Acid oceans: the 'evil twin' of climate change

December 18, 2009 By JOHN HEILPRIN , Associated Press Writer

In this photo taken Oct. 30, 2009, Research Director for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Andrew DeVogelaere paddles his kayak at the sanctuary in Monterey, Calif. Far from Copenhagen's turbulent climate talks, the sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters reposing along the shoreline and kelp forests of this protected marine area stand to gain from any global deal to cut greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/John Helprin)
(AP) -- Far from Copenhagen's turbulent climate talks, the sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters reposing along the shoreline and kelp forests of this protected marine area stand to gain from any global deal to cut greenhouse gases.

These foragers of the sanctuary's frigid waters, flipping in and out of sight of California's coastal kayakers, may not seem like obvious beneficiaries of a crafted in the Danish capital. But reducing worldwide also would help mend a lesser-known environmental problem: ocean acidification.

"We're having a change in water chemistry, so 20 years from now the system we're looking at could be affected dramatically but we're not really sure how. So we see a train wreck coming," said Andrew DeVogelaere, the sanctuary's research director, while out kayaking this fall with a reporter in the cold waters.

Nothing in the treaty negotiations specifically addresses the effects of carbon absorption in the oceans on marine life, which studies show is damaging key creatures' hard shells or skeletons.

Oceans absorb about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere from human activities each year, says a new U.N. report released at the Copenhagen talks this week. That helps slow global warming in the atmosphere, the focus of the Copenhagen talks.

But carbon dissolving in oceans also forms carbonic acid, raising waters' acidity that damages all manner of hard-shelled creatures, and setting off a chain reaction that threatens the food chain supporting marine life, including the lumbering sea mammals along the 276-mile coast of the California sanctuary and the rest of the U.S. West Coast.

By 2100, the report said, some 70 percent of cold water corals - a key refuge and feeding ground for commercially popular fish that also are food for the seals and otters - will be exposed to the harmful effects.

Ocean acidity could increase 150 percent just by mid-century, according to the report by the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

"This dramatic increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems," it said.

The average acidity of oceans' surface water is estimated to increase measurably by the end of the century and will affect marine life, according to Peter Brewer, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

"The total quantity of carbon dioxide that we've put into the oceans today is around 530 billion tons," Brewer told journalists on a fall fellowship program with the Honolulu-based East-West Center. "Now, it's going up at about 1 million tons an hour. You can't keep doing that without it having some impact."

And Brewer, a member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning U.N. scientific panel on climate change, said that's only part of the story.

"The trouble is, there's more than one thing going on," he said, citing other effects of climate change that bring, for example, "milder winters, so the deep ocean is getting less oxygen down there."

Given the importance of marine life - some 1 billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein - climate experts and researchers at the treaty talks have sought to draw more attention to the problem. They call it a particularly important - but largely overlooked - reason for nations to agree on a new climate accord.

In Copenhagen, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the sanctuary, said global cuts in greenhouse gases are needed to limit the "blue" carbon absorbed by oceans.

She said the Copenhagen talks have focused on other types of carbon - the "brown" variety from industrial warming gases released by fossil fuel burning, the "green" carbon from burning and chopping down tropical rainforests - but there has been little focus on helping the oceans.

"It's important to recognize that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also being absorbed by oceans, and that makes oceans more acidic," Lubchenco told AP.

"I call this ocean acidification climate change's equally evil twin, if you will," she said. "And part of the need to reduce carbon emissions is to both slow down the rate of climate change but also to start repairing the damage that is being done to oceans."

Lubchenco pointed to the harmful effects of carbon absorption in the oceans as decreasing the amount of calcium carbonate that can be used by marine creatures to construct shells or skeletons.

"As the oceans become more acidic, it's harder for corals, oysters, clams, crabs, mussels, lobsters to make their shells or their hard parts, and they dissolve faster," she said.

"So ocean acidification, which is a relatively unappreciated problem, is as important as climate change. It's one that most people haven't heard of. Another way to think of ocean acidification is as osteoporosis of the seas."

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1.7 / 5 (17) Dec 18, 2009
I think -but not sure yet- that this is another scam in the making. AGW has proven itself to be a a scam as proven by climategate. Isn't it true that the earth had higher concentration of CO2 in the past so weren't the oceans more ascidic then?
3.3 / 5 (12) Dec 18, 2009
The important point here is the speed at which the acidity is now rising. Evolution can only adapt to a changing environment if it is gradual. A rapid change like the one we are seeing will cause a lot of organisms to go extinct. There may have been high CO2 in past eons but change was slow and plants and animals adapted.
2.2 / 5 (13) Dec 18, 2009
1st, what is the resolution of this 20Ma record? Is it anywhere the century or less length that would be needed to make their predictions?
The important point here is the speed at which the acidity is now rising.

Welcome to reality, hysterics! Extinction events are regular, natural occurrences here on Earth. Especially oceanic extinctions, of which there have been dozens.

Their choice of 20 million years is also very telling, when was the last major extinction event (depending on your def. of major)? The Eocene-Oligocene, 34 Ma.

Wha happun? The gap between South America and Antarctica opened up, changing global oceanic currents (and chemistry) forever and the planet underwent a massive cooling, about 15 million years later the polar ice caps formed, further changing oceanic chemistry.

What's the REAL threat to ocean life? Over-fishing and things like that Texas sized patch of plastic floating in the ocean.

The devil is in the details of what they DON'T say.
2.3 / 5 (12) Dec 18, 2009
What's the REAL threat to ocean life?

Correction: What's the REAL -anthropogenic- threat to ocean life?
1.6 / 5 (13) Dec 18, 2009

I (ahhm) agree with you... the more I look into the ocean and acididy I think this is another attempt at alarmism, since AGW has proved false.

I also think you might want to agree that AGW has proved the exisitence of God and that He has a sense of humor. Why you ask, well everytime the AGW proponents have a summit, God sends a blizzard, or record cold to the summit to show He exists and that people cant influence the weather.
3.7 / 5 (9) Dec 19, 2009
Its interesting to me that the same people that claim that you cannot ever prove global warming no matter how much data there is, now proclaim AGW is PROVEN to be a hoax based on the slightest hint of evidence in a few hundred emails cherry picked from 10 years of dozens of interacting scientists. I could understand an honest skepticism based on wanting more data, but just accepting a tiny body of slanted evidence without knowing its source, its pedigree, or its bias is incredibly naive. Particularly against such a huge body of evidence from thousands of scientists and ordinary peoples experience worldwide and measurements using every type of technology known to man.

I continue to find peoples willingness to be fooled, to swallow lies from unknown sources so willingly simply amazing. If the stakes were not so damn high it would be funny. As it is however, I find it tragic.
3.7 / 5 (9) Dec 19, 2009
These critics do not even understand the difference between weather and climate. Its is hard for someone who is uneducated to understand how one year could be colder than the previous year, or one month to have record cold, and be completely compatible with an underlying linear warming trend. I think the sorry state of the United States science education to be primarily to blame. In this country, something like 40% of the people actually do not believe evolution. Most people do not understand any sort of science, and use technology as if it were some sort of magic invented by aliens. Of course people do not trust scientists. Most people do not realize that most scientists make less than most middle managers and the sacrifices in terms of salary it takes to dedicate your life to research. Looking at most of these responses is just pathetic.
3.7 / 5 (6) Dec 19, 2009
Ocean acidification is on the rise worldwide. Here's some links (to proper sites, not nutjob blogs) that give the story:

Increased acidification Alaska waters: http://www.scienc...3158.htm
Ocean acidification due to atmospheric CO2: http://royalsocie...fication
Anthropogenic ocean acidification: http://www.nature...095.html
Ocean acidification (Australia): http://www.ozcoas...acid.jsp
2.6 / 5 (9) Dec 19, 2009
In this country, something like 40% of the people actually do not believe evolution. Most people do not understand any sort of science, Looking at most of these responses is just pathetic.

Well said, you only have to look at the comments by certain regulars to see they just enjoy gainsaying rather than actual debate. Ohh, and the same 40% don't believe the Earth is older than 10,000 years old.
As regards Ocean Acidification, as RubberBaron stated, and kindly provided links to, it is a global phenomenon with far reaching consequences for the coral reefs, the vast majority of species have very narrow optimum growth requirements.
To argue about the terminology of 'more acidic' etc is just sidelining the issue, irrelevant and an attempt to 'muddy the waters' of decreasing oceanic pH.
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 20, 2009
Think about the implications that 40% of the people in the United States do not believe the Earth is older than 8000-10,000 years or that evolution is real. That means they do not believe in more than 90% of the basis of physics, astronomy, earth science, plate tectonics, most of chemistry and 99% of biology. In fact that means that basically any scientific discoveries in the last 100 years are completely invalid. I could comprehend 2 or 3%, because there are idiots in every population, but the utter and complete disregard of almost all scientific knowledge by more than a third of our population is completely sickening. Of course they do not trust scientists, science, technology, or anything modern. People are always afraid of what they do not understand, and of people that they do not and cannot agree with at any level.
1 / 5 (9) Dec 20, 2009
When the the world's oceans come to have a ph of 6.9, then I'll believe the hype. When they reach a ph of 7.0, then I'll believe we have cause for concern.

And, the belief about the falsification of data does not come from a few hundred 10-year old e-mails, although some of these are part of it. Many of the emails are very recent, a few only scarcely a month old. There also are a number of documents and source code for programs that were made to falsify data to "hide the decline [in temperatures overall]."

The mainstream media have hidden much of the true information regarding the data from the public. The title of this article in addition is propagandistic. There are no acid oceans at the moment. The title of the article implies that there are or that there shortly will be acid oceans. The oceans have not so much as reached neutral ph.

The biggest concern we should have is regarding our own pollution of the seas with our chemicals and other wastes.
1 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2009
Thank you guys for helping me out... showing me where I can get additional information... like I said I thought this was another con from the AGW proponents.

And as I have said in the past, all the money wasted on the SCAM AGW could/should have been spent on real problems. like the garbage in the middle of the ocean, people starving, etc. We need to push to have the AGW scammers prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
1 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2009
After spending the night looking at this, I have to admit I'm wrong. Parsecs 100% right, I think it's time we grew up and started treating this topic scientifically insteadi of in the political way we have been.
I feel foolish being taken in by this, being manipulated by those with profitable agendas. When I think I was no better than those who talk about 'Grassy Knolls' and 'Elvis is still alive', I feel kinda dumb.
Sorry guys, accept my apology?
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 22, 2009
I think the law also ought to sieze their server as well and comb it for more data before all the data disappears in a DOD-level wipe. All of it should be made public and I personally think there should be a trial in an international court in addition.
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 23, 2009
I agree comrade Dachy, let them pay. In the words of Karl Marx "Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking.
2.5 / 5 (8) Dec 23, 2009
If you were the real Velanarris and not a faux knockoff like the recent CRU data scandal, I might find your comment pertinent. But you are not, so...
3 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2009
so the usual trolls on here are calling into question any earth science on the spurious non event that was the emails from the CRU. again bringing topics way off thread to spin their own idealoical doctrine.
dachpyarvile you ask for prosecutions, laughable! i ask that the mods remove any posts that are off topic.
1 / 5 (6) Dec 27, 2009
If it were just the emails it would be to a degree laughable. But, it is not just the emails. The documents combined with the emails and the source code all go to show that data was manipulated to make a decline into a rapid warming. All of the documents show that it was not just the CRU that was involved in perpetrating fraud on the public.

Yes, all of the data will need to be looked over again, particularly if it was filtered through the CRU or the IPCC.

And, on the topic of the article above, there is no valid evidence that the oceans are acidifying. Until I actually see valid data showing that the oceans have reached a ph of 7.0, that of pure water, then it will be time to panic. Thus far, the only thing I have been seeing is the global ocean buffering itself and keeping it on the alkaline side.

Furthermore, the CO2 data and ocean uptake of CO2 data has also been fraudulently manipulated. The ocean can hold far more than is being told the public. The article is propagandistic.
Dec 29, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2009
The average acidity of oceans' surface water is estimated to increase measurably by the end of the century.

Excellent strategy. Now scientists can say what they want and keep cashing those government grants for another century. No empirical data expected for a loooong time.

Who said science and product development don't go together?
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2009
URL's were posted earlier: link:
Experimental evidence suggests..
When live pteropods were exposed to our predicted level of undersaturation during a two-day shipboard experiment..

Yah, we dipped a sea-snail in vinegar, it didn't like it one bit :)

13 'models' of the ocean ..yield findings..that worse then predicted.

Science daily link:
Good article. Neutral, inquisitive.
But: higher than expected? Expectations against what?

Royal society:
Classic. Buzz words: Carbon Dioxide from human activities.. 100 times greater, impact severe..
And the stinger: major international research. (Give me your tax money!)

OZ Coasts:
Rehash of Nature article. IPCC models as basis. Area weighted averages (massaged data) in graphs.
1 / 5 (6) Jan 04, 2010
...Increased acidification Alaska waters: http://www.scienc...3158.htm

Now for the kicker: Several tons of volcanic ash and high levels of SO2 have been ejected into the lower atmosphere all around Alaska by volcanic action.

This produces acid rains and snows and "pollutes" the local ocean with sulfates and so forth. Yet, the ocean still has a ph of over 7.0. I'd say that is pretty good evidence that the oceans can handle it. It also would account for higher than expected acid content of Alaska waters. Wait until the volcanoes are done and retest the water next year. Then, we might be willing to look over the evidence again.

Finally, the ocean buffers itself. When we see ph levels of 7.0, then it is time for concern. But, until the ph of the oceans is 6.9 or lower, we cannot speak of acid oceans--properly, that is. The title of the above article on is propagandistic at best.
1 / 5 (6) Jan 04, 2010
The rest of the articles are oversimplifications of fuller ocean chemistry and bicarbonate buffering.

One article says that carbonate ions are decreasing as a result of "increased acidification" whereas additional CO2 causes the presence of additional carbonate ions in another.

This increase of ions results in the formation of bicarbonates, which are necessary for shell formation in many species. What is more, increase in H ions also result in other chemical changes in the water, especially in the presence of sodium ions. These other reactions tend toward neutralization of acids. Hence, we speak of the oceans' ability to "buffer themselves."

They have been doing this for billions of years and something on the order of magnitude more than the puny arm of man will be needed to turn the oceans to acid.

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