Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ocean Acidification

I hear a lot of comments from skeptics concerning ocean acidification. The gist of the complaints is that the ocean is not turning acid, therefore these claims are all false. Once again, the problem is a result of a lack of understanding. No one is saying the ocean is turned into an acid. Acidification refers to it become less base.

If you need a refresher, the pH scale goes from 0 to 14. Pure water is at 7, completely neutral. Less than 7 is acidic and more than 7 is base. A change in one number is a factor of 10. So, a pH of 9 is ten times more base than a pH of 8. The ocean has had an average pH of about 8.2 for the last 300 million years. In recent years that has changed to 8.1. That is a change of 25% in the acidity of sea water. In other words, it has moved in the direction of the acids, but is still a base.

This change in the pH is caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide in the air, which creates carbonic acid. As the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, the ocean absorbs more of it. This is both good and bad. When the ocean takes CO2 out of the air, it slows global warming down. That's good. But, the formation of carbonic acid lowers the ocean's pH and that's bad.

A lower pH puts many forms of sea life at risk. Shellfish are possibly the most vulnerable due to how easily their shells dissolve in acid. A more acidic (less base) ocean makes it more difficult for them to build strong shells. Obviously, coral reefs are also at risk. But, a lower pH will also interfere with other forms of sea life. In fact, it is estimated a lower ocean pH will cost us about $1 trillion every year by the year 2100. I obtained that figure from an excellent source of information on ocean acidification, the paleohistory of ocean acidification and the biological, physical and economic costs associated with acidification.

Now, we have enough sensors we can monitor the oceans, with some gaps, at nearly real time. Read this article in Scientific American about the efforts, or this one on LiveScience.com.


  1. I think the oceans are less able to absorb CO2 as they get warmer. As I understand it, the ocean is currently absorbing more CO2 because the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone up.

  2. You are correct. That was a slip-up on my part and I'll make the correction. Thanks.

  3. First you imply that CO2 is the only thing that changes the pH of the ocean. What nothing else? Think you need to check that one out. Since volcanoes emit other substances than CO2 and there an estimated 200,000 sub sea vents would think that this would effect the pH a lot more than a miniscule 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Next you imply that the Ocean is going to turning acid, when you say that shellfish are at rish as their shells disolve in acids. You really believe that the partial pressure of CO2 is going to turn all the water in the ocean acid? Sorry but there is not enough CO2 in the atmosphere to do that.

    As far as the poor coral polyps are concerned the rise of the coral growth in the oceans millions of years ago began when atmospheric CO2 levels were 6 - 7000 ppm.

    And just where did you get that $1T figure from? Nice sound but how was that derived?

    Now lets see the discussion as to what happens to the CO2 after it is dissolved into the ocean? It just doesn't stay there does it? Is it used by the plants and animals that live there for other processes? Is some of it sequestered? If you don't know them all then how do you know that CO2 causes 'acidification'?

  4. Constant GardenerApril 7, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    Excellent. I'm going to plagiarize the hell out of this if that's okay. Is that okay? Or, maybe make it a short primer post and I can link to it.

    Thanks very much.

  5. Everything is here for public use. Use it any way you want. That's why I'm doing this.

  6. Constant GardenerApril 8, 2015 at 12:05 AM

    I understand your altruism, truly. I try to drive traffic here since your explication is peerless. Tell you what, I'll plagiarize freely and liberally provide links back to you. Or, put another way, I'll continue to use you to make me seem smarter and also invite people to get really educated by paying you a visit.

  7. Yes I will agree that the underwater volcanoes and vents are constant but their contribution to the ecosystems carbon budget is way under reported. The estimate contributed in increased from 60 million tons in the early 1990 to 100 million tons in 2000 to 600 million tons in 2010. Based on actual measurements of less than 40 active volcanoes and 3 subsea vents and taking into account less than 150 active volcanoes. Hardly a representative estimate. The idea is that you can't judge what is causing the acidification until you quantify the inputs to the system. Further reading:



    This second reference is interesting since it was given to me by commenter using it to support his claim that the CO2 contribution was only 600 million tons. When the title of the op-ed was "Long Invisible:Research Shows Volcanic CO2 Levels Are Staggering(op-ed).

    As to you article about the poor mollusks shells disolving in the acidic sea water. What are some of the causes of acidification of the sea water used. Was it taken from near the mouths of fresh water rivers? Was it taken from areas subject to recent heavy rain or from outlets of highly neutral fresh water? There are many reasons for coastal waters to be actually acidic, and CO2 has no cause.

    I will end this missive a few quotes from the two articles I provide:

    "Their coughing fits might catch the eye — but in between tantrums, the
    steady breathing of volcanoes quietly sheds upwards of a quarter of a
    billion tons of CO2 every year. "

    "The new poster-child of planetary degassing is diffuse CO2
    — invisible emanations which can occur across vast areas surrounding
    the main vents of a volcano, rising through the bulk of the mountains."

    "If these additional 'carbon-active' volcanoes are included, the number
    of degassing peaks skyrockets to more than 500. Of which we've measured a
    grand total of nine percent. You can probably fill it in by now — we
    need to climb more mountains."

    And the above author takes into account none of the sub sea volcanoes or vents. It just seems logical before you start to ascribe a cause to an observed phenomenon you should understand the amount and source of the cause you have chosen. This goes to the actual sources of CO2 into the atmosphere not just the sea.

    Came across an interesting factoid just before i posted this that stated: "Phytoplankton account for half of all photosynthetic activity on Earth." Phytoplankton are plants and love CO2.

  8. Actually the ocean is giving up CO2 in the equatorial zones due to CO2 rich deep ocean water upwelling to the surface and giving up its CO2 as it warms. And it absorbs the CO2 in the northern latitudes as the surface layer cools and then sinks to power the deep ocean currents.

  9. Joe,
    What you are describing is something that has been going on for as long as there have been oceans with currents. But, you don't say anything about why things have changed over the last 50 years. The areas giving up CO2 are giving up less of it and the areas absorbing CO2 are absorbing more. What has changed over the last 50 years to cause this?

  10. Do you realize you make a case supporting AGW? Is that your intention? I hope so because you are doing a very good job of it.

    Let's talk about this 'staggering' amount of CO2 to begin with. The 600 million tons figure is pretty iffy, in my opinion. I have seen the reports and they have a ways to go before I'll be convinced. But, let's assume it's accurate and compare it to the manmade emissions. We emit 40 billion tons a year (and climbing), so 600 million tons (a 'staggering' amount) is only 1.5% of the manmade emissions.

    The real problem with your argument isn't the amount of underwater activity. It could be ten times higher and it still wouldn't change things. The issue is this underwater activity has been there all along and now the oceans are changing. Stop and think about it. All of this underwater activity has been putting CO2 into the water for billions of years and the oceans are still a base with a pH of 8.2. Now, something in the last 50 years has been able to reverse that and lower the pH of the oceans to 8.1. That is the 'staggering' figure in this conversation. And make no mistake, it is a staggering figure.

    Do you see why I say you are making a very good argument in support of AGW?

    Think of it this way. Imaging a subway station and there is a very long subway that continuously pulls in. When the doors open, passengers on the train get out and passengers on the platform get in. Since this is a very long train, each car that arrives has the same number of passengers.

    If more people get off than get on, the number of passengers on the train goes down. Likewise, if more get on than get off, the population on the train increases. Somewhere is the happy medium of equality.

    If they station has no passengers waiting to get on we have the extreme on one end - the only thing that happens is passengers get off. The other extreme is a station so filled with people that there is no room for anyone to get off the train and people can only get on.

    The station represents the atmosphere. The train represents the ocean currents. The people represent CO2 molecules. As a current reaches the surface and interacts with the atmosphere it will lose some CO2 molecules to the air and will also absorb some. If we increase the number of molecules of CO2 in the atmosphere (increase the number of people in the station), the ocean will absorb an increasing amount of CO2. As long as this rate is lower than the amount of CO2 emitted by the oceans (getting off the train), the CO2 population will go down. BUT, as the level of CO2 goes up, the amount the population goes down will decrease. A reduction of 5 is a reduction, but not as much as a reduction of 50.

    If the amount of CO2 continues to increase (more and more people on the platform), the number of molecules being absorbed by the ocean will eventually reach the point where more is being absorbed than is being emitted and the amount of CO2 in the oceans will increase - even though emissions are still continuing. Except in the extreme case, the train will always off load passengers. But, how does the amount of boarding passengers compare?

    This is a simplified explanation of diffusive equilibrium and is what is going on at the ocean-atmosphere interface.

    So, the question is - why has this changed over the last 50 years? What has occurred in the last 50 years that is different?

    Like I said before, you are making a very good argument in support of AGW.

    Good job. Keep it up.

  11. No! the point is that the actual amount of NATURAL CO2 emissions are unknown, and dwarf man made contributions. Guess you didn't read the authors estimate of the figure of a quarter billion tons just from the atmospheric emissions.The figure on the natural carbon budget keeps rising because of the science, not the consensus. Just another thought on the subject; Where did all the carbon come from that was sequestered in the earth's crust that we are using for energy now? And as plate tectonics move this sequestered carbon from the crust to the mantle and emit it through emissions back into the atmosphere and oceans, is that not exactly what man is doing? The carbon is moving from one place to another, it is not destroyed, the carbon sequestered has been here from the beginning just in other forms. The incoming radiation absorbed by the planet or emitted through volcanic activity is used and changed to infra red radiation and the excess is emitted into space. All that CO2 does is act as a buffer for the natural planetary cooling through radiative loss.

    AGW, does not exist, It is all natural changes in our environment and if you really think you can change the temperature of the earth, you are really in over your head. You need to state what the Natural Temperature IS or should be.. We are within the norms established over millions of years; so what is your NORM. Not stated in any of your so called consensus science.

    You blame this natural change on CO2 yet make no effort at quantifying the natural CO2 inputs to the system. And the actual human inputs to the system are not measured, they too are estimates. Just as your over inflation of the man made carbon input into the system. The AGW science is based on vague assumptions based on incomplete measurement performed by computer models that are designed to produce figures that can not be proven through real measurements.

    Your analogy stinks, use the actual processes at work. The natural CO2 cycle from the earth to the atmosphere and the Ocean; and the ocean to the atmosphere. Do you even understand all the processes? Right now no one knows all the processes at work in global climate change or in the processes that cause the weather. The ocean currents even play a larger roll than CO2 as the links between ocean currents actually show a cause and effect relationship with temp.

  12. Once again, you are making the case for AGW and doing a very good job of it. The amount of natural CO2 emissions is much greater than human emissions - about 40 gigatons vs about 770 gigatons. But, those 770 gigatons have been there for ages and any changes are slow. Why have we experienced such a rapid change in the last 50 years? The difference between the natural and manmade emissions is that the natural cycle reabsorbs the naturally produced CO2 and about half of the manmade emissions (good thing!). The reason atmospheric CO2 levels have been going up is because we have been overloading the system for so long there is nowhere for the excess to go anymore. So, it just builds up in the atmosphere.

    The idea this is all a natural cycle has been so thoroughly debunked I'm surprised you would even put that statement in print. Yes, there are natural cycles but there is no evidence to even suggest the warming we're experiencing is natural. In fact, if left without our interference, we would be in a cooling cycle, not a warming one. So much for natural cycles.

  13. Again poor analogy, CO2 absorption into the the ocean from the atmosphere is limited by the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere. And when the partial pressure of CO2 in the ocean is greater than the partial pressure in the atmosphere it causes the ocean to off gas, the ocean will not absorb CO2. If it would, then carbonated drinks would never go flat. You do not understand the processes behind this exchange. Our 5% contribution to the earths CO2 budget is miniscule, and trying to remove even 5% of that will have no effect. Since the maximum effect of CO2 on Temp occurs with the first 20 ppm in the atmosphere.

  14. By pure coincidence, I came across this article today about how phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean is on the decline due to ocean acidification:


  15. Whose rear did you pull that 770 gigatons from? The last UN Climate spew quoted the ESTIMATE of 150 Gigatons Carbon with Man Produced at 5% of that. You can't seem to keep your figures straight.

    But then that is your natural nature pulling figures right out of thin air. Hardly part of a scientific method. And do not confuse Carbon production with CO2 production. And yes, most of the CO2 produced is sequestered naturally by the environment releasing the O2. Since you don't understand where all the CO2 comes from you can't tell if there are other processes involved. Again think about this statement( it may sound familiar). " In fact, if left without our interference, we would be in a cooling cycle, not a warming one." Sounds like a you are sawing that the natural warming trend is a good thing? If you can't adapt to nature you are bound to perish. Isn't that what the theory of evolution states. BTW do you live near the coast? If you do you might want to move inland this week as the ocean is due to rise soon. Personally I know for a fact that more people die from exposure in the winter that die from heat stress in the summer. Always liked the warmth and know i can survive with more heat. Areas that produce crops now may dry but other areas will become moist and take their place. Think the Sahara or the Gobi, both used to have rivers and vegetation.

    Again, AGW a vague assumption, based on estimates from incomplete measurements, from incomplete understanding of the processes at work.

  16. How about the IPCC?

    Here's another reference from the IPCC:

    Before you go around destroying your credibility again by making baseless character attacks again, I suggest you do your homework. These figures are readily available for anyone doing even a simple search. And, as a last resort, you could have been civil and asked. Being an ass doesn't make you sound more intelligent.

  17. By the way, deaths from heat and cold are about equal in the U.S. I didn't find data for the whole planet.


  18. Ah yes that peer reviewed scientific journal 'The New York Times' that didn't even attribute the author of the paper they are quoting.

    Well let me give you this source that just happens to differ.

    "They are agents for "primary production," the creation of organic compounds from carbon dioxide dissolved in the water, "

    Interesting use of the term creation of organic compounds. not just one compound.

    " However, across large regions of the World Ocean such as the Southern Ocean, phytoplankton are also limited by the lack of the micronutrient iron."

    "What not AGW?"

    "Another global ocean primary productivity study found a net increase in
    phytoplankton, as judged from measured chlorophyll, when comparing
    observations in 1998–2002 to those conducted during a prior mission in

    What no decline!

    "These studies and the need to understand the phytoplankon in the ocean
    led to the creation of the Secchi Disk Citizen Science study in 2013."

    Something YOU can actually do to help conduct some real research. It is a never ending program. Check it out. Do something instead of passing gas here.


    hate wikipedia but you did use the NY Times as a scientific source.

  19. You work very hard at this don't you? Why didn't you just click on the hyperlink in that article? It takes you straight to the paper abstract.

    There is nothing you posted there that disputes any loss of phytoplankton due to ocean acidification, especially in the Southern Ocean.

    And, no, I did not use the NY Times as a scientific source. I used the scientific paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. I merely used the Times article as a source showing the results of this paper for the general public.

    Tell me, are you really a climate scientist in disguise trying to make deniers look bad? Because you are doing one helluva good job.

  20. Again a reference from a source that does not quote the actual article. Was the article peer reviewed? Checked the supposed source data of the article, and it looks like the estimate is the work of amateurs.

  21. But you agree evidently that heat is preferable over cold and support the warming trend over a new ice age.

  22. Why do you jump to unsupported conclusions? I didn't say anything remotely like that. If I was prefer anything, I would prefer we not change the climate.

  23. Did you click on the link? The original source article was written by the Weather Underground, a professional weather organization. The link takes you to the scientific paper in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

  24. Won't happen, the climate is always changing and the present change is with in the norm. Look at the change of the last 25,000 years, Earth warmed all by itself, CO2's contribution to that was minimal and any additional CO2 is miniscule in it's effect on temp. It just slows down the loss of energy from the planet's energy system from radiative cooling. Does not trap it permanently. Our system is not closed like a greenhouse, it is open. Excess energy not used by our system is radiated back into space in the form of infrared radiation.

  25. Once again, you aren't bothering with the facts. The current situation is unprecedented. The planet did not 'warm by itself' because that is physically impossible. The Milankovitch cycles caused warming to commence, but that did not add enough heat to the system to melt the ice. Once some warming began, greenhouse gases were released that resulted in the climate retaining the heat that was incoming. By the way, the amount of heat retained by the extra amount of CO2 we have added to the atmosphere is about equal to the amount of energy all of our power plants could generate in 100 years. It is not miniscule. IR radiation is radiated back into space only when it can reach the top of the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is retaining it, it will stay in the system.

    I'm sorry you have decided it isn't worth your check your facts, but that doesn't change their reality.

  26. IPCC - UN Bureaucrats trying to run a scientific investigation with no idea what the term Scientific Method means.

    No you destroy your credibility by believing any of the IPCC reports.

    The UN has been looking for a uninterruptible source of income for decades. This is it, along with the takeover of the Ocean floors and the Internet.

    Good bye.

  27. Have you ever bothered to look at an IPCC report? The report is a compilation of scientific papers, all of which are referenced. If nothing else, they are an outstanding reference source for the papers the scientific community is looking at.

  28. Building straw men is not a good way to have a discussion.

  29. The contribution of volcanos is already accounted for in the background levels. It is the accumulation that is relevant.

  30. Again, the natural processes contribute to the background levels. It is the acidification from the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere that is relevant.

  31. Hardly, when you don't know the total contributions from the world you can't expect to know what man contributes. Besides it is all mixed together.