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Ocean acidification: Coming soon

Posted on 30 June 2011 by Doug Mackie

On Friday we will begin posting, twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays, an 18-part series on ocean acidification (OA).

Our goal is to provide you, our gentle readers, with the background you need to understand the chemical and physical processes behind OA. This will allow you to better understand a field that the rest of the world is waking up to and also to evaluate the commentary on the web. We were motivated to write these posts by the increasing number of comments – here and elsewhere – that are based on misconceptions about OA.

The posts require only high school science. However, this is deceptive, as some concepts and applications of ‘simple’ science can challenge 2nd and 3rd year university students. And that is probably why so much of the little that is written is based upon misconceptions.

Topics of the posts are given below:

OA is not OK.  How calcium carbonate is made.

Thermodynamic duo.  When is a chemical equation valid?

Wherever I lay my shell, that's my home.  Why CaCO3 is easy to make.

The f-word: pH.  What is pH?

Reservoir dogs.  Ocean carbon distribution, reservoir sizes.

Always take the weathering. How carbonate species get into the ocean.

Le Chatelier. Why it is not good enough for ocean acidification

170 to 1.  What happens when we add acid to seawater?

Henry the 8th I am.  How CO2 gets into the ocean.

Is the ocean blowing bubbles?  Why the ocean is not a source of the CO2.

Did we do it? Yes we did!  Where is the CO2?

Christmas present:  Modern observations of pH change.

Polymorphs: The son of Poseidon.  Introduction to aragonite and calcite.

Going down.  How pH changes with depth.

No accounting for taste.  Balancing equations to get solubility product.

Omega.  Saturation index.

Pumping currents.  How carbon gets from the surface into the deep ocean.

Been this way before.  What the past means for understanding today.

Summary posts 1-10

Summary posts 11-18

 

The posts are written by Doug Mackie, Christina McGraw, and Keith Hunter.

 

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Comments

Comments 1 to 33:

  1. I'm so glad this series is coming! Ocean Acidification (OA) may be the biggest short-term threat we face in relation to anthropogenic climate change (ACC). I attempted some internet research a few weeks ago on the chemistry of OA, and the first blog I came to was decidedly bogus (a denier’s paradise with “un-disprovable” made-up facts that prove – with formulas – OA isn’t happening). I’m not the only one who needs help.

    OA is my number one reason why geo-engineering from space (decreasing solar gain and allowing increased CO2 emissions) would be total foolishness.
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  2. Quote: "... So there is an intermediate organic molecule that is neither a nutrient for plants (dissolved salts), nor food for bacteria. My measurements showed that the sea is awash in this mysterious substance that I named slush. In fact the biomass in slush is far larger than all life on Earth combined. Reader please note that this is a very serious omission by mainstream science, and cannot be disproved!" link

    Mainstream science to the rescue!
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  3. Actually, to make this easier to grasp one should use the proper terminology.
    The ocean is alkaline with a PH slightly over 8.0, and co2 reduces the alkalinity.

    Basic chemistry.
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  4. Camburn - Acidification is the correct terminology, describing something changing pH towards the acid end of the scale, a reduction in pH value.

    On a side note, it's only 'basic chemistry' until the pH drops through 7.0!

    :)
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  5. Kudos to Doug Mackie, Christina McGraw, and Keith Hunter for taking this on.

    Out of curiosity, where are the University of Otago and Clark University located?
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  6. By coincidence, the following post popped up on ScienceBlog.com today:

    Climate Change Makes Some Chemicals More Toxic to Aquatic Life

    The blog is about a new paper published in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.
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  7. Looks like it will be an excellent resource, perhaps it might be worth submitting a version to somewhere like Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, so that it has the added advantage of having been peer-reviewed?
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  8. "You can't have an acid state until your ph drops below 7."

    Acidification doesn't mean acidic. Basic chemistry.
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  9. Camburn...that is simply not true. Adding acid to a solution is acidifying it - you are adding protons and making it more acidic. It doesn't matter what the start and end pH is. That is the common terminology - has been since I was in HS at least. Based on my textbooks, the usage goes back further. Before ocean acidification caught the ire of the antiAGW crowd this standard usage was never questioned.

    "You can't have an alkaline condition and an acid condition at the same time. It is physically impossible unless you know of a change in the laws?"

    That's true but it's irrelevant. You can't have something cold and hot at the same time either, but you can certainly heat something that is cold to make it a little less cold.
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  10. Camburn
    please do not continue debating the terminology, it adds really nothing to the science of ocean acidification/decreasing pH/dealkalinization/whatever. And above all, this pseudo-scientific argument is an old and boring way to try to hijack the discussion. Please let people discuss the science.
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  11. Ricardo is correct. This semantic argument is just a way to distract from the science.
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  12. Camburn
    You do make me laugh! If I am on the south pole and travel north, I am northbound, even though I haven't left the southern hemisphere. For northbound read 'acidification'.
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  13. I hope this semantics argument doesn't continue throughout the series. The most frequent "response" I see amongst "skeptics" when ocean acidification and the associated dangerous consequences are discussed is this same "oceans aren't acid" semantics silliness. As several other commenters have noted, decreasing pH = becoming more acidic = acidification. That's what it's called, it's an accurate description, now let's move on and talk about the actual science.
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    Moderator Response: Further "look squirrel!" comments about acidification will be deleted . The same goes for "looking for the squirrel" comments. (Rob P)
  14. It will be good to read something a bit different, by people who clearly know what they are talking about.
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  15. BTW the Otago and Clark University links are incorrect.
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  16. The correct links are
    University of Otago
    Clark University

    I do know my OA but I don't yet know how to fix a link in a published post.
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  17. What a great idea! OA is such a "sleeper." I'm particularly interested in the latest projections re: impacts on the food chain and marine ecosystems in general. P.S. Love your titles!
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  18. OA is the elephant in the room ignored by the "Geo-engineering will save us from warming!" crowd.

    I look forward to this series. Are you paying attention, Lomborg? (Probably not.)
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  19. Also looking forward to this series!

    OA, all by itself, may have devastating impacts on human activity - here's a quote from an FAO briefing paper[pdf] for the COP15 conference:

    Fish (including shellfish) provides essential nutrition for 3 billion people and at least 50% of animal protein and minerals to 400 million people in the poorest countries.
    Over 500 millon people in developing countries depend, directly or indirectly, on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods.


    Not to mention the monetary value - the NOAA indicates that commercial fisheries in the US alone were worth $3.9 billion in 2009. FAO numbers put just the international trade in fishery produce at ~$85 billion per year.
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  20. That list of punning headlines would make any sub-editor proud. Does 'always take the weathering' make any sense outside of Oz and NZ?

    Looking forward to the series.
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  21. I'm sure the home team cam fix the links in the top post. Even nicer, they can add links to the titles as posts are added.

    Of course "decreasing pH = becoming more acidic = acidification." New people may bring up the question as time goes on. Instead of deleting, how about adding "Moderator Response: decreasing pH = becoming more acidic = acidification" when needed, and deleting or editing any excessive replies?
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  22. Fantastic to hear you are looking at the OA issue, very keen to gain a greater understanding of this truly alarming evidence of AGW. I work on reducing the contribution of refrigerant gases to climate change, and am extremely concerned about the new generation of low GWP "HFO's" such as R1234yf, that are being heavily promoted by fluorochemical companies to maintain their market share in the face of impending regulatory and market mechanisms to phase out high GWP HFC's and competition from genuinely climate friendly natural refrigerants (Hydrocarbons, CO2, NH3). The HFO's only have low GWP due to their extremely short atmospheric lifetimes, and degrade into TFA, trifluoroacetic acid, which has raised some concerns in the literature about acute ecotoxicity developing in inland waterways. My query is whether, if the fluorolobby get their way and succeed in achieving the massive sales volumes of these new gases they are planning, there is a risk that this new global experiment with putting fluorinated gases into the atmosphere may contribute significantly to ocean acidification from another source, at a time when introducing more acids into the water cycle might not be a very clever idea?

    I think there is a need for more research on this issue, and if it is to come in time to influence policymakers who currently believe HFO's are a solution to the HFC problem, the need is rather urgent, but any insights from experts in OA would be of great interest at this year's Montreal Protocol discussions.
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  23. I can't tell from the list of post titles, but I'd love to see an "Ocean Carbon Cycle" diagram, similar to the carbon cycle diagrams we've all seen, but focused on the forms (molecules) and mechanisms (weathering, atmospheric absorption, dissolution or recombination, etc.) that occur within the system.

    Obviously, the numbers may not exist to show how much each component contributes, but just a designation of what is there, if not how much, would be useful.
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  24. Camburn (#3,#8) suggests that increasing CO2 reduces ocean alkalinity. Yesterday, I tried to explain why that is wrong, but for reasons I don't understand, the comment was deleted. I'll try again.

    [ -snip-]
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    Moderator Response: (Rob P) See my earlier warning. Try not to respond to provocation - Camburns comments are designed to distract readers from the content of the ocean acidification (OA) posts. This 18 part series will make the details of OA very clear to readers.
  25. Links fixed
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  26. To RobP - I believe, Rob, that my discussion of ocean alkalinity was something every reader here would benefit from. I didn't see Camburn's misconception as a "provocation", because very possibly many readers believe that CO2-mediated ocean acidification reduces alkalinity (you could take a poll). The fact that it doesn't deserves attention. (I suppose I should ask whether you think CO2 reduces alkalinity - do you?).

    You're welcome to delete anything you want, but when you delete on-topic material of general interest from individuals reasonably well informed on the topic, you diminish the quality of what remains. I'll leave the rest up to you.

    For reasons known only to the gods of the Internet, I haven't been able to register here in my full name. Readers interested in ocean acidification can probably find my comments elsewhere via Google, or visit Judy Curry's blog for some of them.

    Fred Moolten
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    Response:

    [DB] Fred, there is a Fred Moolton ID already in the system with a comcast email address coming from the same geographic area as you.  If that is you, try logging in under that name with the password you used for that.  I just resent that info back to that email address in case you forgot.

  27. DB - Thanks. I tried that and it didn't work, but I'll try again. In case no-one is interested in my comments on ocean alkalinity, they can at least Google alkalinity to understand the main points.
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    Response:

    [DB] Fred, I reset that account, so hopefully it will work for you.

    As to the alkalinity/acidity/basic/ph issue, that has been so rehashed here over and over again as to become an Internet law of it's own, like Poe's Law or Godwin's Law.  In this case we invoked the "Look!  A Squirrel!" Law, as the only point in raising it was to derail the discussion of the OP.

  28. I notice the first point is "OA is not OK", which assumes the question "Is OA OK?". That's fine, but answers are only "Yes" or "No". A better question is "What are the consequences of OA?", one impact being on calcium carbonate and the disadvantage this impact has. Are there other impacts to be explored?
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  29. peter@28
    Oh yes there are other impacts and we will get to them.
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  30. Thank you Doug. I await further explanation that is robust.
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  31. Camburn: Since we have not heard otherwise, we trust you have found the explanations thus far to be sufficiently robust to satisfy your expectations.
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  32. Doug:
    Excellent job.
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  33. second summary post

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