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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

SCU scientists explore how much grief we’re causing the reef

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Is climate change destroying the Great Barrier Reef?

For some the question is a no-brainer: rising sea temperatures are killing the coral, right?

CSIRO research vessel Investigator. Image: CSIRO

But there are others, including the Federal Environment Minister, who stop well short of accepting this.

It is the search for clear and irrefutable evidence about the impact of climate change on the reef that is driving researchers from Southern Cross University as they sail across northern Australia on board the CSIRO research vessel Investigator this month.

The scientists are conducting experiments to better understand the role of ‘upwelling’ on nitrogen supply to the Great Barrier Reef.

‘Upwelling – when cold water rises up from the deep ocean floor – is a natural phenomenon caused by winds and currents, but often goes unnoticed,’ said Professor dirk Erler, from the university’s Centre for Coastal Biogeochemistry.

‘It provides essential nutrients for corals and fish. Upwelling also cools the reef, so this is really important as ocean temperatures continue to increase.’

Professor Erler and PhD researcher Tom Glaze are looking to measure the ‘stable isotope fingerprint’ of nitrogen in deep ocean water along the edge of the continental shelf down to 3000m as the RV Investigator travels between Brisbane and Darwin.

‘Once we measure the isotope signature of deep ocean nitrogen we will look for it in the skeletons of corals living on the edge of the reef,’ said Dr Erler.

‘Because we know how old these coral skeletons are we can create a history of upwelling over the past few centuries. The ultimate goal is to determine if upwelling is becoming more or less common as a result of climate change.’

Investigator, Australia’s Marine National Facility, is a cutting-edge multidisciplinary research vessel specifically built for conducting ocean-going science.

“This is an incredible ship with an amazing array of equipment and technology,” said Mr Glaze.

“We can send instruments and water sampling bottles to the bottom of the ocean and watch it in real time, it’s a fantastic opportunity for me as a student to be exposed to all this amazing science.”

The researchers are also using shipboard equipment to measure nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, in the deep ocean as well as in the shallow surface water and the atmosphere – the first time this has been done in the Coral Sea.

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  1. I wonder how many talented scientists are wasting their time documenting the death of the planet’s environmental web, while those of the same ilk as the Federal Environment Minister, refuse to see the obvious .
    It is truely said “there are none so blind ,as those who will not see”


  2. So, still no proof that “the reef is dying” lol. Thanks, Prof. Peter Ridd, for your honesty, it’s a pity you lost your job telling the truth, but I’m glad you won your court case against James Cook University.

    • Marine physicist Peter Ridd has been victorious in his case for unfair dismissal against James Cook University, but his views as a climate sceptic were not on trial.

      The controversial scientist was sacked by JCU in 2018 after being censured for allegedly breaching the University’s code of conduct.Dr Ridd’s views on the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef were not on trial in this case.

      The decision was confined to his industrial rights and the judge made no comment on the validity of his climate views.

  3. Even as no climate scientist, I have to ask how you measure the temperature of the ocean. A thermometer won’t do it. Parts of the ocean, beyond 3000 feet, are so deep we have little notion. There could be geothermic activity we have no knowledge of. And as for the greenhouse effect it operates in the upper atmosphere, a thin film of that connecting with the surface of the ocean. But why bother asking sensible questions, 97% of scientists can’t be wrong.

    • While there are variables, the small range of temperature in the ocean is being mapped in both the north and south of the equator and there is increasingly warmer water expanding in both the north and south of the equator

    • Sophisticated data collectors are measuring an increasing amount of carbon gas as a percentage of the air. The increasing thickness of the transparent carbon gas lets the light through but insulates the subsequent reflected heat. Why dont you answer the question on what the increased heat is doing, rather than your idiotic unsupported statements

  4. The 1998 worldwide coral bleaching event was put down to el nino or whatever the local equivalent was. And it passed. But scientists need their grants and funding like we all need something or other. And it don’t seem to me that this ship is sailing, as your report says, it seems to me it’s running on a lot of marine fuel, with every gizmo possible, including a satellite dish. Well I need a drink of oil too, to calm my warming nerves.

  5. Just finished a ‘cross-check’ on the reef. I’m NOT
    swayed by Peter Reed’s ‘Road-show’ let alone
    the bunch supporting him. Looks like The Eye Of
    The Tiger since all’s right with the world & its
    super-large companies.


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