Coral reef lecture raises concerns

Katie Roupe

The declining coral reefs and global warming could drastically change our world, Pamela Hallock Muller said during a speech yesterday.

“This will not be an uplifting lecture,” Muller said.

The lecture, sponsored by the Association for Women Geoscientists, was part of Earth Science Week. Other events for Earth Science Week include the grand opening of the Kent State Geology Museum on Friday.

Muller, a professor at the University of South Florida college of Marine Science, is an expert on the ecology and organisms of the coral reefs. In addition to an early morning discussion on Professionalism and Career Success in the Geosciences, Muller spoke to faculty, staff and students about the environment’s impact on reefs.

Muller discussed the impact of increasing carbon dioxide levels on coral reefs and what that could mean for the environment. The increasing carbon dioxide produces a higher temperature, which in turn creates a bleaching effect on the corals, she said.

“The bleaching doesn’t kill corals, it weakens them, making them more susceptible to disease and knocks off a few years of reproduction,” she said.

Because the corals can’t reproduce, she said there is a smaller population of corals, especially shallow coral reefs. In addition to higher carbon dioxide levels, the pH count is increasing.

Muller said in a matter of 30 years, the pH level has increased by .15.

“The implications of a .15 pH change are profound,” Muller said. “This could create problems for the fisheries and may create some medical changes. If you are continually breathing in 50 percent more carbon dioxide, it could make a difference.”

Because of the increasing pH and carbon dioxide levels, coral reefs are becoming endangered.

“We may be the last human generation to see shallow water coral reefs,” Muller said.

The increasing levels could also impact biodiversity for the animals that depend on the reef structures.

“For you young people, you and your grandchildren will be dealing with the results from the experiments we’ve been conducting,” Muller said.

Muller has led experiments in reef health, using sedimentology, micropaleontology and ecology to study the reefs’ responses to the environmental change.

Professor Emeritus Rodney Feldmann said while the effects of global warming are beginning to be established, many people are still skeptical.

“The environment is definitely threatened,” he said. “Most people dismiss it or minimize the impact it will have on the world in general. Even people in this profession don’t believe it.”

Muller mentioned several discussions she has had with colleagues who did not believe global warming was having an impact until she shared her research on the declining coral reefs.

For professor Daniel Holm, once Muller mentioned the possibility of extinct shallow reefs, he said he realized the immediacy of the issue. He remembered all the times he went deep sea diving and enjoyed the colorful world of the coral reefs. If Muller’s predictions become true, Holm said he would greatly miss seeing that colorful world.

“It’s important because we live on planet earth,” Holm said of the data Muller shared.

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Katie Roupe at [email protected].