tist studying a particular problem, population, or place
thought that the changes he or she was were seeing were
unique. However, by the mid-1970s, it was evident that
something was happening that was causing changes in
nature throughout the world.
Meanwhile, it was known that the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was rising at a steady rate
and had been rising for at least 30 to 40 years, quite
possibly longer. As more data were accumulated, the
only reasonable way to explain the changes was that the
earth’s climate was changing.
This was very evident by the mid-1980s; however,
the magnitude and long-term effects of those changes were far from understood. By this time, it was also
known that the most likely cause for many of the observed ecological events was the change in atmospheric
carbon dioxide concentrations. The relative effects of atmospheric sulfate aerosols, atmospheric methane, and
other factors were unclear.
It had been known for a long time that changes in
the Earth’s orbit, as well as changes in the Sun’s output
affected the Earth’s climate, and the roles that those factors were having on the current biological events came
under scrutiny. By the mid-1990s, it had become obvious
that, although orbital and solar phenomena could definitely cause climate changes, they weren’t responsible
for what was happening at this time. In fact, more recent data have shown that if any climate changes were to
occur because of orbital perturbations at this time, it is
likely they would result in cooling rather than warming.
Verifying the existence of climate change and deter-
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
researchers recovering a deepsea mooring system used
to record changes in temperature, conductivity, and other
characteristics of Arctic Ocean waters.
mining its cause or causes was and is a tremendously
important problem. As a result, a truly phenomenal
amount of research ranging from laboratory experimentation to environmental observation coupled with
remarkably sophisticated analyses has been carried over
the last two or three decades, engaging literally thousands of individuals, universities, and government agencies all over the world, and from every relevant scientific
Since the early 1990s the vast consensus of credentialed climatologists has supported the interpretation
that: 1) the climate is changing, and 2) increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is the primary cause.
THE WET UNDERBELLY OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Most ecologists also support these interpretations, with
marine biologists being in the forefront of the research
that is determining the effects of these changes. What
has been called “the dirty wet underbelly of climate
change,” is that serious effects are likely to be experienced first in those marine communities dependant
upon environmental conditions staying within specific
narrow limits. In other words, coral reefs are going to
take the hit first.
Of all the types of amateurs to look at the effects of
global climate change, the ones who should be able to
understand it best are coral reef aquarists. If atmospheric
carbon dioxide increases, this in turn increases dissolved
oceanic CO2, and that lowers pH. Reef aquarists know,
far better than most people, the effects of changing the
pH of organisms living in saltwater. Home aquarists can
be scientists as well by easily performing some short-term experiments in small tanks. They can lower the
pH of those tanks to, say 7. 9, or raise the temperature
to 93°F ( 34°C) and maintain these parameters for a
few weeks. Note carefully the effects on the inhabitants.
And then, project what would happen to all coral reefs
under those conditions, which are where ocean conditions could be heading.
The climate is changing, and it is evident that the
effects of that change have been acting on wildlife
since, at least, the mid-twentieth century and likely before that. Bird migration patterns are changing, flowers
are blooming far earlier in the spring due to warming
weather, and most apropos to marine aquarium keepers,
corals are dying in droves. The Caribbean reef system is
the environmental poster child of climate change, but
other factors in that region certainly share the blame
with warming events. Nonetheless, every coral reef that
has been studied has problems. That climate change is
a primary cause of many of these problems is easily de-