Barbados and Climate Change

Jill Schneiderman, my colleague at Vassar (she is a geologist in the Eartch Science and Geogrraphy Department) has been living in Barbados this year and has just published a piece on Barbados’ history of climate change and th eprospects of a planet-saving agreement in Copehnagen. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the complete essay below.

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Copenhagen United Nations climate change conference—the opportunity to secure agreements to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions that will replace the Kyoto Protocol before it expires—because this year I’ve been living on a tiny coral island in the Atlantic Ocean. Here in Barbados, everywhere I look with my geologist’s gaze I see evidence of past climate change. And in the daily newspapers I read reports that record the nation’s worries about the effects of climate change on islander’s livelihoods. As is true for other small island nations, the future of all living beings on Barbados depends on productive conversations in Copenhagen.

Barbados is a coral island that rose roughly 1200 feet above sea level in the last one million years—in other words, Barbados is a geological infant. Still, it has much to teach us.

. . .

Though some sandstone and shale form a nucleus of the island, more than 85% of the exposed land consists of coral rock, known to geologists as limestone, naturally lithified from broken debris of ancient coral reefs. The island is unique in the Caribbean. Unlike the Bahamas that consist largely of windblown sand cemented together by the action of rainwater, or other Caribbean islands so vividly volcanic, Barbados today is comprised of nothing more than subaerial coralline remnants of dead communities and submarine fringes of currently living colonies of organisms—corals. Tiny animals called polyps that are related to and look like sea anemones, each coral encloses itself in a stony cup of limestone that it secretes. As they grow, the polyps divide to form coral colonies that build up on top of each other and manifest as a reef. Over thousands of years, coral reefs respond to fluctuations in sea level as well as changes in water temperature and other environmental conditions.

Abiding on this island I traverse slopes telling me that where I now walk, ocean waves once lapped. Hillsides shaped like treads and risers of a coralline staircase, coastal terraces in geological parlance, mark ancient shorelines. These old coastal features some distance above the modern coastline indicate that with changing climate and consequent sea level fluctuations some colonial organisms have become extinct while others have succeeded them. As a Jewish Buddhist geologist—or jubugeoscientist as I’ve come to think of myself lately—I think of these ancient reefs as paleo-Sanghas, communities that lived and died together.

For the complete essay go to http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=13225

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