August 22, 2010
Ocean Acidification Due To CO2 Emissions

Ocean acidification is a bigger problem than global warming because we can turn the planet into an ice box for cheap. Push comes to shove we can cool the planet to prevent the melting of Greenland and Antarctica. But higher CO2 concentrations will dissolve into the oceans and continue to increase their acidity. Some U Southampton researchers took a look at scenarios for CO2 emissions and ocean acidification.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are causing ocean acidification as well as global warming. Scientists have previously used computer simulations to quantify how curbing of carbon dioxide emissions would mitigate climate impacts. New computer simulations have now examined the likely effects of mitigation scenarios on ocean acidification trends. They show that both the peak year of emissions and post-peak reduction rates influence how much ocean acidity increases by 2100. Changes in ocean pH over subsequent centuries will depend on how much the rate of carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced in the longer term.

Corals are often brought up in discussions about the damage that higher acidity might cause.

“The oceans absorb around a third of carbon dioxide emissions, which helps limit global warming, but uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans also increases their acidity, with potentially harmful effects on calcifying organisms such as corals and the ecosystems that they support,” explained Dr Toby Tyrrell of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

But the ocean is a big place with lots of organisms. The biggest problems might show up with other organisms and food chains.

We've already moved the needle on ocean acidity. But changes in the next 100 years could be even bigger.

Global mean ocean surface pH has already decreased from around 8.2 in 1750 to 8.1 today (remember than a decrease in pH corresponds to an increase in acidity). The simulations suggest that global mean ocean pH could fall to between 7.7 and 7.8 by 2100 if carbon dioxide emissions are not controlled.

“As far as we know, such a rate of change would be without precedent for millions of years, and a concern must be whether and how quickly organisms could adapt to such a rate of change after such a long period of relative stability in ocean pH,” said Tyrrell.

However, if an aggressive emissions control scenario can be adopted, with emissions peaking in 2016 and reducing by 5% per year thereafter, the simulations suggest that mean surface ocean pH is unlikely to fall below 8.0 by 2100. But even that represents a large change in pH since the pre-industrial era.

The only aggressive emissions control scenario I see on the horizon will come as world oil production goes into decline. CO2 emissions from coal will continue to grow until another electric power source becomes cheaper than coal electric power

I watch for ideas for preventing ocean acidification in the presence of high atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 22 11:23 PM  Pollution Oceans

sabril said at August 23, 2010 7:18 AM:

You can make simulations say whatever you want them to say. So I am very skeptical of these sorts of claims.

Bruce said at August 23, 2010 7:54 AM:

"Emissions of carbon dioxide are causing ocean acidification as well as global warming."


If there actually was any warming (doubtful because most the temperatures are now collected at airports) it was no more than the non-CO2 warming of 1910 to 1940.

A true scientists would explain why 1910 to 1940 was NOT caused by CO2 and 1975 to 2000 was.

There are no true scientists on the AGW side - just conmen.

Malcolm Rendell said at August 23, 2010 11:50 AM:

Have you seen the white cliffs of Dover? That is what the ocean does to high levels of CO2, back when the Earth actually had very high levels of CO2. At today's miniscule concentrations of CO2, plants and ocean creatures are starving for more CO2.

How do you measure ocean pH, Randall? Do you have any idea? How do you find an average, ocean-wide pH for all the world's oceans? You can't. Just like you can't get an average land temperature for Earth without better satellites than the orbiting junkheaps we have now.

The numbers are garbage, Randall. Don't have a heart attack based upon garbage numbers, please. We need you!

LarryD said at August 23, 2010 1:30 PM:

Check the CO2 reconstructions for when corals first show up in the fossil record. Corals can handle a lot more CO2 than the oceans and atmosphere currently have.
"The shallows near Dobu Island off Papua and New Guinea have active underwater fumaroles pumping out virtually pure CO2. The sea grass is extraordinarily lush and healthy and there is very healthy coral reef a few metres away."

Biobob said at August 23, 2010 2:45 PM:


Randall, these articles about oceanic acidification are all trash, and actually laughable. but here goes some facts:
1) ocean water is BASIC, alkaline, not acidic pH - if you change a base from 8.8 to 8.7 it is still a base not an acid
2) ocean water is some of the MOST HEAVILY BUFFERED solutions on the planet.
3) if point 2 was not enough, ocean water is in direct contact with gigatons of carbonate rocks which will transfer into buffering solutions when base levels decline any further.
4) it would take more acid than is present in the world to acidify the ocean, certainly carbonic acid from CO2 has absolutely no chance of acidifying the ocean.
5) most organisms actually do better with more carbonic acid in solution - they LIKE IT.

Biobob said at August 23, 2010 2:51 PM:

oh, forgot to add,
6) biological processes cause several orders of magnitude more pH variation locally and in the immediate surroundings than are possible via the carbonic acid system as the biota are loving the increased CO2 in the system

Biobob said at August 23, 2010 3:03 PM:

well, an order of magnitude anyway - got carried away with all the absurdness, lol.

Keep in mind that most oceanic taxa evolved when atmospheric CO2 was generally considered higher than 4,000 - 6,000ppmv versus today's 280 - 380 ppmv

sabril said at August 23, 2010 6:19 PM:

"ocean water is some of the MOST HEAVILY BUFFERED solutions on the planet."

That may be so, but climate alarmists HATE negative feedback. It's so boring.

It's far more exciting and profitable to assume that we are walking the razor's edge of positive feedback.

Biobob said at August 23, 2010 7:25 PM:


thanks for that negative feedback indeed !

You know, i could actually be acidified all the way down to a neutral from my basic point of view because of this.

Randall Parker said at August 23, 2010 9:09 PM:


If you could go back in a time machine and get samples of oceanic organisms when CO2 was much higher and you compared to organisms today you'd find big differences. Animals and plants evolve to fit conditions. The problem here is that all those plants and animals haven't been exposed to higher CO2 concentrations for a long time. How rapidly will they evolve to adjust?

Heavily buffered: Yet we've managed to move the needle according to some researchers. Are they wrong?


Corals that have grown in a more acidic environment could have evolved adaptations. But corals in other areas will not contain the genetic adaptations that these corals have.

The "acid test" is to grow corals in tanks where acid-base of the water is controlled. I'm too in a hurry to write new posts right now to do searches on such research. But I believe some work on this has been done and shows problems.

Biobob said at August 23, 2010 10:21 PM:

LOL -- seriously, Sponges have "more than 90 percent of all the genes associated with human diseases," [and vice versa] according to Australian biologist Bernard Degnan, who led the study team. DNA is history - organism do not throw DNA away capriciously, as evidenced by the preceding fact. If an organism evolved to handle much higher and or variable CO2 partial pressures /concentrations, it is unlikely that it would throw those capabilities when such changes occur on a more or less repeated basis. Atmospheric CO2 concentration changes occur more frequently than you think. Every epoch of glaciation vastly alters atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Over and over again. Photosynthesis alters local pH from ~7.6 - 9.0, a much wider range than is forecast by fear-mongers of the burning every last gram of fossil fuel on earth.

The important thing is NOT that there won't be winners and losers - there ALWAYS are, regardless - change is the only constant. The important thing is that life goes on, perseveres, adapts, survives. That's life, my good man. Some species will die, others will evolve and new species will be created. Increased CO2 is not the bogeyman. As keepers of any aquarium with plants will tell you, CO2 is fertilizer. Humans can NOT stop change.

[b]The research definitely shows problems - with the whole acidification concept as a serious problem.[/b] Here is a sample.

Read some of the snips found here:

Hendriks, I.E., Duarte, C.M. and Alvarez, M. 2010. Vulnerability of marine biodiversity to ocean acidification: A meta-analysis. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 86: 157-164.
"In summary, our analysis shows that marine biota is more resistant to ocean acidification than suggested by pessimistic predictions identifying ocean acidification as a major threat to marine biodiversity ([Kleypas et al., 1999], [Orr et al., 2005], [Raven, 2005], [Sponberg, 2007] and [Zondervan et al., 2001]), which may not be the widespread problem conjured into the 21st century. Ocean acidification will enhance growth of marine autotrophs and reduce fertility and metabolic rates, but effects are likely to be minor along the range of pCO2 predicted for the 21st century, and feedbacks between positive responses of autotrophs and pH may further buffer the impacts. Particularly sensitive processes like calcification may be affected, while bivalves seem to be most vulnerable to changes in ambient pH. Modellers and chemical oceanographers need to improve their predictions on the impacts of ocean acidification by incorporating natural variability in pCO2 in marine waters, the small-scale physical processes that detach the organismal chemosphere from the bulk water properties and the potential for homeostasis resulting from active processes at the cellular level. The predictions need also consider how the gradual changes conducive to the changes in pH expected during the 21st century may depart from the impacts extrapolated from experiments involving the sudden exposure of organisms to reduced pH. Ocean acidification needs be carefully monitored and its effects better understood, while especially synergistic effects and complex interactions between acidification and other stressors need to be studied, as these synergies may amplify the otherwise limited impacts of ocean acidification. Science and society should not forget other major threats to marine biodiversity like overfishing, habitat destruction, increased nutrient inputs and associated oxygen depletion and warming ([Dobson et al., 2006], [Jackson et al., 2001], [Kennish, 2002], [Thomas et al., 2004] and [Valiela, 2006]). The attention that ocean acidification as a sole threat to marine biodiversity has drawn recently might not be fully justified concerning the limited impact of experimental acidification on organism processes as shown by the meta-analysis presented here."

Biobob said at August 23, 2010 10:57 PM:

I just wanted to make sure you understood - marine organisms "see" highly variable pH and CO2-partial-pressures every day the sun shines. Photosynthesis grabs H+ ions to make sugars - the more fertilizer (like CO2) there is, the higher the pH (MORE BASIC) this process drives. Many corals live in close association with plants - and therefor have front row seats to these changes since the plants are actually embedded/attached in the coral matrix. This photosynthetic process changes and has changed the pH of fairly sizable chunks of water - say like the North Sea.

You should also realize that experiments using mineral acids to alter pH are flawed - increasing CO2 drives the carbonic acid - carbonate exchange system that sea plants/animals know and love - not hydrochloric, nitric, or sulfuric acids, which act in totally different manner biologically.

YES they have measured ocean pH dropping on average from 8.2 to 8.1 in certain studies - wowser - I can find more than that kind of difference between 8 am and 11 am on the same sunny day, lol.

Seriously, Randall, this is analogous to those screaming about the impending total ice free arctic ocean - take a gander at any sat photo of the arctic - I see a lot of ice up there at the end of summer now. Which is much better than glaciers bearing down on Toronto - that could ruin my whole day.

BTW, I studied the effects of stream acidification on aquatic ecosystems for my doctorate, so I do know some small amount about this first hand.

Jaques Holmgren said at August 24, 2010 8:32 AM:

Randall hears about experiments where they smother coral with concentrated hydrochloric acid, then he goes off the rails in panic when the corals react badly. That's not the kind of future pundit we are looking for, Randall. Please be more selective in the type of disasters you report on.

Art Ford said at August 24, 2010 5:39 PM:

There have been multiple peer-reviewed research done on the impact of ocean acidification. Despite the speculative computer model predictions, real empirical research keeps throwing cold water on fears of acidification.

This web page list a number of those studies:

sabril said at August 25, 2010 1:47 AM:

"speculative computer model prediction"

In my humble opinion, computer simulations are worthless until they've actually been tested and validated in the real world. When a computer simulation makes a series of interesting bona fide predictions which match reality, we can begin to take its predictions seriously.

As far as I know, none of the warmist computer simulations have ever been tested and validated in this way. When I raise this issue with warmists, they tend to point to computer simulations which have been tested with backcasting, i.e. the simulation is compared to past data to see how well it matches. The problem with this approach is that there is no way to know if the simulator quietly discarded simulations which did not fit, tuned the simulation to past numbers, or cheated in some other way. Indeed, these backcasts tend to be _beautiful_ fits to past data, even over 1-2 year time frames. And yet they don't have this kind of fit going forward, as far as I know. The reasonable inference is that the simulators are cheating.

Simone said at August 26, 2010 7:54 PM:

I await credible evidence and theory to support this wild speculation

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©