May 30, 2011
Coccoliths Better Suited For Acidifying Oceans

An interesting article in Wired looks at research on the relative resistance of different types of plankton to increasing acidity caused by rising carbon dioxide dissolving into the oceans.

The results showed that coccoliths are indeed resistant to dissolution. Inorganic calcite crystals begin dissolving around pH 8.2, but the coccoliths remained intact until about pH 7.8.

Some marine plankton will run into trouble sooner. But the coccolithophores could survive until the end of the 21st century.

Some marine plankton and invertebrates build shells from aragonite — a form of calcium carbonate which dissolves more easily than calcite — and these organisms will be the first to feel the effect of increasing ocean acidity. Calcite-secreting organisms which aren’t as resistant as coccolithophores will be next. Near pH 7.8, coccolithophores — and any other groups that stabilize calcite similarly — will be in trouble as well.

We can prevent the melting of Antarctica and Greenland by doing climate engineering. But I've yet to hear a serious proposal for how to prevent high atmospheric CO2 from dissolving into the oceans and making them too acidic.

Given the still rapid rise in CO2 emissions the only hope for the phytoplankton might be a very early date for Peak Coal.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 May 30 11:37 PM  Climate Adaptation

clazy8 said at June 1, 2011 10:43 AM:

Considering the number of generations these little creatures will go through in the next 90 years, I suspect there's ample time for them to evolve a defense, assuming one's available.

Bruce said at June 1, 2011 12:57 PM:

"Pearson and Palmer (2000 Nature) use this technique, and show that global average surface ocean pH has varied over time (though not necessarily cyclically), but that it has been relatively stable over the past 24 million years, ranging from 8.3-8.1."

And currently it is 8.1

anonyq said at June 1, 2011 9:12 PM:

It is not exactly the type of data a CO2 denier normal brings to a discussion? Have you seen the light or didn't you pay attention during highschool science.

clazy8 said at June 2, 2011 11:10 AM:

Thanks, Bruce, good to know my intuition still serves me well. This is just one more example of a normal phenomenon recontextualized to suggest something's wrong. I'm long past the point where I won't take such things seriously absent a quantity of evidence far greater than I would require in any other field. For better or worse.

Anonyqqq said at June 2, 2011 12:05 PM:

The 'denier' label is still being bandied about by the Alarmists but even readers of the NY Times blog are expressing some skepticism of the AGW messaging. A good sign facts are filtering through the medium

Ronald Brak said at June 2, 2011 5:16 PM:

There have been some geoengineering suggestions made that would reduce the acidity of the oceans, such as buffering them with limestone or using floating wave powered pipes to bring up water from the depths with less dissolved CO2 in it. However, none of the suggested approaches appear to cost less than simply reducing the amount of CO2 emitted by human activity, or the cost of sequestering CO2 in biomass. It is possible that improvements in technology will reduce geoengineering costs, but at the moment the cheapest way to avoid the acidification of the oceans definitely appears to be to reduce emissions, possibly combined with some biomass based sequestration of CO2.

Ronald Brak said at June 2, 2011 7:02 PM:

Clazy8, unfortunately increased ocean acidification reduces the availability of carbonate ions required for building shells, and there is no easy way to adapt around that. While adaption to lower availability of carbonate ions is possible, in water where carbonite ions aren't available there are no carbonate shelled organisms, despite the hundreds of millions of years available for them to evolve. If organisms adapt to maintain the same amount of calcification with reduced availability of carbonite ions, they will have to expend more energy to do so, and that means less energy available for growth and reproduction, which is not good news for people who like to eat fish.

Randall Parker said at June 2, 2011 9:01 PM:


How is higher atmospheric CO2 not going to shift the pH of the ocean toward a lower number? You aren't addressing the key fact: More atmospheric CO2 raises the partial pressure of CO2 and therefore raises the amount of CO2 dissolved in the ocean and therefore increases ocean acidification.

Bruce said at June 3, 2011 9:23 AM:

Randall, most of us are tired of the scare stories that have proven to be false. Sea level will rise 1000mm in 100 years and it hasn't gone up in the last 7 years .... etc etc.

The University of Colorada data shows a miniscule rise in the last 7 years.

Third measurement in 2004 - 2004.0630 27.604mm
Third measurement in 2011 - 2011.0673 30.809mm

3.2mm in 7 years.

All I know is ... predictions of doom (that never come true) make me think AGW proponents are all charlatans.

anonyq said at June 4, 2011 6:14 PM:


How is Sea level expected to rise? every year the same rise or first slow and then fast. I bet you have read up on it and can give us the answer so we know if it will be 1 meter or 5cm in a 100 year

Hamid Khan said at June 7, 2011 11:07 AM:

Life in the oceans evolved under a regime of much higher CO2 levels. The white cliffs of Dover testify to what sea life did to far more massive quantities of CO2 than modern humans will ever see or could ever produce.

Sea life has no trouble dealing with CO2. But if you dump concentrated sulfuric or hydrochloric acid into a seawater aquarium, the organisms are apt to behave in unnatural ways. Sadly, that is the level of sophistication of much of "acid ocean" research.

The modern science of ocean acidification is dependent upon sources of funding and publication which are oriented toward an alarmist vision of human caused calamity. Like a pendulum, these biases tend to swing back and forth, exposing science as being yet another imperfect human enterprise at the mercy of fashion and funding flows.

anonyq said at June 7, 2011 6:31 PM:

Life in the oceans evolved under a regime of much higher CO2 levels and no oxygen. So if i follow your logic removing all oxygen wont trouble sea life.

Anonyqqq said at June 8, 2011 3:45 AM:

So if I also take it to your extreme, removing all CO2 levels would benefit sea life.

ArcLight said at June 8, 2011 9:06 AM:

What do they teach the anonyq's in school these days? Sures not logic! Heh heh heh

CO2 in atmosphere less than 0.04% after all the coal and oil. So where it all go? Most carbon going into rocks. Whole ocean life symbiotic chain of carbon handling.

Nobody cares what it is. Only care about using faky trump up issue to grabbing power and control.

LarryD said at June 8, 2011 2:15 PM:

Geocarb III reconstruction of CO2 100-200 mya ranges from 1000 to 2000+ ppm. Even the lower part of the error band exceeds current levels (~500 ppm 175 mya)

Plankton survived. Coral survived. In fact, coral do fine near natural CO2 vents, which demonstrates how overblown this is.

Anyone concerned ought to read up on the reconstructions of CO2, O2 and temperature over geological time. The Earths climate is not static, and "normal" isn't the in-between ice age regime we're in now.

Engineer-Poet said at June 18, 2011 4:51 AM:

More recently, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum was associated with a huge spike in CO2 at the beginning... and a mass extinction.

There's another mass extinction going on.  If we are sufficiently careless/stupid, we can wipe out enough of our supporting web of species to include ourselves in it.

Hong said at June 21, 2011 2:17 PM:

Or it was the rapid rise in methane rather than volcanic CO2 that triggered the feedback loop. The jury is still out apparently.

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