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Frequently Asked Questions About Ocean Acidification

Posted on 4 January 2013 by Rob Painting

Skeptical Science is rather fortunate to have had three experts on ocean chemistry write an entire series (OA not OK) about ocean acidification (OA). Now the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) has released a FAQ document, prepared by some of the world's foremost ocean acidification researchers, which answers many of the frequently asked questions about OA.

Figure 1 - A scanning electron microsope image of the pteropod (marine snail) Limacina helicina antarctica showing acute levels of shell dissolution. This species is a cornerstone of the Antarctic marine food web and is at imminent risk due to ocean acidification. Despite possessing a highly corroded shell, the  pictured specimen was alive at point of capture. Image courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey.  

As the above image graphically demonstrates, ocean acidification is not some far-flung future problem, it is a dire threat to many marine organisms that is happening in our oceans right now, and will progressively get worse with continued fossil fuel emissions.

So if you happen to be traversing the blogosphere and stumble upon some contrarian spouting pseudo-scientific gibberish about ocean acidification, not only do you have the SkS OA not OK series of blog posts with which to educate lurkers, but the WHOI FAQ document is also likely to provide a factual response to the typical climate contrarian talking points.

Climate-related myths tend to propagate like rabbits in the absence of scientific facts, so please disseminate the WHOI FAQ as widely as possible. 

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Comments 1 to 15:

  1. Hey Rob... Can you give us an idea of the size of that tattered little critter?
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  2. The silliest comment I've seen on the denial of ocean acidification finished with "I'll let you work out just what percentage of the ocean waters mankind's tonnage of CO2 emissions amount to." No dissociation equation, no equilibrium reaction, no pH calculation, no idea.
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  3. Rob H - The pic is of a juvenile form around half a millimeter in diameter. IIRC they grow to between 5 & 10 mm at the adult stage. The peer-reviewed paper this pic comes from has been published, so expect a post on it in the near-future.
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  4. Another awesome pic. Bottomof page 10 in the FAQ doc. OA damage in a fossil of a tiny critter from 55MYr ago. Real then, real now. And awesome science that we can see that far back in that detail!
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  5. This article does not show up in search results on clicking "OA not OK". I assume the word 'mackieOAposts' needs to added to the text to make the search work.
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  6. I've often wondered if we are approaching a pH cliff. If Sea water is a buffered system it should react stepwise rather than in a continuous curve to the introduction of Carbon dioxide. In a buffered system, pH changes very little until the buffer is "used up" and then a little more acid sends the pH plunging. Alkalinity is a measure of this as it measures the amount of buffer available to counter pH changes. Has anyone checked this out. As a first preliminary trial it would be as simple as taking a litre of sea water and titrating it dropwise with very dilute HCl with a pH probe inserted in the sea water. The solution would be allowed to come to equilibrium after each drop and pH plotted against drops on a graph.
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  7. I cannot open the FAQ document. Probably my computer, but if it isn't, I won't be alone.
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  8. funglestrumpet - I use Google Chrome and the OA FAQ opened fine for me just now. Perhaps it is your computer?
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  9. mdenison - Making the SkS site easier to navigate and improving its functionality is a work in progress. I've had similar problems using the search function - it's not very good. Operating on a volunteer basis does tend to prolong these projects though - our IT experts tend to be very busy in their day jobs.
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  10. Glenn Tamblyn @ 4 is referring to this pic of a nannofossil from the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 55-56 million years ago, a time of natural global warming from increased atmospheric CO2. On the left is a typical fossil before the PETM and on the right a fossil during the PETM. Dissolution of the shell is obvious. Although the rate of PETM ocean acidification was much smaller than present-day it still resulted in the extinction of some species.
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  11. From p15 of the FAQ document:
    Reaction of anthropogenic CO2 with carbonate minerals will ultimately cause the average ocean alkalinity to get back into balance; however, full recovery of the oceans will require tens to hundreds of thousands of years.
    Hundreds of thousands of years, to eliminate the effects of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. What a dangerous species we are!
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  12. Rob @ 8 I get this message: Oops! Internet Explorer could not connect to While it would not surprise me that my computer is the miscreant, I would not expect to get that message if the address is correct. Could you confirm that it is, please? (Though I don't know what I am going to do if it is.)
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Have you tried right-clicking on the link and selecting the "Save link as" option? Failing that, check the email account you used to log into SkS.
  13. @ Moderator Thanks for all your trouble. In the end I had to rely on the email. For information: Right clicking gets me to the save as intruction, which eventually comes up with the options of where to save it (in the normal way), but then nothing happens when I try to do so (no matter how long I wait). I have been commenting elsewhere under my real name and seem to have upset someone. Oh hum, modern democracy: 'if you cannot win with facts, then win without them' seems to be the maxim. Pity Old Mother Nature is not so easily hindered in her endeavours. And yes, I have a firewall and antivirus (premium version), plus some software that is supposed to ensure that I have all the correct settings for protecting my computer, but somehow I have Chrome going in round in circles and another site that will not let me read the web page because of a 'long running script' which their admin do not recogise and cannot understand. So beware one and all.
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  14. That should read 'taking all the trouble!'
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  15. William @6 A cliff it certainly is, but the ocean carbonate system has always been near the bottom. I always say you can't talk about OA without reference to a Bjerrum Plot as it distinctly shows the relationships between pH and carbonate species. The FAQ would be improved by one and an associated discussion. Bjerrum As for titration, it is a standard test of seawater samples to determine Total Alkalinity.
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