[ Updated in November 2018 ]
Marine scientists at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station do not study climate directly. However, many of their research projects examine the impact of cyclones and surges in sea temperature, and how life on the Reef will be affected by increasing CO2 emissions, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. They know from their own observations that a sustained increase of just one or two degrees in sea surface temperatures (SST) above normal summer levels causes important reef-building corals to bleach and die.
The strong evidence-based consensus among climate scientists is that (a) global climate is changing: and (b) greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are the dominant cause. This is accepted by leading Australian companies. For examples, see the position statements of AGL, BHP, CBA, RIO, Santos, Wespac & Woodside,
BHP’s Position Statement: “We accept the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of climate change science that warming of the climate is unequivocal, the human influence is clear and physical impacts are unavoidable“.
These web pages provide climate information for coral reefs:
The following BoM plots show sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) forecasts as at November 2018. Details and updates are available here
Like any long-range weather forecast, it could change. However at this stage all these greens and yellows are good news for further coral recovery in 2019.
The equivalent plots below are from the summer of 2018. This was also a recovery year, in welcome contrast to the severe bleaching that occurred in the summers of 2017 and 2016:
Unfortunately the 10 to 30 year outlook is much more pessimistic. The October 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C states it is likely to reach that level between 2030 and 2052 if warming continues to increase at its current rate. Chapter 3 states that when average global warming reaches 1.3°C above the pre-industrial period, tropical coral reefs will experience high risks of impact (e.g. very frequent mass mortalities). And at 2°C, it says these coral dominated ecosystems will probably not exist.
The political reality is equally bleak. The coordinated national actions required to reduce human emissions sufficiently to meet the 1.5° target are almost certainly NOT going to occur in time. They would entail economic and political disruption on a global scale unprecedented in human history – presenting new business opportunities, but a perilous path for any politician intent on leading in that direction. The IPCC Report indicates non-action on human emissions will also lead to unprecedented economic and political disruption on a global scale. It is going to be a bumpy ride either way, especially when coupled with issues of over-population and widening wealth-gaps within and between nations.
It is unlikely any senior political leader will have time to read and understand the 700+ pages of the IPCC Report, or that any one scientist or government advisor has read and fully understood all of the 6,000+ studies on which it is based. In an entirely rational world this work would be delegated to teams in trusted national and global agencies (e.g. NASA. NOAA, CSIRO, BoM and the IPCC) and their advice would be respected. In our actual world it suits politicians to discredit these agencies and reduce their funding, appealing to constituencies that find the science and the prospect of effective global coordination impossibly vast, complex and frightening. Most people act and cast their votes based on beliefs, feelings and immediate self-interest, rather than on planetary scientific and economic logic.
Such realities make further research on the Reef even more urgent and important, as scientists look for ways of helping corals adapt to the higher temperatures, and as they continue to investigate the countless other species that will be affected by further loss of coral habitats.