2017 Allan Sefton Memorial Lecture / SEES Prize Night
About the Allan Sefton Memorial Lecture
The late Allan Sefton was well known to residents of the Illawarra and further afield for his work as a naturalist and conservator of the local environment. In recognition of his contributions to environmental science in the Illawarra region, the Allan Sefton Memorial Lecture was established in 1993 and is a public occasion where a distinguished Australian scientist speaks on a topic of wide environmental interest.
The guest speaker for this year's lecture, which was held on 18th August, Dr Janice M Lough, is a Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS, Townsville) and Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow and Partner Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Reef Studies, James Cook University. She is a climate scientist who has been publishing on issues related to climate change for over 30 years.
Janice has a BSc in Environmental Sciences from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. She completed a PhD in 1982 at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, on tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures and climate in sub-Saharan Africa. She held an NSF-funded post-doctoral position at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, from 1982 to 1986. In 1986 she came to AIMS for a two-year postdoctoral position working with environmental records from corals and has been a research scientist at AIMS since 1988.
Current research activities focus on 1) obtaining annual growth and proxy environmental and records from massive corals over the past several centuries; this places current changes in an historical context, and 2) assessing how climate is already changing for tropical marine ecosystems; climate change is not a future event, significant warming of the tropical oceans has already occurred with observable consequences for coral reefs.
Tropical coral reefs are spectacular, complex and diverse ecosystems. Although occupying less than 0.5% of the sea floor (an area about half the size of France), they support 25% of all marine species and provide goods and services that contribute to the livelihoods of over 500 million people worldwide. Reefs are, however, in trouble. Some have suffered decades of over exploitation which is now being compounded, on even the most pristine reefs, by the impacts of a rapidly changing global climate system. This has been most dramatically demonstrated by the recent increase in frequency and extent of mass coral bleaching events – when the delicate, mutually beneficial relationship between the coral animal host and their photosynthesising algal symbionts breaks down. These recent events have been driven by unusually warm surface ocean temperatures and are a direct result of anthropogenically-driven global climate change. This talk will review how climate is already changing for coral reefs; why they are so sensitive to rapidly changing environmental conditions; and the historical evidence for such changes and their impacts as revealed in the annual skeletal records of certain long-lived massive corals. I will also consider what the future of these immensely valuable tropical ecosystems may look like given different trajectories of projected global warming and global and local actions that can contribute to their maintenance into the future.