A trip to the Great Barrier Reef

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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It’s the Earth’s largest coral reef system, composed of nearly 3,000 individual reefs and approximately 900 islands stretching for 1,400 miles, and is the also the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. Located off Australia’s eastern coastline of the state of Queensland, the region has become a major tourist destination.

The Great Barrier Reef is so large that it can be seen from space. Much of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which regulates the fishing, tourism and other activities to help preserve the mighty structure. Visitors to the reef account for about $6.4 billion in revenue.

Last month, a very good friend of mine gave me the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef. It was absolutely amazing to snorkel next to the reef and see the wide variety of corals, the many species of fish and other types of marine wildlife. It was an adventure that more than exceeded my expectations.

The Great Barrier Reef exists in warm tropical waters, but has grown and declined based on sea level changes and the fluctuation of ocean temperatures. The earliest evidence of reef structures, like coral skeleton deposits, in this region is estimated to date back to 600,000 years ago. During that time, the reef was once destroyed by an ice age. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the current structure has regrown over the last 20,000 years.

However, over the last two years, it has been reported that about 30 to 50 percent of the reef has died off. In the summer of 2016 and in 2017, the reef suffered “unprecedented” coral bleaching. This occurs when the average temperature of the ocean rises. The coral becomes stressed and eject the algae as it provides too much oxygen. During normal conditions, the algae provides energy, the right amount of oxygen and the colors for the coral. When the algae are expelled, the result is a slow and steady starving of the coral, causing it to turn white.

Most scientists blame the coral decrease to the Great Barrier Reef to climate change and the warming of the equatorial oceans. In 2016, there was an El Nino, the abnormal warming of ocean temperatures, and it was the strongest in recorded history.

And, it’s not just the warming of the oceans that is creating a problem for the Great Barrier Reef. There has been a major outbreak of coral-eating starfish on the southern end of the structure. Scientists are puzzled as to why there has been a sudden explosion in the starfish population and there are efforts underway to help control this outbreak.

To help with the reef, a new underwater robot called “LarvalBot” has been created to help seed the Great Barrier Reef with coral larvae with hopes to regenerate the damaged areas. As much as 1.2 million larvae is expected to be spread over the area and several robots are capable of covering more than 16,000 square feet in just one hour.

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In terms of our local weather, October was the first month since April that Coeur d’Alene’s monthly precipitation total finished above normal. Cliff measured 2.60 inches of moisture last month, compared to the normal of 2.22 inches. Last year, 2.48 inches of rain fell in Coeur d’Alene in October.

It appears we’re now in our wetter-than-normal weather pattern across the Inland Northwest. Despite a very dry summer, our seasonal moisture total is close to 22 inches with a normal to date of just over 20 inches. Cliff is still predicting slightly over 35 inches of rain and melted snow for the entire 2018 season. Based on the current patterns, there’s a very good chance that we’ll reach that figure at the end of the year.

With the increased moisture falling across the Inland Northwest, the attention is now turning to snow and when it will arrive. It’s possible that we’ll see a few snowflakes around the end of this week in the lower elevations. The chances really look good for measurable snow in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions around the early-to-mid portion of next week. So, you may want to think about getting those snow tires put on.

Cliff and I believe that the rest of November and December will have above-normal moisture, which may also include snowfall. There’s still a good chance that we’ll have a fourth year in a row with a white Christmas in North Idaho. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Cliff has discovered that when there were three years back-to-back-to-back with a white Christmas, there has always been a fourth year. As usual, time will tell.

Despite the good chances for snow during the first half of the winter season, the second half does look drier with much less snow thanks to the expected development of a new El Nino in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean. As of now, we are predicting about 50 inches of snow in Coeur d’Alene for the 2018-19 season, compared to a normal of 69.8 inches.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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