A Reminder About Ocean Acidification

As Waxman-Markey goes up to the Senate, I think it’s worth reminding people that there’s more at stake to cutting CO2 emissions than climate. There is also the more pressing issue of ocean acidification (which I’ve written about previously on OTB here). The science behind acidification is simple. As the oceans dissolve more carbon dioxide, the ocean becomes more acidic. This poses real, catastrophic problems for the ocean, as Randy Repass and Sally-Christine Rodgers point out:

Ocean Acidification is primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels. When carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ends up in the ocean it changes the pH, making the sea acidic and less hospitable to life. Over time, C02 reduces calcium carbonate, which prevents creatures from forming shells and building reefs. In fact, existing shells will start to dissolve. Oysters and mussels will not be able to build shells. Crabs and lobsters? Your great-grandchildren may wonder what they tasted like.

Carbon dioxide concentrated in the oceans is making seawater acidic. Many of the zooplankton, small animals at the base of the food web, have skeletons that won’t form in these conditions, and sea-life further up the food chain — fish, mammals and seabirds that rely on zooplankton for food will also perish. No food — no life. One billion people rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. Many scientific reports document that worldwide, humans are already consuming more food than is being produced. The implications are obvious.

This is not complex, and while the ocean does have a natural buffer system, that system is slowly being overwhelmed by the increasing acidity of the ocean. Since 1750, the pH of the oceans has dropped by 0.1–an appxoimate 25% increase in the acidity of ocean water. It’s also worth mentioning that as a consequence of overwhelming the buffer system, the decreasing pH of the ocean is now happening faster than previously predictedten times faster than predicted.

The increased acidity of the ocean is not being caused by solar cycles or volcanoes, but rather by the simple increase of dissolved carbon dioxide in water. The data sets are not based on satellite measurments, but by direct tests of ocean water. The mathematics behind the modeling are much simpler and based on clear-cut principles of chemistry that you can demonstrate for less than $10 spent at your local grocery store.

Now, Waxman-Markey is insufficient to solve the problem. Granted. But it’s a start and right now it’s the only emissions reduction scheme on the table, which is why it has my support.

FILED UNDER: Environment, , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Drew says:

    Although global warming is a complete hoax, ocean acidification is a totally different story. But I have two questions:

    1. Shouldn’t we then all be praying for warmer oceans so that the CO2 will come out of solution?

    2. Why support the impotent act of bankrupting US industry, since China, Russia and India will keep on keepin’ on and simply dwarf this measure. If Henry puts forth a “Marshall Plan” for nuclear energy, the only rational solution to this dilemma, then I’ll be supportive. National industrial suicide is not a reasonable approach.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Drew

    (1) Since the ocean is already naturally basic, the oceans would (by my very rough back of the envelope calculation) have to have a temperature of greater than 40 degrees C for that to happen. I don’t think we want average global temperatures that high…

    (2) If the “Manhattan project” were on the table, I would agree with you. It isn’t.

  3. Triumph says:

    The science behind acidification is simple.

    Big deal–you’re just another liberal playing the science card.

    Science is for anti-Christian secularists–NOT real Americans.

    Remember that all of these scientists who talk about acidification are normally associated with Universities–bastions of politically correct leftism. I find it interesting that the article you link to from Science Daily discusses “research” done by liberal professors at the UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO–the notorious home of Obama.

    Please see Gov. Palin’s op-ed in the Washington Post for the TRUTH.

  4. steve says:

    National industrial suicide? We are projecting a 1% decrease in GDP over many years if IIRC. FYI, China is now investing pretty heavily in clean energy. They are now the world’s leader in wind turbines (per the CEO of American Superconductor).

    Good post Dave. The data is pretty solid, though not final, in climate change, but even better for acidification.

    Steve

  5. steve says:

    Err, Dave should read Alex.

    Steve

  6. It’s also worth mentioning that as a consequence of overwhelming the buffer system, the decreasing pH of the ocean is now happening faster than previously predicted—ten times faster than predicted.

    TEN TIMES FASTER THAN PREDICTED!!!!!!! Oh my God!!!!!!! Say, these predictions didn’t happen to come from John Holdren or Paul Ehrlich did they? Or Steve?

    There have been times in the past when CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have been much higher and much lower than they are now, but somehow the oceans and life on earth survived. I’m not implying that we have to bury our heads in the sand, that there isn’t a real problem, or that we shouldn’t do anything (no matter how much Triumph wants to believe I do), but Drew is right.

    I’ll believe this is a real crisis when more people start acting like its a crisis rather than a social justice program. Get your friends in the environmental movement to get their collective heads out of their asses and come up with a better way to supply the power we need (by, say, building a lot of nuclear power plants) before trying to convince me that Americans (and apparently only Americans) just need to learn to live with less power at a higher cost.

  7. Also Alex, in terms of establishing a baseline for ocean acidity, how does anyone know that 1750 represents the “right” pH level for the oceans? What if the acidity then was abnormally low? How would you know?

    And finally, there is another fallacy here in that you seem to want to introduce some sort of stasis in selected aspects of natural systems. Nature just doesn’t work that way, whether we are making things better or worse.

    Maybe you’re right. I don’t know. But I do know that the philosophical underpinnings of what are calling science here are a little weak. Tighten up the arguments to convince me.

  8. brainy435 says:

    You’ll have to wait awhile for Alex to respond. He’ll get to it as soon as he puts the goalpost down.

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    As a skeptic I always have to ask why such a rush? It seems those pushing the doomsday scenarios always talk about the increasing speed or rates of whatever. Throw in “tipping points” and this seems rather overblown and more akin to politics than science.

  10. odograph says:

    I love anti-scientists lurking on the political blogs – always so ready to call GW a hoax. They all become little Triumphs so easily, unaware of their self-parody.

    As always, if you think you have the science go win the science. Take it to them, and make them the whining losers.

  11. TangoMan says:

    The ocean, like the atmosphere, operates in a complex manner. Modeling the ocean-CO2 relationship by taking a tank of ocean water and pumping CO2 into it, thereby increasing the acidification and then measuring the rate of shell formation in crabs, simply doesn’t translate to complex systems.

    For instance, consider this study, Effects of CO2 Enrichment on Marine Phytoplankton:

    On the organismal level, a moderate increase in CO2 facilitates photosynthetic carbon fixation of some phytoplankton groups. It also enhances the release of dissolved carbohydrates, most notably during the decline of nutrient-limited phytoplankton blooms. A decrease in the carbonate saturation state represses biogenic calcification of the predominant marine calcifying organisms, foraminifera and coccolithophorids. On the ecosystem level these responses influence phytoplankton species composition and succession, favouring algal species which predominantly rely on CO2 utilization. Increased phytoplankton exudation promotes particle aggregation and marine snow formation, enhancing the vertical flux of biogenic material. A decrease in calcification may affect the competitive advantage of calcifying organisms, with possible impacts on their distribution and abundance. On the biogeochemical level, biological responses to CO2 enrichment and the related changes in carbonate chemistry can strongly alter the cycling of carbon and other bio-active elements in the ocean. Both decreasing calcification and enhanced carbon overproduction due to release of extracellular carbohydrates have the potential to increase the CO2 storage capacity of the ocean. Although the significance of such biological responses to CO2 enrichment becomes increasingly evident, our ability to make reliable predictions of their future developments and to quantify their potential ecological and biogeochemical impacts is still in its infancy.

    In a nutshell, when the CO2 level is increased we see increased phytoplankton growth. Phytoplankton is a one of the building blocks of the food chain. What effects could we expect with increased phytoplankton production? How about more fish? What effect do fish have on their environment? Wouldn’t you know:

    Research published today reveals the major influence of fish on maintaining the delicate pH balance of our oceans, vital for the health of coral reefs and other marine life. The discovery, made by a team of scientists from the UK, US and Canada, could help solve a mystery that has puzzled marine chemists for decades. Published today (16 January 2009) in Science, the study provides new insights into the marine carbon cycle, which is undergoing rapid change as a result of global CO2 emissions.

    Until now, scientists have believed that the oceans’ calcium carbonate, which dissolves to make seawater alkaline, came from the external ‘skeletons’ of microscopic marine plankton. This study estimates that three to 15 per cent of marine calcium carbonate is in fact produced by fish in their intestines and then excreted. This is a conservative estimate and the team believes it has the potential to be three times higher.

    Fish are therefore responsible for contributing a major but previously unrecognised portion of the inorganic carbon that maintains the ocean’s acidity balance. The researchers predict that future increases in sea temperature and rising CO2 will cause fish to produce even more calcium carbonate.

    Hey, would you look at that. This looks like a feedback mechanism. Pump more CO2 into the ocean and calcification levels begin to drop but organic matter increases. The rise in organic matter increasing the carrying capacity for fish. The rise in fish results in increased levels of calcification production, thus mitigating the effects of the CO2.

    Secondly, historic atmospheric CO2 levels have been as high as 2,000 ppm, compared to present levels of 387. The oceans were not dead zones.

    Which leads me to a third point. The defense of a position built on the naturalistic fallacy. The proposition here is that nature, as we’ve known it in the last 500 years, or even 4,000 years, is the way nature SHOULD BE, therefore we must work to insure that it remains in this state. The oceans of 60 million years ago had different characteristics than they do today. Was their composition “wrong” or “worse” than present day composition? It’s likely that oceans with higher levels of acidification are different in their composition of lifeforms, for instance, a lower density of crustaceans and a higher density of fish. Why is that a “wrong” apportionment of lifeforms compared to the present-day apportionment?

  12. Triumph,

    That is without a doubt the most foolish comment I’ve ever seen.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles, Steve, et. al –

    Currently, Ocean pH is at its lowest point in over 2 million years (ie, before human beings evolved).

    Yes, the oceans did teem with life at lower pH levels. However, such life did not include coral reefs, mussels, lobsters, etc. Most of the life that survives at a lower pH are not foods that generally provide good nutrition for humans (jellyfish, for example).

    Tangoman,

    Yes, you do see a temporary increase in phytoplankton, but as the pH drops, the plankton die off, eliminating a large hunk of the food chain.

    The oceans of 60 million years ago had different characteristics than they do today. Was their composition “wrong” or “worse” than present day composition?

    I would submit that the state of the oceans 60 million years ago was bad for modern humans. Being a modern human, I would prefer not to have the oceans in that state.

  14. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    As a skeptic I always have to ask why such a rush?

    I meant to address this directly. B/c at current emission levels, the pH of the ocean will be too low to sustain most of the ecosystems that human beings rely on by the year 2040. That’s when coral and other shells no longer form.

  15. Brian Knapp says:

    Which leads me to a third point. The defense of a position built on the naturalistic fallacy. The proposition here is that nature, as we’ve known it in the last 500 years, or even 4,000 years, is the way nature SHOULD BE, therefore we must work to insure that it remains in this state. The oceans of 60 million years ago had different characteristics than they do today. Was their composition “wrong” or “worse” than present day composition? It’s likely that oceans with higher levels of acidification are different in their composition of lifeforms, for instance, a lower density of crustaceans and a higher density of fish. Why is that a “wrong” apportionment of lifeforms compared to the present-day apportionment?

    Well, you are absolutely correct. CO2 levels were way higher 60 million years ago. Therefore it is foolish for us to think that the levels for up to the last “500-4,000” years are “normal”.

    What we do know, however, according to the article you linked, is that the current levels have been maintained at less than 500 ppm for the last 3-15 million years.

    Of course all species of the genus homo have existed no earlier than 2.5 million years ago, including modern humans some 200,000 years ago.

    So, sure, we don’t have to maintain these levels. We only have to do so for the survival of humanity.

  16. Brian Knapp says:

    Sorry, looks like Alex already beat me to the punch.

  17. TangoMan says:

    you do see a temporary increase in phytoplankton, but as the pH drops, the plankton die off, eliminating a large hunk of the food chain.

    Show me evidence that this is simply a temporary increase. The research I cited makes no reference to this being a temporary phenomenon.

    Further, don’t you have any wisdom to impart on why you favor static models rather than dynamic models? You completely ignored the point I was stressing, the linkage between increased levels of CO2 in the oceans to increased levels of phytoplankton production, thus leading to an increased carrying capacity for fish, which in turns leads to a increased level of calcium carbonate production, thus reducing the effects of CO2 on the ocean chemistry.

    I would submit that the state of the oceans 60 million years ago was bad for modern humans.

    Why? Your snappy answers just seems to presume the premise. You provide me nothing of substance to ponder.

  18. TangoMan says:

    We only have to do so for the survival of humanity.

    How do you figure? It seems to me that you’re arguing from a variation of the post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy. Humanity didn’t exist at the time that atmospheric CO2 levels were 5 times higher than today, therefore he couldn’t have existed. That being the case, it is “proven” that present day CO2 levels are necessary for mankind to exist.

    I hope that you’ll understand my reluctance to support this “reasoning.”

  19. floyd says:

    How many carbon credits does one need to offset one cremation? True believers… Ante up and get in line!

  20. Alex Knapp says:

    TangoMan,

    Did you even read that abstract?

    A decrease in the carbonate saturation state represses biogenic calcification of the predominant marine calcifying organisms, foraminifera and coccolithophorids. On the ecosystem level these responses influence phytoplankton species composition and succession, favouring algal species which predominantly rely on CO2 utilization. Increased phytoplankton exudation promotes particle aggregation and marine snow formation, enhancing the vertical flux of biogenic material. A decrease in calcification may affect the competitive advantage of calcifying organisms, with possible impacts on their distribution and abundance.

    That’s a threat to the survival of the calcifying phytoplanktons–the very ones that currently dominate the food chain.

    It is not only corals that are going to be severely affected, and possibly eliminated, by ocean acidification. For example, mollusks, oysters, crustose coralline algae and huge numbers of planktonic calcifiers create skeletons, shells and tests out of calcium carbonate. Some of these organisms may be tiny, but they play very important roles in the ocean and in marine food webs.

    What lowering the pH does–according to the abstract of the article you cite–is increase levels of algae. But algae levels are controlled by calcifying phytoplanktons–the kind that are threatened by acidification. Marine algae blooms are NOT good for ocean life or humans.

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    I love anti-scientists lurking on the political blogs – always so ready to call GW a hoax. They all become little Triumphs so easily, unaware of their self-parody.

    As always, if you think you have the science go win the science. Take it to them, and make them the whining losers.

    Like this—–>>>>>>>>>>

    I would submit that the state of the oceans 60 million years ago was bad for modern humans. Being a modern human, I would prefer not to have the oceans in that state.

    lol.

    Once again you can not date anything beyond recorded History……

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    hmm, maybe if we ask the newage Nazi science czar,He will help us clear this up?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holdren

  23. Steve Plunk says:

    I wonder how we know what the ocean’s ph was 60 million years ago? I also wonder if that would be bad for modern humans? Maybe this is a really bad thing but rushing to “fix” it may create more unintended consequences than we realize.

    There is no reason to rush headlong into something we are just starting to understand. The we know the more we realize we don’t know. Slow down and quit trying to damage the economy that has helped us cure disease, feed the world, and live longer. Some scientists would have us kill ourselves to save ourselves and that needs to be rethought.

  24. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    The same ocean pH as existed 60 million years ago would be an ocean ecosystem that is radically different from the one in which humans evolved. Can humans survive in it? Maybe–probably.

    But is it worth the risk? We KNOW we can survive at current pH and CO2 levels. We don’t know if we can survive at future levels. But we only have about 30-50 year window to fix it.

  25. odograph says:

    Ocean health generally is a more pressing problem than GW (and I believe in GW). Carrying capacity (human population) has been more dependent on fisheries than most people realize. People have calculated that Europe could not have supported its population, even a couple centuries ago, without the Basque cod fisheries. Well, it’s not an accident that dried cod shows up in cultures all around the world.

    I like jellyfish actually (not sure what fraction of species are suitable for Asian cuisines) but I’ll miss the big fish … and of course the shellfish.

  26. TangoMan says:

    We don’t know if we can survive at future levels. But we only have about 30-50 year window to fix it.

    I’m always tickled to see non-rigorous and not consistent applications of the precautionary principle. For example, many of those who support gay marriage have no concern for the precautionary principle when they’re mucking about with the cultural foundations of society yet they tend to be the same folks who want to apply the precautionary principle in environmental matters. They’re not the least bit afraid of destroying culture because they believe that they, or we, can create a better culture yet they don’t have the same belief about the human ability to adapt to changing environmental parameters, assuming that the environmental computer models will translate into tangible environmental change in the far future.

    Secondly, it would do everyone who worships the precautionary principle a world of good if they considered the famous Simon-Erhlich wager.

    Thirdly, considering that all policy choices involve opportunity costs, it would help the credibility of precautionary principle advocates if they would state outright how many people they advocate be killed or harmed in order to bring about the environmental stasis that they dream off. As the Copenhagen Consensus has documented, the alternative uses for funding can bring about a lot of improvement in people’s lives not to mention saving many millions of lives and geoengineering to keep the environment stable is, when considered against the alternatives, a very low priority.

    Fourthly, how much economic misery is involved in getting to the point of stopping ocean acidification? How much electricity rationing, how much transportation rationing, how much food rationing, how much curtailment of free trade, etc, because all of these economic actions have environmental consequences. Spell it out for us rather than feeding us blather about non-self-sustaining “green jobs.”

  27. Triumph says:

    For example, many of those who support gay marriage have no concern for the precautionary principle when they’re mucking about with the cultural foundations of society yet they tend to be the same folks who want to apply the precautionary principle in environmental matters.

    Actually, the reason the Al Gore-Sotomayor-Hussein Obama-Barney Frank-Barry Bonds crowd are such big gay marriage proponents is precisely because of their crazy environmental views.

    These people think the universe exists for spotted owls, goldfish, and the ocean. Humans–to them–are irrelevant. They hate us. This is why they are anti-American and anti-God.

    They want humanity to go away so they can live their elitist lives in piece.

    Thus, they would love to see everyone turned gay so we would have no more procreation of the species and, hence, no more humanity.

    Their whole act is based on hate.

  28. Observer says:

    Shorter Knapp – TangoMan discussion:

    TangoMan: Your science is bullshit. Here is a paper.

    Knapp: I don’t think you’re doing the science right.

    TangoMan: Yah huh! Look at my paper!

    Knapp: I looked at your paper, and it appears to support my point.

    TangoMan: Look, over there! A bunch of homos!

  29. Vech says:

    We really need to talk to Obama about passing legislation limiting volcanic activity. One of those suckers can pretty much mess up a few years of good environmental practice. I have confidence he can pull it off and doubt it would cost a dime over 1.5 trillion.

  30. Drew says:

    Alex –

    I’d like to see your calculation. At just a delta of 25 degrees vs 17 deegrees (the mean ocean temp) equilibrium CO2 in solution falls by 25%.

    Based on this thread I decided to take a random walk on the internet for articles. Admittedly, random. The most fascinating points are:

    1. The wide range of views of various scientists on the impact of this phenomenon. There is no settled result here. None. Zip. Zero. Especially on dynamic vs static systems.

    2. The widespread and weird invocation of imminent “tipping point” arguments. My, my. In the entire history of the planet, what a unique time (nanosecond) we live in. (snicker)

    3. And the best. The CO2 already in the atmosphere, and destined to dissolve in the oceans, is so great that only immediate 60%- 80% reductions in current CO2 emissions can save us. Well, that’s as likely as the newly available Jessica Simpson breakin’ down my front door tonight strippin’ her clothes off as she enters and ravishing me in all manner for the next 12 hours. It could happen……..but I gotta hunch….. probably not.

    So, Jessica availability or not, grab yer honey and have some fun. Cause if the doomsters are right there’s no fixin’ it.

  31. odograph says:

    Drew produces the conservative classic on any environmental action.

    Too soon.
    Too soon.
    Too soon.
    OK … no, too late!

  32. Furhead says:

    Sorry to butt in. I read the other day that we might run out of high-grade uranium in 70 years or so. Is that true or false, or somewhere in between?

  33. Alex Knapp says:

    TangoMan,

    What the hell does gay marriage have to do with increased acidity in the oceans?

    (As a side note, by the way, check your history–marriage “between a man and a woman” is not the only way it’s been done.)

    yet they don’t have the same belief about the human ability to adapt to changing environmental parameters, assuming that the environmental computer models will translate into tangible environmental change in the far future.

    Please provide data that calcifying organisms in the ocean will somehow magically be able to process said calcium under increased pH levels…

    Secondly, it would do everyone who worships the precautionary principle a world of good if they considered the famous Simon-Erhlich wager.

    The Simon-Erhlich wager is irrelevant to this case. That wager was about resource scarcity and the ability of humans to substitute a scarce product for more prevalent one through technological innovation. That has no bearing on global changes to oceanic ecosystems (though it does have bearing on our ability to develop cleaner energy sources).

    Thirdly, considering that all policy choices involve opportunity costs, it would help the credibility of precautionary principle advocates if they would state outright how many people they advocate be killed or harmed in order to bring about the environmental stasis that they dream off.

    I don’t want environmental stasis. I want the ocean pH to not dip below 8.

    the alternative uses for funding can bring about a lot of improvement in people’s lives not to mention saving many millions of lives and geoengineering to keep the environment stable is, when considered against the alternatives, a very low priority.

    The “Cophenhagen Consensus” was about temperature change, not oceanic pH.

    Fourthly, how much economic misery is involved in getting to the point of stopping ocean acidification? How much electricity rationing, how much transportation rationing, how much food rationing, how much curtailment of free trade, etc, because all of these economic actions have environmental consequences. Spell it out for us rather than feeding us blather about non-self-sustaining “green jobs.”

    I doubt it will entail much misery at all. As the Simon-Ehrlich wager demonstrated, human beings are very clever at coming up with alternatives for doing what they want to do when they lose access to a resource. In fact, I’d wager right now that caps on CO2 emissions would lead to very little economic catastrophe, because alternative energy and conservation technologies will catch up out of necessity.

    Drew,

    I’d like to see your calculation. At just a delta of 25 degrees vs 17 deegrees (the mean ocean temp) equilibrium CO2 in solution falls by 25%.

    That’s if you are just looking at CO2 solubility. CO2 + H20 -> H(+) + HCO3(-). But the ocean equilibrium equation involves CO2 reacting with Calcium. You can see the function here, which, as you can see, is also pH dependent.

    That said, an 8 degree increase in ocean temperatures would shut down the gulf stream and cause some really nasty weather effects in the United States. I’ll pass.

    1. The wide range of views of various scientists on the impact of this phenomenon. There is no settled result here. None. Zip. Zero. Especially on dynamic vs static systems.

    Where are you looking? I’ve been reading peer-reviewed papers on oceanography and marine biology–haven’t seen too much out of consensus here.

    The widespread and weird invocation of imminent “tipping point” arguments. My, my. In the entire history of the planet, what a unique time (nanosecond) we live in. (snicker)

    Drew, we have been here before. After the dinosaurs died off, ocean pH decreased to the point where coral reefs dissolved and a lot of shellfish and phytoplankta died off. However, this was millions of years prior to human evolution. Throughout the entire span of primate evolution, CO2 levels and ocean pH have been relatively stable. That is, until about 1750 and the beginning of the industrial revolution.

  34. TangoMan says:

    What the hell does gay marriage have to do with increased acidity in the oceans?

    I made the point very clear. Your question here is a simple ruse. Once again, in kiddie steps just for you. Those most inclined to invoke the precautionary principle with respect to environmental issues are also the ones who are most likely to pay no heed to the precautionary principle on cultural issues. Repairing cultures is as difficult as repairing the environment. It is this very difficulty in remedying conditions which underscores the principle of the precautionary principle. These activists are full steam ahead on cultural revolution and full stop on environmental issues. If one really believes in the precautionary principle then one should be applying it consistently in all venues. The fact that it isn’t being applied consistently suggests to me that the precautionary principle is simply used as a rhethorical club in environmental debates rather than as an intellectual principle from which policy consequences follow. In other words, the policy seems to be decided beforehand and then the precautionary principle is wheeled out and used as convenient justification.

    Was that simple enough for you to understand or should I expect more teenage verbal gamesmanship from you?

  35. TangoMan says:

    After the dinosaurs died off, ocean pH decreased to the point where coral reefs dissolved and a lot of shellfish and phytoplankta died off.

    1.) So what?
    2.) What matters is the quantity of biomass in the oceans, not the composition of the biomass.
    3.) Consider:

    Rodriguez’s method found that higher carbon dioxide concentrations increased calcification, speeding up growth of the tiny calcite plates on the plankton cell.

    Coccolithophores appear to benefit in two ways.
    The extra carbon dioxide aids photosynthesis, while the more acidic waters increase the concentration of bicarbonate the main ingredient for coccolith plates, known as liths.

    Making the liths results in the release of carbon dioxide, but when dead plankton fall to the ocean floor, the carbon in the shells is locked away in deep ocean chalk deposits.

    “Increased bicarbonate appears to stimulate an increase in mass of calcium carbonate produced by each coccolithophore cell,” said Paul Halloran, a co-author from the University of Oxford.

    The team’s result is not confined to the lab.
    By studying fossil coccolithophores from a deep ocean core, they found that there has been a 40% increase in average coccolith mass over the last 220 years, mirroring the rise in carbon dioxide levels.

    Other scientists think the results make sense and help to explain how coccolithophores survived the last rapid global warming event the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum 56 million years ago.

    “Coccolithophores seemed to sail through the surface water acidification then, so perhaps they are quite insensitive to this kind of change,” said Paul Bown from University College London. (ANI)

  36. TangoMan says:

    In fact, I’d wager right now that caps on CO2 emissions would lead to very little economic catastrophe, because alternative energy and conservation technologies will catch up out of necessity.

    This would be a losing wager. Look at the European efforts to cap CO2 emissions. Those targets were abandoned when they put a brake on job growth and economic development. Putting a legislative roadblock in the path of people’s livelihoods don’t result in the magical materialization of robust alternative energy schemes. There are physical limitations that amount to deal killing dead-ends built right into the fabric of alternative energy.

  37. Alex Knapp says:

    TangoMan,

    You didn’t actually answer the question. You’re changing the subject. The cultural effects of homosexual marriage are completely irrelevant to the problem of ocean acidification.

    My position is clear:

    1) Ocean acidfication is a problem to both ocean ecosystems and most likely to humans.
    2) We need to curb CO2 emissions to try and prevent it.

    I have answered all of your points, and you have ignored my rebuttals. Instead, you’ve chosen to cloud the issue with your nonsense about the precautionary principle, when I never brought up the principle in the first place. (And, I might add, you even ignored my rebuttal on gay marriage.)

    You clearly aren’t interested in debating the science or the facts.

  38. Alex Knapp says:

    TangoMan,

    If you read the paper involved, you will note that the species that thrive in higher acidity are (a) algal species, and (b) algal species that are toxic to humans.

    I have stated on several occasions that I agree with you that toxic algae blooms are a side effect of ocean acidification. It’s just that I happen to believe that a rise in toxic algae blooms is a bad thing.

  39. Alex Knapp says:

    TangoMan,

    Yes, investments in solar power really suck for Germany. That’s why Australia’s decision to ignore solar power hasn’t cost it a dime.

  40. Alex Knapp says:

    As a side note, here’s a good paper on trying to predict the economic consequences of acidification: http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1748-9326/4/2/024007/erl9_2_024007.html

  41. Drew says:

    Its always fun rattling the cage. But I have a dead serious question.

    For those seriously worried about CO2 emissions, are you not concerned by the inadequacy of the menu of proposed responses?

    If you look at the growth rates and volumes produced by the major CO2 producers, the assumed damage done to date, and the projected climate or oceanic problems and time frames, it quickly becomes clear that massive reductions in CO2 will be necessary. Just massive.

    There is only one technology with any hope of replacing (in the required amount and time frame) the heating/cooling, transportation and industrial process energy needs now supplied by fossil fuels. And yet there is almost complete silence on nuclear energy.

    Instead we are treated to gleam-in-the-eye niche energy alternatives that may have their rightful places in the mix, but are not even close to being a viable solution. Or truly bizarre notions that the West will return to 1800’s style living while the third world industrializes. (Michael Tanzer, anyone?)

    This is irrational. If the environmental outcomes are as apocalyptic and near term as suggested, the scientific and green communities should be screaming holy hell in favor of nuclear energy. Yet they are not. And that should make people wonder.

    Alex – you touched on this briefly, but I thought your response was superficial, or perhaps tongue in cheek. Saying, as you did, that nuclear energy was not the topic at hand seems a bit like two guys standing over a corpse with one guy asking “he was hemorrhaging, why didn’t you use a tourniquet?” And having the other guy say “well, all I had was a band-aid.”

    OK, fair enough. But it is just pure folly to pursue remedies destined to fail. For those who are truly alarmed it would seem to be far better to spend the intellectual and political capital marshaling the resources required to actually fix the problem.

  42. TangoMan says:

    The cultural effects of homosexual marriage are completely irrelevant to the problem of ocean acidification.

    Homosexual marriage is a clear example of cultural change and I’m using it as an example where the precautionary principle is completely abandoned by folks who use the precautionary principle in environmental debates. The subject of the comment is not homosexual marriage, it’s the precautionary principle.

    1) Ocean acidfication is a problem to both ocean ecosystems and most likely to humans.

    It’s a problem in that it represents a change. The notion that change is in itself a problem is a manifestation of thinking that is predicated upon the precautionary principle -“We shouldn’t do anything to bring about change in the environment so we need to keep things the same.”

    The oceanic ecosystem has experienced drastic change over the millenia. The biomass of the oceanic ecosystem didn’t evaporate during periods of high CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and in the ocean, all that changed was the distribution and concentration of the species inhabiting the ocean.

    I have answered all of your points

    I’m sorry, but my monitor doesn’t display invisible ink. Could you possible use traditional fonts and paste in your answers to the following:

    1.) Show me evidence that this is simply a temporary increase. The research I cited makes no reference to this being a temporary phenomenon.

    2.) Further, don’t you have any wisdom to impart on why you favor static models rather than dynamic models? You completely ignored the point I was stressing, the linkage between increased levels of CO2 in the oceans to increased levels of phytoplankton production, thus leading to an increased carrying capacity for fish, which in turns leads to a increased level of calcium carbonate production, thus reducing the effects of CO2 on the ocean chemistry.

    If you read the paper involved, you will note that the species that thrive in higher acidity are (a) algal species, and (b) algal species that are toxic to humans.

    The fact that coccolithophores, of the families and Hymenomonadaceae and Pleurochrysidaceae are toxic doesn’t mean that all coccolithophores are toxic, for if that were the case, then coccolithophores would not form the base of the food chain:

    Due to their large numbers coccolithophores belong to the most important primary producers at the base of the marine food-chain.

    Further, speaking to the issue of dynamic modeling, which you are completely ignoring, the coccolithophores play a part in reducing global warming:

    Moreover, a climatic link can be seen between the abundance of coccolithophores and cloud formation. This is due to the emission of their metabolite, dimethyl sulphonioproprionate (DMSP), that if converted into dimethyl sulphide (DMS) promotes cloud condensation. Clouds prevent the heat to be reflected back into space.

    As to your quips on my point about the costs of limiting CO2 production, your claim that you “have answered all of your points,” once again relied on invisible ink for I can’t find any commentary by you on the European situation:

    The Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions by an average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. However, 13 of the 15 original members of the European Union have increased their emissions, not reduced them:

    * New data by the EU’s European Environmental Agency shows that by 2010, the 15 nations’ emissions collectively will exceed 1990 levels by seven percent.
    * Kyoto could cause the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom to fall more than one percent in 2010 from what it otherwise would be, Italy’s by more than two percent and Spain’s by more than three percent.
    * The U.K., Italy and Germany each would lose at least 200,000 jobs and Spain would lose 800,000.
    * Even if European nations did comply with the Kyoto targets, they would achieve a paltry reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of just 0.1 percent by 2010.

    More here:

    During separate meetings of foreign affairs and energy ministers in Brussels, the Italian government firmly restated its intention to obtain exemptions from the package for its energy-intensive industrial sectors such as paper, glass, steel and brick industries. . . .

    But Italy, Germany and other Eastern European countries claim the rules, if applied too strictly, will force energy-intensive sectors to close down factories and move abroad, leading to job losses and rising CO2 emissions outside Europe (‘carbon leakage’).

    That’s why Australia’s decision to ignore solar power hasn’t cost it a dime.

    This is funny. You have Steve Verdon, an economics blogger, as your colleague, and you seem to ignore all his wisdom. Let’s look at this parody you advance as an argument. To recap the argument laid out in your link – Australia is losing money by not advocating solar. It’s losing money because European solar companies won’t invest in Australia. These companies won’t invest in Australia because the Australian government won’t offer them business incentives and won’t regulate the market to favor solar installations. Your argument is in lockstep with the arguments of Government Backed Stadiums for Private Owners. Just think, the Australian government is losing out on all of that alternative energy business dynamism and all it has to do to reap those wonderful benefits is offer up loads of subsidies to the companies, give them special tax breaks, and write legislation that interferes in the energy marketplace and gives special privilege to solar power installations.

    Frankly, I don’t see how Australia is coming out the poorer. Perhaps if they followed your advice they could achieve the nirvana that Spanish Greens inflicted on their countrymen:

    Optimistically treating European Commission partially funded data1, we find that for every renewable energy job that the State manages to finance, Spain’s experience cited by President Obama as a model reveals with high confidence, by two different methods, that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs on average, or about 9 jobs lost for every 4 created, to which we have to add those jobs that non-subsidized investments with the same resources would have created.

    Your link to German benefits from implementing solar technology is taken from the same cloth as the Australian argument. I’m sure that there are many computer programmers who read this blog and I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw vaporware staring them in the face when they read your link.

    As to the first link, I note this observation: “Europe remains the leading market for PVs, accounting for over 80 percent of world demand in 2008.” I would imagine, considering that you’re posting this link in support of your argument, that you believe that this is something that is beneficial for Germany and that we should emulate their progressive action on forcing solar power onto consumers. If I’ve read your motivations correctly, let’s see the trade-off involved that makes you think that this is a boom for Germans:

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Höhn, how much does a kilowatt-hour of electricity cost in Germany?

    Bärbel Höhn: I pay 17 cents net for electricity from renewable sources.

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: That was about the national average in late 2007. In France, a country that gets 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, they pay only 10.4 cents. In Italy, which gets by without nuclear power, it was 21.6 cents — more expensive than anywhere else in Europe.

    Here are the residential prices paid for electricity in America.

    Look, you’re showing yourself to be very confident with your empty posturing – claiming that you’re answering my questions, while ignoring them, focusing on the example of homosexual but ignoring the precautionary principle argument that simply used homosexual marriage as an example in the cultural sphere to highlight the hypocrisy underlying the principle. You invoke category errors, such as toxic blooms from some families of coccolithophores meaning that all families of coccolithophores are toxic, and thus ignoring their presence as a primary building block of the food chain. People can see you dodging the issues and it doesn’t advance the discussion at all.

  43. TangoMan says:

    There is only one technology with any hope of replacing (in the required amount and time frame) the heating/cooling, transportation and industrial process energy needs now supplied by fossil fuels. And yet there is almost complete silence on nuclear energy.

    Actually, there is another technology, space-based solar power. It’s energy density is higher than terrestrial solar power, it’s platform that can provide stable base-load power. The performance of the solar cells or the solar thermal generating equipment is higher in an environment not exposed to the erosive effects of climate.

    The problem is that earth orbit has no industrial infrastructure in place, so any effort to build generating capacity in orbit requires the builder to also supply the air that people breath, to build fabrication plants, to build mining operations, to build smelting operations, to build farming operations, to build housing, to build fuel operations to support the light vehicles used for assembly, etc.

  44. Louis Wheeler says:

    Acidification of the ocean is silly; it is just environmental propaganda.

    Water is capable of holding only so much CO2 at any given temperature and pressure. The warmer the water is the less CO2 it can contain. Anyone who has ever popped open a warm cola can, and had it fizz out onto their hand, should know this. Opening a cold soda won’t do that unless you shake it up first.

    The record shows that the oceans rose in temperature and then the CO2 in the atmosphere increased, not the reverse. That is what science should expect. The Earth increased its temperature by 0.5 degrees between 1900 and 1945, the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere didn’t increase until after 1945.

  45. Alex Knapp says:

    Drew,

    For those seriously worried about CO2 emissions, are you not concerned by the inadequacy of the menu of proposed responses?

    The responses suck.

    I am all for nuclear power.

    I think there ought to be a carbon tax.

    I think people should get a tax credit for adding solar panels and wind turbines to their home.

    I think that the Federal government should offer loans to businesses who are willing to take over abandoned industrial infrastructure and turn them into viable alternative energy concerns.

    This is irrational. If the environmental outcomes are as apocalyptic and near term as suggested, the scientific and green communities should be screaming holy hell in favor of nuclear energy. Yet they are not. And that should make people wonder.

    Au contraire–I know lots of climate scientists pushing for nuclear. It’s just that the environmental movement comes, unfortunately, in two flavors, and the one the rakes in the most PAC dollars is the anti-nuke flavor. I wish that weren’t the case. It drives me nuts. France gets 80% of their electricity from nuclear power, for God’s sake. It’s SAFE. I’m with you on that one.

  46. Drew says:

    TangoMan –

    Let me re-phrase: “…one ‘practically implementable’ technology….”

    Alex –

    I stay fairly current wrt AGW. Not so much, well, rather little, on ocean acidification. I really don’t see a peep from scientists re: nuclear power. I don’t know what “lot’s” means. But I’ll take your point that they are out there, but politically they have no chance. Just no chance because of the whack jobs.

    I’m all for solar or wind power. But I’ve never seen anyone make a reasonable argument that they can provide large scale and universal energy production. here in Chicago you can go for months in the winter with mostly cloudy days. And I’m not sure people want twirling beenie hats on their houses.

    The answer is nuclear. Period, full stop. But I’m not hopeful. Even our illustrious President brought out the old “it’s not safe” saw when interviewed. Either he’s 1) never been to the country that produces the world’s best wines………or 2) he’s playing politics with the future of the earth. Or 3) just playing politics.

    I’ll take #3 for $100, Alex.