Climate Change and Energy

What Corals Can Tell Us About Climate Change

Written by
24 June 2021

A new paper from Dr John Abbot, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, reveals that records from living and fossilised corals show natural variations in temperature stretching back thousands of years.

Dr Abbot urged Australia’s Government-funded research institution to resume the program of coring corals and publication of trend data that appeared to cease in the early 2000’s, as detailed in the recent IPA documentary, Finding Porities.

The research report, What Corals Can Tell Us About Climate Change: Temperature Variability Over Millennia, was released today by the IPA, to coincide with this week’s hearing in the High Court of the case of Dr Peter Ridd, dismissed by James Cook University for his criticisms of quality of the reef science being undertaken by some of his colleagues.

“We are constantly being informed that the world is in the midst of a climate crisis and that current atmospheric temperatures are unprecedented, but this should be viewed in the context of what has occurred in the past,” Dr Abbot said.

“The public and politicians have been conditioned to associate ‘climate change’ with the destructive behaviour of generations of humans since the onset of the industrial revolution about 130 years ago. However, the scientific literature informs us that climate change is a natural phenomenon that has occurred over thousands of years and there is no reason to believe that this process is not ongoing.

“Studies of corals can contribute to our knowledge and understanding of these natural processes that are contributing to current climate change and also enable us to quantify the contribution from human activities,” he said.

Dr Abbot applies the evidence in the coral record gathered in his research to critique the famous “hockey-stick” of Dr Michael Mann, which had the effect of flattening the temperature record of the last millennium and implying a rapid increase in recent times. By contrast, the studies of corals cited by Dr Abbot show that sea surface temperatures have been increasing since about 1790 AD after a period of decline of at least several centuries.

Source: IPA, Ljungqvist, F. C., (2010) A new reconstruction of temperature variability in the extra-tropical
Northern Hemisphere during the last two millennia

This fits with temperature profiles that show evidence for the Little Ice Age, approximately during the period of 1600-1800 AD, following a relatively warm period called the Medieval Warm Period around 1000 AD, which had maximum temperatures similar to the present.

Dr Abbot has a BSc in chemistry from Imperial College, London, an MSc from the University of British Columbia, Canada, a Master of Biotechnology from the University of Queensland and a PhD in chemistry from McGill University, Canada. He has has published more than 100 papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. He also obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Queensland and was admitted as a solicitor in Queensland, and later obtained an LLM from the University of Queensland.

Download the report here.

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John Abbot

John Abbot is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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