At a glance - Ocean acidification: Global warming's evil twin

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

At a glance

Have you heard of ocean acidification? Does it mean that if you go swimming in the sea, you are liable to dissolve? No. You'll be OK because you are not a calcifying organism, such as a mollusc, a coral or a sea-urchin.

So why is ocean acidification serious? Because it can potentially lead to massive collapse of marine food-chains. Let's take a look at what the term means.

The pH scale, which measures acidity and alkalinity of water-based chemical solutions, runs from 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline), with pH 7 being the neutral halfway point. Importantly, the scale is logarithmic, meaning that a jump of one point towards zero means a tenfold increase in acidity.

Acidification simply means lowering the pH value from any point on the pH scale towards zero. It's similar to the way we talk about temperatures. If the pH of a solution shifts from 9 to 8, that is acidification, even though the pH is still on the alkaline side of neutral. Likewise, if the temperature rises from -40oC to -15oC, it has noticeably warmed, even though it's still darned cold.

Now, typical seawater is slightly alkaline at around pH 8.1. Rainwater, which always contains dissolved carbon dioxide (the old name for which was 'carbonic acid gas'), has a more acidic pH of around 5.6. You have likely visited or watched footage of spectacular caves, have you not? All carved out by carbonic acid, dissolving solid limestone over many thousands of years.

Carbonic acid is not only present dissolved in raindrops. It also forms by the dissolving of carbon dioxide at the air-water interface of our oceans. The more carbon dioxide in the air, the more goes into the oceans, driving their pH from 8.1 downwards. Now, the huge problem this creates, well before we get anywhere near the neutral value, is as follows.

Many marine organisms build and maintain their protective shells or skeletons from 'biogenic' calcium carbonate. The word biogenic means made by living things. These creatures extract the calcium and carbonate ions dissolved in seawater and combine them together. Under normal conditions, such calcium carbonate is stable in shallow waters. That's because dissolved carbonate ions are present in such high concentrations that the waters are said to be saturated with them.

But if seawater pH falls, even by a small amount, the concentration of dissolved carbonate ions falls. When that happens, biogenic calcium carbonate becomes more soluble and can start to dissolve. Depletion in dissolved carbonate ions thus makes it harder for such organisms to maintain their protective or skeletal structures. In the worst case scenario, the rate of calcium carbonate dissolution is faster than its formation. When that happens, mass-mortality of calcifying organisms can occur.

We're talking about critters that underpin entire marine food-chains here. Things from near-microscopic calcifying plankton to shellfish, lobsters and crabs the seafood we eat in other words. That's why ocean acidification is deadly serious.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above

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In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change?
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?
Are glaciers growing or retreating?
Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin

Posted by John Mason on Tuesday, 4 July, 2023

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