GBR must therefore be doomed at any slightly/ significant higher temps.
    You know it makes sense.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    It is claimed that the bleaching is a recent thing that did not happen 100 years ago.

    That’s a good one. AIMS own data show there is an elegant symbiont switch that occurs during the bleaching process. Indeed bleaching is because the corals are booting out the low temperature one and bringing in a more temperature tolerant one.

    How the reef became blue again

    This is an evolved mechanism, which has to have occurred millions of times for it to be so smooth.

    And as for the reef being mostly dead or something, anyone who asks the dive boat operators will hear quite a different story.

    Great Barrier Reef in near pristine condition: dive boat operators

    You’d think they might know something about it seeing they’re out there all the time, not warming a chair in an airconditioned office in Townsville or Brisbane.

  6. Entropy

    Offside just went on holiday in Hawaii. Apart from the big island bit being ruined by volcanic activity, she also went snorkeling at some famous bay, famous for its coral. She reckoned the sad little reef there was complete crap compared GBR, but anyway, the guide was busy telling everyone how the GBR was not good anymore.

  7. Rafe Champion

    Thanks Adelagado!

  8. stackja

    JCU showing ignorance. I am shocked!

  9. RobK

    As an eternal optimist, I’d like the title to say “Peter Ridd and the potential rebirth of Science.” I think in many areas it died sometime ago.
    In the seventies, I worked in mineral exploitation for a few years, based in North Queensland. At the time ferral pigs were blamed for a lot of erosion and run-off problems, and of course the Crown-of-Thorn Starfish is a villain but I’m no expert and can only wonder if that is cyclical or not.

  10. Rob MW

    Current higher education is credentialed solely on the embellishment of dipsticks, dimwits and nutters who proudly display their name(s) with unemployable degrees to verify their status as certifiable experts.

  11. A Lurker

    The thing that must be understood about the ongoing ‘death’ of the GBR is that it is all to do with grant money – because it is profitable for the reef to be in a constant state of threat from something or other.

  12. If global warming and the associated increase in water temps, wouldn’t you think that the whole of the GB R would be exhibiting great swathes of bleaching. More so, give the AGW is a whole world thing. how are coral reefs around the world coping with this mysterious and manevolent heat that lurks deep within our oceans. Eureka, I think I have just thought up a movie sequel to Al Gore’s shovel of steaming s..t.

  13. Tel

    The reef is millions of years old, it has survived multiple cycles of glaciation and thawing where the ice core temperature was swinging by upwards of 10C from warmest period to coolest period, and probably the water temperature was at least changing by several degrees.

    The reef also manages to cope with regular seasonal water temperature changes, and it spans a wide range of latitudes exposing it to a whole bunch of different micro climates. There’s nothing “extraordinary” about the resilience of the GBR, it’s a product of survival in a tough, competitive world.

  14. Filbert

    Rafe I dive the GBR regularly.
    Our Summer (late December) water temps are usually 30 degrees celsius.
    Winter can get down to 22 maybe 21 down deep.
    I spend my beer time educating well meaning morons about the resilience and history of the Reef.
    It’s like everything the Left supports… it’s a lie.
    So, we must never concede to falsehoods and always tell the truth.
    It confuses them mightily.
    But a little good seeps through.

  15. struth

    The growth of government and it’s parasites rely entirely on finding problems/enemies, and throwing tax payers money at them, even where none exists.
    Parasites are incentivised with race, health, climate, transport, and any and all other issues, to find problems where none exist, and to invent ones if necessary.
    To actually cause the problem that will require other’s money to be donated to them, by force.
    Even to import human problems.
    All to grow government, and to live of others.
    Somehow, the gullible in our society, believe this could never be the case, instead believing the “tax parasite” would chose a life of hard work in the private sector , rather than telling a lie for an easy ride through life and status, at tax payer’s expense.

  16. Tel
    #2753159, posted on July 3, 2018 at 7:45 am
    The reef is millions of years old, it has survived multiple cycles of glaciation

    Are you sure? The seabed where the reef is currently located was dry land for over 100,000 years due to the emergence of the Sahul and Sunda shelfs during the last ice age. Ditto PNG reefs. Incoming modern humans about 50,000 years ago lived and hunted on the land now occupied by the multitude of reefs. Many northern aboriginal tribes have myths relating to ancestral lands being submerged by increasing sea levels.

    Sea levels began to rise about 11,000 years ago and took about 5000 years to reach current levels. The GBR is at best 7,000 years old, in its current iteration. It may well have existed before the last ice age, but 100,000 years is a long time not to exist until favourable conditions recur.

  17. Mark M

    Re: Sirroco’s post: “Many northern aboriginal tribes have myths relating to ancestral lands being submerged by increasing sea levels.”

    Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7000 Years Ago

    Stories are presented from 21 locations from every part of this coastline. In most instances it is plausible to assume that these stories refer to events that occurred more than about 7000 years ago, the approximate time at which the sea level reached its present level around Australia.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00049182.2015.1077539

    Via:
    The idea that you can transmit anything over 400 generations is extraordinary
    http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160118-the-atlantis-style-myths-of-sunken-lands-that-are-really-true

  18. Randall Carson confirms the sea level rise is true. Firestone et. al., are no longer fringe, but mainstream in the scientific literature, on the weight and preponderance of the evidence.

    The GBR is thus only 7,000 years old.

  19. pbw

    As a side-note to Mark M‘s comment, consider the hubris of literate cultures which have rendered living cultural memory defunct, and which subsequently proclaim that living cultural memory over even a century is impossibly inaccurate. What they are saying is that no pre-literate culture was able to retain critical information accurately over more than two or three generations. That includes information critical to survival.

    In fact, it is the most literate of cultures – much maligned Western culture – that is in the process of pulling up all of its anchors to the hard-won lessons of the past, and is forgetting not only its traditions but reality itself. Our literacy has turned us into morons.

  20. Bruce of Newcastle

    Are you sure?

    Yes. Very sure.

    When sea level is low during ice ages the reef is still there. The major portion is now a 100m high wall, but the corals are growing on the edges. Then as the sea level rises again after each ice age that new coral grows upwards until it reaches the same height as the “wall”, which is back below sea level and is recolonized and growing again. So every ice age causes the reef to grow outwards some more.

    You can see this principle in action in the atolls of French Tahiti here (a Google maps satellite view).

    Atolls like Rangiroa are enormous. The underlying volcano has cooled and shrunk, and is now well below sea level. The coral keeps growing upwards however. And outwards – with every ice age. But unlike the GBR the inside of the atoll doesn’t have the food supply to sustain the corals and associated fauna, so only the seaward side grows. The lagoon side keeps sinking as the sea floor sinks. So you get a great big ring structure.

    Those atolls have been there for maybe 25 million years since the volcanic hot spot passed them by. I’d have to look up the geology to work out the actual age. But it’s clear they’ve gone through hundreds of ice ages. Each time the sea level drops they must look like giant castles poking up out of the ocean.

  21. BoN
    Then as the sea level rises again after each ice age that new coral grows upwards until it reaches the same height as the “wall”, which is back below sea level and is recolonized and growing again.

    Agreed, but the GBR as it exists today is only approx 7,000 years old. That there might have been previous iterations and thus recolonisations I acknowledged in my original comment. The seabed on which the current iteration of GBR rests was indeed dry land for over 100,000 years. And modern humans did it fact live and hunt there.

    My point is that the current GBR and the corals of which it consists are not millions of years old. We may regard the GBR as a living structure which waxes and wanes with each passing ice age, but each iteration is not identical to the one which previously existed. Each iteration is unique.

    You mentioned 25 million years ago. Given plate tectonics, how far south was the australia/PNG landmass that long ago, and was the temperature of the sea thus colder so as to inhibit growth of corals?

  22. Rob MW

    Agreed, but the GBR as it exists today is only approx 7,000 years old.

    Uhmmmm……….but that is not what Tel said mate. if you are going to put your two-bob’s worth in remember………. before flapping, context is everything.

  23. Bruce of Newcastle

    You mentioned 25 million years ago. Given plate tectonics, how far south was the australia/PNG landmass that long ago, and was the temperature of the sea thus colder so as to inhibit growth of corals?

    Sirocco – Roughly 1,250 km, or about the distance between the NSW border and Bowen. Australia moves north at ~5 cm/yr as I recall.

    So the Reef will have started growing around about that time as Cape York became warm enough during interglacials. It has been continually been growing as I said – it just does so in different locations and depths depending upon sea level. The GBR tends to grow outwards into the Coral Sea in just one direction because the continent is in the way of it growing in the other direction, unlike atolls which can grow outwards in all directions.

  24. egg_

    Current higher education is credentialed solely on the embellishment of dipsticks, dimwits and nutters who proudly display their name(s) with unemployable degrees to verify their status as certifiable experts.

    When we see products such as PvO, the system beggars belief.

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