New research from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science has revealed that the Great Barrier Reef is at risk of dying within 20 years. The data - which has yet to be peer-reviewed - suggests that large parts of the reef will have died off by the mid-2030s, confirming previous studies that have suggested the decline of coral reefs around the world by mid-century.
The team found that climate change increased one degree Celsius of warming to the ocean temperatures in March and that the extreme ocean temperatures that stimulated this year's bleaching may become common within 20 years if we don't curb our greenhouse gas emissions.
"These extreme temperatures will become commonplace by the 2030s putting a great strain on the ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef," said Andrew King of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and lead author of the study. "Our research showed this year's bleaching event is 175 times more likely today than in a world where humans weren't emitting greenhouse gases. We have loaded the odds against the survival of one of the world's greatest natural wonders."
The researchers decided to release their results prior to publication due to the severe nature of their findings and their implications for climate change on our planet.
"We are confident in the results because these kind of attribution studies are well established but what we found demands urgent action if we are to preserve the reef," King said. "For this reason, we felt it was vital to get our findings out as quickly as possible."
Back in 1999, a paper by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland predicted a similar outcome as the current study, although he used different methods to do so. The results suggested a loss of coral dominated reefs on the Great Barrier Reef by 2040.
"The current bleaching event and this attribution study leads me to believe that my highly controversial predictions in 1999 were actually conservative," he said. "Being right - in this case - is hardly cause for celebration."
The findings shed doubt on the future of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reef systems.
"Reefs need time around 15 years to completely recover from a coral bleaching event of this magnitude," Hoegh-Guldberg said. "Recovery rates are being overwhelmed by more frequent and severe mass coral bleaching."