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back to article Acid oceans DISSOLVING sea life

The shells of tiny sea snails called pteropods, or “sea butterflies”, are dissolving thanks to the acidification of sea water brought about to increasing levels of CO2 in the ocean, according to researchers from the British Antarctic Survey BAS). A letter in Nature Geoscience titled Extensive dissolution of live pteropods in the …

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Boffin

They'll evolve

CO2 levels were quite a bit higher (4-8x or more) during the Cretaceous so presumably the oceans were acidic and yet large amounts of chalk and limestone were deposited. Some critters with shells obviously quite like their CO2 levels high.

Like legacy IT it is not quite as simple as management like to think, but unlike legacy IT the earth system is self-healing given a little time.

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FAIL

Re: They'll evolve

Minerals, such as aragonite, cannot evolve!

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Re: They'll evolve

If the "earth system" is self healing, might it not want to get rid of us, like an immune system gets rid of pesky little parasites?

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They'll evolve?

Lots of things living in the Cretaceous didn't get to evolve. You might have heard of those strange beasties known as the dinosaurs. None of their descendants are living today (Archaeopteryx and other ancestors of birds excepted). They couldn't adapt quick enough to a changing climate. What happened is that other animals evolved to fill the same ecological niches.

I should add that 65 million years is not my idea of "a little time".

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WTF?

Re: They'll evolve?

>None of their descendants are living today (Archaeopteryx and other ancestors of birds excepted)

So none of their descendants are living today other than tens of thousands of species and billions of animals?

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Re: They'll evolve

'CO2 levels were quite a bit higher (4-8x or more) during the Cretaceous so presumably the oceans were acidic and yet large amounts of chalk and limestone were deposited. '

By plants and animals that had evolved to cope with gradually increasing concentrations of dissolved CO2, not the sudden increase we're seeing now. There's also plenty of geochemical evidence that calcium ion concentrations in ocean water in the Mesozoic were at least twice those of today, so in some respects, carbonate formation was easier.

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Re: They'll evolve?

Well, the only descendants of the dinosaurs surviving come through one sub-order: the Theropoda, and one species in it in particular. Everything else in that clade is extinct - like Tyrannosaurus - as are the rest of the dinosaurs as well. So yep, you're right, but without that single surviving species, the dinosaurs would have left no progency on. It's not like the rest of the reptiles, which left several routes for evolution: crocodiles, turtles, snakes, mammals and so on.

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Re: They'll evolve?

"You might have heard of those strange beasties known as the dinosaurs. None of their descendants are living today"

Ever heard of Alligators? 37million year old species and still going strong.

The horse shoe crab, while not technically a dinosaur, is even older as a species. And still going strong.

As for the extinction of *most* dinosaurs, this is accredited to a disaster that wiped them out in a relatively short time: A meteor strike is the most popular theory. So 'changing climate' is misleading: It was a disaster causing a short term violent change in climate, not the ongoing fluctuations in climate more commonly experienced by the planet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: They'll evolve?

Upvoted for the last paragraph. Alligators did not evolve from dinosaurs though. They do however both share common ancestry through Archosaurs.

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Facepalm

Why take the risk?

" Of course there's plenty of room in what's been revealed about this study for sceptics to work with, too", but why take the risk with the food chain?

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The Oceans are not Acid

The title of your story is flatly false. The pH of the ocean, the measure of acidity, is above 7, meaning that it is basic, not acidic. "Acidfication" does not mean that the ocean is becoming acidic but that it is becoming less basic, nearer to neutral.

That does not mean that it isn't a problem--sea life adapted to a basic environment may have problems in one that is less basic. But the way your story puts it makes it look as though we can shortly expect to go into the ocean and have our skin eaten away by acid, which is almost exactly the opposite of what is happening; both acids and bases are corrosive and the ocean is becoming less basic.

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Re: The Oceans are not Acid

Whoa there, hoss. Are you suggesting that the titles in an online magazine which is infamous for tongue-in-cheek titles might not be precisely representative of the content of the article or the research to which it refers?

I simply cannot believe this.

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I agree with you that the title is incorrect, but it seems pretty reasonable to me that saying something is becoming less alkali is equivalent to saying it is becoming more acidic, in much the same way that it is correct to say that -2 is more positive than -3. It's a minor semantic argument that I have seen some people (not you) use to detract attention from the fact that a shift in pH is probably going to have negative consequences, whatever words you want to use to describe that shift.

I have read the story through a couple of times and I don't see anything about having our skins eaten away. The focus is very much on the impact on marine life. The title is the only issue.

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Holmes

Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

There is a leap of faith in the Global Warming Disaster chain: You can start with a measurable fact (more CO2 is being put into the atmosphere) and a related fact (CO2 is a "greenhouse gas" i.e. it absorbs infrared radiation). The leap comes from the models and what they predict will happen to the climate if CO2 continues to increase. As the years go by, more and more flaws are found in the models and the runaway global warming is not happening. Maybe it will get warmer, eventually, but it takes a leap of faith to get from there to the runaway disaster scenario right now. And I'm not so sure a little warming wouldn't have some upside as well as some downside. It might even prevent the next ice age.

Ocean Acidification does not require that same leap. It is easy to show, in a lab, that CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater. You can also show that CO2 in the seawater changes the pH, and that the change in the pH affects sea life that makes shells for itself. End of story. No predictions of runaway or catastrophic droughts or hurricanes or melting glaciers. Simply that increasing CO2 in the ocean will have a downside for a section of the ecosystem.

You can also measure the pH around the oceans (I know this because I worked on the sensors they use to do so) and see the effect on various organisms. So far this takes no models at all. Details of what may happen in the future oceans may not be precise, but there is no large leap of faith involved to see the chain of events.

While I don't take Global Warming seriously (certainly not the wild claims of the eco-lobby) I will say that Ocean Acidification is real and measurable without fudging data or arguing over tree rings.

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Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

Nice comment.

I think it the fact that it real, simple to measure effect is the reason why the sceptics try to avoid any discussion about acidification of the oceans.

Fully understanding the effect of acidification on a vital food source for us humans will take some through , but early signs are not good, with acidification being demonstrated to have a effect on most parts of oceans ecosystems and on several species.

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Stop

Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

Leap of faith?

You can quite easily show that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation.

You can also quite easily show that heat is lost from the Earth via infrared radiation.

Normally, the same amount of heat comes in from the sun as goes out through the atmosphere, and the average temperature pof the planet stays the same.

There is no leap of faith to say that increasing atmospheric CO2 would lead to a greater absorption of infrared leading to atmospheric heating. The infrared that is absorbed may be remitted by the atmosphere, but unlike heat radiated from the Earth's surface, this happens in all directions, approximately 50% of which are not into space.

This in turn leads to more heat being retained by the Earth as a whole. Just take a look at Venus to see the effect of this - Venus is further from the sun that Mercury, but a great deal hotter because it has an atmosphere high in CO2 which causes the heat from the sun to be retained.

Granted, tehe exact effects of atmospheric heating are not known, because we have not previously experienced a rise in CO2 levels like we are now. The best we can do is try to model the effects, or look at past warming through proxies like ice cores and tree rings. Climate 'skeptics' tend to fixate on the fact that these do not offer an accurate picture, when examining some in minute detail, whist purposefully ignoring the wider picture which deos seem to show that more CO2 = hotter planet. For example, tree ring data can only offer a glimpse at the temperatures in the area where the tree gre, not give a global picture. If the local microclimate changes (which can happen due to a number of reasons, such as volcanism, geographical changes, changes in rainfall patters, etc. etc.), then these factors can confound the figures. This is why averages have to be taken from large numbers of studies which study different tempertaure proxies, and why as many proxies for atmospheric greenhouse gas levels as possible are also valuable. Rmemebr too, that CO2 is not the only grrenhouse gas, others, such as methane and CFCs are also powerful absorbers of infrared radiation.

So, in summary, there is no 'leap fo faith' in saying that more CO2 causes global warming. The only 'leap of faith' is in predicting the precise effects on a localised scale. You will also notice that serious scientists will not even try to suggest what localised effects of global warming will be, principally because they don't know, and at the end of the day, science is not about making shit up. Just remember: science has no agenda, but those responsible for emitting large amounts of CO2, such as oil companies, power providers, and large manufacturers certainly do. It is in their economic interests to sow doubt about global warming; I'd advise you to ignore the propaganda and learn the science.

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Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

"Normally, the same amount of heat comes in from the sun as goes out through the atmosphere, and the average temperature pof the planet stays the same."

Nope. The energy released by the sun fluctuates. The amount reaching the Earth varies with distance, which also fluctuates. Otherwise why has the earth enjoyed such great variation in climate (Temperate and Glacial tend to be extremes). This is the basis of why we have a variable climate.

What has been noted is that energy escaping from Earth associated with CO2 and Methane have dropped sharply in proportion to ground readings where as other frequencies have not. The ground readings fluctuate, and so should the satellite readings - and hence we have the great global warming scare. Sorry, climate change - global warming was pretty much busted when the mean temperature of the earth didn't rise as much as predicted.

Point to note, however: CO2 releases energy at two monitored frequencies. Only one of those frequencies has dropped - the other is still escaping in proportion as expected. Also, the frequency range monitored is limited: It is possible there are spikes at other frequencies that are not monitored, and these might have an impact on the climate models and predictions.

"There is no leap of faith to say that increasing atmospheric CO2 would lead to a greater absorption of infrared leading to atmospheric heating. The infrared that is absorbed may be remitted by the atmosphere, but unlike heat radiated from the Earth's surface, this happens in all directions, approximately 50% of which are not into space."

There's a saturation point in the absorption properties of CO2. Plus, CO2 does not uniformly absorb and release energy - so as one CO2 molecule releases stored energy, another might absorb it. End result is there is more *potential* energy stored in the atmosphere, but there will be an absolute limit - not a runaway cycle as proposed by some climate change models.

Yes, the energy gets release down as well as up - not 50%, mind: you're forgetting it radiates out in all directions so that means sideways, too. However... what proportion is being absorbed back into the ground and what proportion gets reflected back into the sky? And please note this is IR, and as such travels rather quickly...

"Climate 'skeptics' tend to fixate on the fact that these do not offer an accurate picture, when examining some in minute detail, whist purposefully ignoring the wider picture which deos seem to show that more CO2 = hotter planet."

No. Climate Skeptics 'fixate' on the way the hard data is manipulated to support the proposed climate change models. The models predict a hotter planet, but the skeptics are asking why the facts show rising CO2 but no change to average temperatures until those temperature readings are 'adjusted'. I.e. stop fiddling the figures to match the model and people will stop being skeptics.

"Science has no agenda, but those responsible for emitting large amounts of CO2, such as oil companies, power providers, and large manufacturers certainly do."

Science has an agenda: To expand knowledge and explain how things work. Pure science does not have a political agenda. However, others who do have political agendas, and selfish agendas, take that science and abuse it to forward their own aims. That is regardless of if they are a company, manufacturer or a lobby

group.

"I'd advise you to ignore the propaganda and learn the science."

And that is good advice.

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Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

"The models predict a hotter planet, but the skeptics are asking why the facts show rising CO2 but no change to average temperatures until those temperature readings are 'adjusted'. I.e. stop fiddling the figures to match the model and people will stop being skeptics."

The skeptics are just dicks. The planet has warmed and the readings are adjusted legitimately to account for spurious errors in the measurements, not to "fiddle the figures". Even the unadjusted data shows warming, the adjustments being in the details.

Evidently people will not stop denying the science though and imagining it's all a fraud. Take the widespread belief that evolution is a fraud for example.

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Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

Compared to their consumers, oil companies don't, themselves' emit that much CO2. My cars and I; however, do.

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Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

"The skeptics are just dicks."

Really, comments like this show you to be a bigot.

"The planet has warmed and the readings are adjusted legitimately to account for spurious errors in the measurements, not to "fiddle the figures". Even the unadjusted data shows warming, the adjustments being in the details."

The planet *has* warmed, true. Recently the warming has leveled out, however. The CO2 theory doesn't account for this, hence the skepticism over the theory.

As for the fiddling: Explain why the adjustments are upwards, not down? As the equipment should be regularly maintained and calibrated, the only errors you're going to incur are those due to human intervention such as... roads and urban expansion. In both instances you'd get an artificially high reading, not a low reading.

So explain why it's the readings from stations that are not being influenced by urban expansion or roads that are being adjusted upwards? Surely these are the ones that are most likely to remain accurate. It's no wonder the climate scientists who were reporting global warming didn't want to admit to the reasoning for their adjustments: It would, and did, add fuel to the skeptics arguments.

Most skeptics aren't skeptical about climate change: They're skeptical about the theories being produced that claim CO2 is the driving force, and man is responsible for the increased CO2. They want facts, not hyperbole. They want base data and open access to the calculations so they can check them and highlight any discrepancies. This isn't happening and this is what drives reasonable, intelligent people with scientific backgrounds to be skeptical about the theories.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ocean Acidification is not as Arguable as "Global Warming"

"You can quite easily show that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation.

You can also quite easily show that heat is lost from the Earth via infrared radiation.

Normally, the same amount of heat comes in from the sun as goes out through the atmosphere, and the average temperature pof the planet stays the same."

Are you seriously claiming that the Earth as an albedo of 1.0 at infrared wavelengths? And that CO2 'absorbs infrared radiation' but somehow never radiates it?

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This does suggest a way to measure the reduction in basicity of the oceans

By mapping the "saturation horizon" throughout the worlds oceans.

I'd call a shift from 1000m to 200m *dramatic* but this is at one location.

A further question is are there processes in the ocean that could *restore* the horizon by sequestering the CO2?

Thumbs up for actual field work versus computer models.

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And then of course, there's the truth.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/01/09/scripps-paper-ocean-acidification-fears-overhyped/

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Boffin

There's the 'truth', and then there's actual facts.

Basically, what that blog is saying is that because coastal pH varies over the short term in some locations, then we shouldn't worry about bulk changes in the other 99.9999% of the planet's seas. The author of this blog deliberately conflates coastal pH changes with oceanic ones. The coast is a highly dynamic environment, and it should go without saying that what goes into the sea there comes from the land. Given that most coastal areas are highly developed and have runoffs from agriculture and sewerage pretty much constantly being pumped inot the seas, it is hardly surprising that the pH there can vary a lot. Many hard-shelled organisms can cope with short term rapid changes to pH without their shells dissolving, mainly because aragonite does take a while to actually disolve and most bivalves and crustaceans have quite thick shells. When the pH rises again, the can redeposit whatever is lost. if the pH permanenlty decreases, however, the equilibrium is shifted towards greater solubility of calcium ions, and they are unable to build shells.

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A significant factor

The significant factor which seems to have been missed is that these "acidic" waters are upwelling DEEP waters. Deep waters are naturally bound to be more acidic. Calcium Carbonate dissolves in sea water at depth. All the limestone sea deposits are shallow sea deposits. But the formation of shells is a shallow water phenomenon. When shelled creatures die iin deep water areas, the shells dissolve before they reach the bottom. The Calcium and the carbon dioxide go into slution, and only reach the surface at upwelling zones. The increased level of nutrients in these waters (Calcium and carbon dioxide ) lead to prolific plant and animal growth in these ares

So the presence of higher levels of carbon dioxide in these upwelling zones is first a natural phenomenon, and secondly, of such an age as to be well before the accepted recent increase in atmospheric Carbon dioxide, however it was sourced. Most of the world's oceanic surface water, BTW is acknowledged as being almost totally barren of life, due to the absence of nutrients essential to sea life

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Numerical perspective

Ok...

1) The comments about becoming less basic rather than more acidic are very important - if you say 'more acidic' this implies that it can *actually become acidic* at some concentration of CO+ ion absorption. As far as I know this is total boll***cks, since this would require more carbon to enter the seas than exists on the planet. The oceans are unimaginably vast. The current ocean pH is well above 7 so it would need 100s of billions of tons of carbon to materially change from alkalinity. Any absorption changes are tiny.

2) The ocean pH varies quite a bit from place to place anyway and from depth to depth. I've heard up to 0.8 which is higher than any difference that could be made from surface absorption of CO2. My opinion is that these measured changes are simply part of the noise and cannot rise above the level of experimental error to be significant.

3) Less sure about this, but I've read that the dissolved carbon content of oceans is used by coral and others to make calcium carbonate shells. More carbon in solution can be *positive* to some species because there is more raw material for building their organic structures. Pros and cons all round.

That'll do for now :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Translated from German?

"A single upwelling does not a global threat make"

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Linux

Numerical perspective...

Re above:

1) The oceans are indeed vast, albeit the volume of 'surface' ocean water is less vast depending on the depth considered.. The emissions of CO2(g) are also vast.. All things being equal, increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (we can measure that) will lead to more dissolved CO2 which will lead to ocean acidification - that is chemistry and hard to avoid. (BTW Acidification means 'become more acidic', not necessarily become 'acidic'. pH 10 to 9 is acidification just as pH 8 to 6 is and pH 5 to 4 is. Technically acidity is defined as [H+] - [OH-]).

2) The pH of the oceans does vary from place to place but taking this into account the pH of surface waters is generally estimated to have declined by about 0.1 pH since pre-industrial times - about a 20-30% increase in acidity. This is a measured trend above the 'noise', and is not unexpected given the chemistry involved.

3) The critical thing for carbonate shell formation is the 'saturation index (SI)' of the mineral aragonite (a form of CaCO3 that makes up many 'sea' shells). This depends on three things - calcium concentration, acidity ... and carbon dioxide as you say. As more CO2 dissolves in the surface ocean water, the acidity and dissolved carbon dioxide concentration both increase but the acidity decreases the SI and the CO2 increases the SI. However the net effect is that the SI of aragonite drops (becomes less positive, or more negative) - i.e. shells become more difficult to make despite more carbon being dissolved because this is more than compensated by the increasing 'acidity' (decreasing alkalinity).

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