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‘Warning Bells Going Off’ as NOAA Forecasts Entire Great Barrier Reef at Risk of Coral Bleaching and Death

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By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

“This is a wake-up call,” says one Australian marine biologist. “Given sea temperatures usually increase as we get towards March, this is probably conservative.”

coral reefDelivering yet another “wake-up call” after recent studies have shown that heat stress from anthropogenic global warming has killed half of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals since 2016, a new analysis from U.S. scientists warns that the entirety of world’s largest coral system is at risk of bleaching and death as Australia enters it summer months.

The forecast from U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for November 2018 to February 2019 indicates that the whole reef has a 60 percent chance of reaching “alert level one,” under which bleaching is “likely.”

When coral is exposed to warm water or pollution, it expels the algae living in its tissues—its main source of food—and turns completely white. Although bleached coral is still alive, the reaction makes it more susceptible to disease and death.

“This is really the first warning bells going off that we are heading for an extraordinarily warm summer and there’s a very good chance that we’ll lose parts of the reef that we didn’t lose in the past couple of years,” marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the Guardian. “These are not good predictions and this is a wake-up call.”

Hoegh-Guldberg expressed concern that the analysis shows bleaching could occur before March, which historically has been the main month for such events. “To really have the full picture we’re going to have to wait for those projections that cover the main part of bleaching season,” he said. “Given sea temperatures usually increase as we get towards March, this is probably conservative.”

While NOAA’s predictions provoked alarm, Mark Eakin, head of the agency’s Coral Reef Watch, noted that “lots of things, including major weather patterns, can change the probabilities over the next three months.”

Although “it’s much too early to predict that with any certainty,” Eakin told Australia’s ABC that “depending on what happens with the El Niño,” or the warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, “we could see another global bleaching event in 2019” that would impact not only the Great Barrier Reef but also other coral systems across the globe.

Regardless of whether an El Niño emerges and triggers another bleaching event, scientists are urging governments to heed the urgent warnings of the recent IPCC report—which detailed what the world could look like if the global temperature rises 1.5°C versus 2°C (2.7°F versus 3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels—and ramp up efforts to avert climate catastrophe.

The IPCC report found that coral reefs “are expected to decline by a further 70 to 90 percent even under 1.5ºC, but that rises to more than 99 percent reef loss as temperature rises hit 2ºC,” according to ABC. “Researchers say at current emissions rates, the world will hit that point between 10 and 14 years from now.”

NOAA’s new forecast for bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef is “very consistent with what the IPCC 1.5 degree report told us,” concluded Hoegh-Guldberg. “It’s extremely important that politicians and our leaders stand up and make the changes we need to make so we don’t tread down an even more dangerous path.”

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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