back to article Will rising CO2 damage the world's oceans? Not so much

Those who fear that the oceans and their ability to support life on Earth may be doomed by rising CO2 – take heart! A recent scientific study shows that one of the basic engines of the ocean, namely the life cycle of phytoplankton, will probably not be disrupted by the rising levels of carbon dioxide to be expected later this …

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  1. AbelSoul
    Pint

    Is it an indication...

    ... that I've been reading El Reg for too long when I can guess the author just from the headline?

    Nevermind, beer-o-clock approaches anon.....

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up

      Re: Is it an indication...

      If that's the case, then there's a whole lot more of us who have also reading El Reg for too long...

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      "...absorbing solar energy (and thus removing heat from the sea)."

      Hmmmmm....

      I suppose that the fraction of solar energy that they convert to other forms is temporarily stored, but only until somebody eats them and then swims away.

      1. Charles Manning

        Re: "...absorbing solar energy (and thus removing heat from the sea)."

        Well that's true, if not well written.

        Any solar energy entering the water column either gets reflected back out, absorbed by plants and converted in some way or turns into heat and warms the water.

        Thus, if phytoplankton are absorbing the solar energy and converting it, that energy does not turn into heat. It's not very much though.

        The major limitation to photosynthesis is how much CO2 is available. Plant life is basically starving. Inject CO2 into a greenhouse and watch the plants grow.

        Basic physics... Don't argue with me, just argue with the laws of thermodynamics.

    3. TheVogon Silver badge

      Re: Is it an indication...

      A rather wider ranging report in Science by "Twenty-two world-leading marine scientists" says:

      "Scientists have warned that marine life will be irreversibly changed unless CO2 emissions are drastically cut.

      Writing in Science, experts say the oceans are heating, losing oxygen and becoming more acidic because of CO2.

      They warn that the 2C maximum temperature rise for climate change agreed by governments will not prevent dramatic impacts on ocean systems.

      And they say the range of options is dwindling as the cost of those options is skyrocketing.

      Twenty-two world-leading marine scientists have collaborated in the synthesis report in a special section of Science journal. They say the oceans are at parlous risk from the combination of threats related to CO2.

      They believe politicians trying to solve climate change have paid far too little attention to the impacts of climate change on the oceans.

      It is clear, they say, that CO2 from burning fossil fuels is changing the chemistry of the seas faster than at any time since a cataclysmic natural event known as the Great Dying 250 million years ago. "

      See http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-33369024

      1. Doctor Evil

        Re: Is it an indication...

        Beat me to it. Acidification is/will be the problem, not the dissolved fraction of CO2 in the water.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is it an indication...

        @TheVogon,

        It is interesting that the BBC should be pushing this at this time, one would think that there is a meeting going to be held in Paris later this year.

        It is also interesting that they bypassed another paper of a few months ago that said almost the opposite (see http://joannenova.com.au/2015/06/researchers-astonished-coral-reefs-thriving-in-a-more-acidic-ocean/ for information from real oceanographers).

        I can only assume these 22 'marine scientists' are like the 'climate scientists' - worshippers of the green blob.

        A few more sites to read on this - without the BBC bias:

        https://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/ocean-crisis-or-hot-air/

        http://joannenova.com.au/2015/07/global-warming-to-destroy-sea-food-as-well/

        http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2015/7/3/science-says-one-thing-scientists-another.html

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Is it an indication... @Ivan4

          The reefs you are talking about surviving the acidification are around Palau and other areas with natural acidification, however it does not mean all reefs. It should be noted those reefs have grown somewhere naturally more acidic (due to how currents work in that area), and that scientist aren't exactly sure why they are doing better.

          It should also be noted though that cherry picking one reef system and using that as the test sample for all reefs world wide is pretty bad science.

          As for the article nice prediction, So Lewis how's it any better than the climate disaster predictions that take just one or two factors ignore the rest and draw conclusions from it?

          You know the ones you rightly ridicule as bad science.

  2. Eric Olson

    So one piece will be fine...

    But we're already seeing the effects of ocean acidification and warmer temperatures on coral reefs, areas that contain high biodiversity as well some of the more amazing oceanic environs that humans can witness without too much effort.

    Also, I have a slight concern with the scientific accuracy of one line in the article:

    ... while absorbing solar energy (and thus removing heat from the sea).

    They don't remove heat so much as store it chemically. The plankton are then consumed by larger animals that will break those chemical bonds to access the sweet, sweet energy for their own uses. This includes keeping their bodies functioning in cooler environs (which is where most plankton are found), like the polar and temperate oceans, meaning that some of that energy gets released as heat energy. Mammals and seabirds come to mind.

    So great, the plankton will survive the acidification of the oceans (no word on the warming since that wasn't in the experimental design). But with extremely short lifespans (as demonstrated by being able to whip through 400 generations of the buggers in the experiment), the populations at large can quickly adapt. Not so much the fish that live a half dozen years at a time or the filter-feeding whales that live as long as us house apes. Will there be anything left to eat the plankton by 2100?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: So one piece will be fine...

      Probably we humans will eat it. Harvest it, process it, and turn it into something edible.

      <cynic mode> Sounds like a tasty future doesn't it? </cynic mode>

      1. Geoff Campbell

        Re: So one piece will be fine...

        Mmmmmm, seafood!

        GJC

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: So one piece will be fine...

        Soylent corporation shares are climbing fast.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: So one piece will be fine...

      "They don't remove heat so much as store it chemically."

      1: The latent heat of water (approx 1600J required to change 1 litre(or kg) by 1 degree Kelvin) is a lot higher than that of air (by a factor of a few hundred or so).

      What that means is that that energy being absorbed by the oceans _is_ warming them up (slowly)

      2: At the transition point, ice absorbs a lot of energy when converting to water - almost as much energy as is needed to take the resulting meltwater from 0C to 100C

      What that means is that as things warm up, the planet's ice acts like a huge damper on temperature swings - but once it's gone, that handbrake comes off.

      It also means that getting rid of the excess thermal energy that's accumulating in the biosphere is a lot harder than one might think.

      In any case it's a moot point. Whilst we won't suffocate as oceans acidify, there will be major problems long before sea level rises become a major issue. Large chunks of the planet rely on the sea for food and that's already become a problem due to overfishing. major changes brought about by climate change have the potential to result in worldwide collapse of what's left.

      I suspect we're already fucked. What's happening in the Laptev Sea isn't showing any signs of slowing down and that much methane is going to have unavoidable consequences.

  3. Anonymice

    Not news?

    As far as I was aware, no one ever doubted that plankton & algae would survive. Quite the opposite in fact, the concern is that the increased CO2 would cause it multiply & turn the oceans into a green soup.

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Not news?

      There was a PBS 'Nova' show on this topic recently. Inherently a ~75% trustworthy source.

      The issue is that the acidity somehow removes calcium (?) from the water, so that those creatures that require it to form their shells (including some crunchy plankton) are in difficulty.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Not news?

        The acidity (carbonic acid. fizzy water) prevents shells fo calcium carbonate forming properly or at all leaving the erstwhile occupants more vulnerable.

        A lot of the crunchy phytoplankton are diatoms which have a different shell which is glassy and formed of silicon dioxide, diatoms are actully part of the regulating system for a different type of oceanic acidity from silicic acid, the diatoms use this to form their shells.

        Carbon related oceanic acidity is a bad thing, well researched and causing big problems for the worlds barrier reefs as one of a number of human related effects including bleaching from ocean temperature rise and pollution.

        1. iranu

          Re: Not news?

          Cretaceous - 1700ppm CO2, temp +4°C above current temps.

          1. andrewj

            Re: Not news?

            Yes, and no humans driving the climate in the same direction, while simultaneously disabling the feedback mechanims that would allow it to swing back the other way (deforestation etc).

            We should probably just go ahead and label this geological era as the Cretinous already.

          2. Mike Richards Silver badge

            Re: Not news?

            Since you raise the Cretaceous...

            There is a marine extinction marked by widespread anoxic deposits at the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary which is linked to high overall temperatures and very high atmospheric carbon dioxide which may have been emitted by a very large upswing in volcanism caused by lithospheric thickening in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

            There are also a pair of events in the late Cretaceous that show how sensitive plankton are to temperature. Beginning around 71Ma, surface and deep waters began to cool, at the same time the number of planktonic species rose by more that 40%. Then from 70-69Ma and then again between 66 and 65Ma, ocean temperatures rose at the same time as atmospheric CO2 reached the peak you mentioned. Planktonic species went into decline at the same time. Only to be delivered another whack when something crashed into Mexico.

            1. MondoMan

              Re: Cenomanian-Turonian boundary extinction

              Presumably, just as with volcanoes today, the massive Cretaceous volcanism emitted gases other than CO2, such as SO2 and nitrogen nasties. It's quite hard to pin down the specific effects of CO2 when you've got a multifaceted global disruption going on.

              In any case, because of the massive volume of the oceans, changes there (including pH and temperature) occur quite slowly on a human scale, and so are not something we need to worry about for some centuries/millennia to come.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Not news?

              "Only to be delivered another whack when something crashed into Mexico."

              And a large part of that whack wasn't the impact or the global firestorm or the other physical trauma.

              It was the factor that it went whack into a shallow sea underlain by several km of limestone (calcium carbonate) which promptly vaporised and spiked the CO2 levels even higher.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Not news?

            "Cretaceous - 1700ppm CO2, temp +4°C above current temps."

            And it didn't happen in a 200 year period.

            Even the Siberian Trap eruptions (which look to have burst through coal beds and oil fields, burning them) didn't release that much carbon in such a short time - yet the evidence is that they caused a mass extinction as a direct result of the CO2 spike.

            1. MondoMan

              Re: the evidence?

              @AB: Your info about the Trap eruptions is interesting, but what evidence is there that the CO2 spike, and not, say SO2 or other effects, where what caused the extinction? My understanding is that it's all just an exercise in correlation, without good evidence for CO2 causation.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          In caves water loses CO2 --> Stalagmite & Stalagtites. Water gains CO2 --> They dissolve

          Similar principle of any carbonate rocks anywhere.

          And carbonate rocks are everywhere.

    2. itzman

      Re: Not news?

      Lotta carbon in green soup

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Not news?

      Not quite correct in either case.

      Ca and Si (for diatomic plankton) as well as microelements is the actual limiting factor to plankton formation, not CO2. The level of CO2 in the tropics and let's say off Alaska in spring is about the same. However, the tropical ocean remains crystal clear, mostly devoid of plankton compared to a blooming ocean in the temperate and polar regions. The latter simply have higher mineral contents due to the vagaries of seasonal circulation and/or more stuff being brought up from the deep by winter storms.

      Depending on how much microelements and Ca+Si you add to your plankton soup you can get any result you like starting from "whoa this is good" and ending up with "certain doom".

    4. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Not news?

      Eutrophication and anoxia are strongly associated in the geological record with high temperatures and high atmospheric CO2. As you point out the surface waters become home to large populations of plankton whose decay removes oxygen from deeper waters as their dead bodies fall to the ocean floor. The result is that deep waters become dominated by sulfate-metabolising bacteria who release hydrogen sulfide and turn the deep ocean euxenic. Material accumulates on the bottom as black, carbon and sulfur-rich muds and shales. In the meantime biodiversity of plankton suffers since most can't survive in unventilated oceans. There's very good fossil evidence for planktonic extinctions during the carbon isotope excursions (and very hot episodes) of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the Late Pliensbachian/Early Toarcian thermal event in the Early Jurassic.

      This is accentuated in greenhouse climates by the warming of surface waters which not only reduces their available oxygen content, but also makes them less likely to overturn and deliver oxygen to deep waters.

      As other people point out, acidification is a problem for carbonate-shelled plankton such as coccolithophorids whose populations in the geological record also crash during warm periods.

  4. Graham Marsden
    Boffin

    " will probably not be disrupted"

    Oh well *that's* ok then!

    Lewis has told us (again) that it's nothing to be concerned about, so we can stop worrying our pretty little heads!

    Of course the fact is that we're still using more and more energy, so using it in more efficient ways (which, BTW, has nothing to do with living in yurts or wearing hair shirts or any other of the usual BS) will a) lower our emissions of CO2 and b) give us time to actually get fusion and similar generation methods working properly so it's win-win all round.

  5. Trollslayer Silver badge

    There is a term for this

    Adaptation.

    Not sure if evolution is strictly applicable for this.

  6. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    This isn't that positive, but its one part of the equation

    Plankton will live on.

    Not so sure about Sponge Bob or Squidward though.

    < yes I have a couple kids about >

  7. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Tests show key processes will be undisturbed come 2100

    I was hoping the tests showed humanity finally got smart and started working towards better solutions to our wastefulness.

    Just another phytoplankton story...

  8. John Hawkins
    Boffin

    Thought it was old news...

    I remember a paper in Nature about 15-20 years ago where various marine organisms in a lab had been exposed to sea water in equilibrium with current and a number of raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, with the result that some organisms were worse off, some showed little or no effect and some did better at the higher levels of carbon dioxide. Can't remember the reference, but the result stuck with me as I found it interesting.

    Not sure if it is relevant for the modern rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, but it strikes me as worth considering that during the Cretaceous and early Cenozoic periods, when carbon dioxide levels were several times that of today (e.g. http://www.whoi.edu/science/GG/people/kbice/Bice_Norris_2002.pdf), quite a lot of chalk was laid down over Europe. Raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels can therefore hardly result in the extinction of all marine organisms with carbonate based shells, as some people would have us believe.

  9. Daggerchild Silver badge

    But.. but..

    .. so the original CO2->O2 system.. works in presence of high CO2.. well, yes, where did you *think* it evolved? (please tell me you think it evolved)

    I thought we were worrying about the *shelled*/exoskeletal lifecycle here. Crabs. Prawns. Krill. Coral. The masses and masses of hard-structure plankton species and everything in the food chain that relies on them, including us.

  10. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    I refuse to worry

    Many years ago I heard someone say, "Think back over your life, and you will find that 99% of all the things that you were deeply worried about never happened, and the remaining 1% were things that you could not have changed after you became worried about them. In either case, the worry served no useful purpose." I thought about it, and realised that for myself at least, he was perfectly correct.

    The climate and/or World environment may or may not be changing. The change may or may not be caused by Man's activities. The changes may or may not make things worse for us. Which, for those people who are worried means that either it is in fact nothing to worry about, or it is nothing they can alter. There is not a snowball's chance in Hell of Man significantly reducing the amount of CO2 produced until a completely new method of energy generation is developed. And whatever that new method is, I am certain that there will arise a huge number of people telling everyone that it will cause doom and destruction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I refuse to worry

      Your story is not surprising. Humans are hard-wired to become attentive when information about possibly dangerous things becomes available. Those who ignore such info tend to die off.

      That worked great in our tribal days, but now plenty of folks are more than happy to proclaim The End Is Nigh, hoping to gain attention and then leverage that attention for personal power and profit.

      The term fear-monger exists for a reason.

    2. jamesb2147

      Re: I refuse to worry

      It's not magic that keeps those things people worry about from happening, though it is sometimes coincidence.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/18/magazine/shell-oils-cold-calculations-for-a-warming-world.html?_r=0

      Believe it or not, there is some long-term planning in our society. You might not worry about it, but someone does, even if that's only because they see a profit opportunity (read: cleantech).

      As far as your proclamation about CO2 output, you may be right, or that "new method of energy generation" may be nuclear generation in a few decades.

  11. The Dude
    Mushroom

    Seems to be a higher than usual number of Thermageddonists here today, with their thumbs on the down-vote button. carry on....

    1. Rik Myslewski

      Your observation that there "Seems to be a higher than usual number of Thermageddonists here today" might be explained by the fact that more and more reasonable folks are studying the peer-reviewed science, examining the HadCRUT, NOAA GISS, and JMA data, and slip-sliding' away from the craniorectal assertions of Lord Mockton, Fred Singer, "What's Up with That?", Lewis Page, James Inhofe, and all the other folks who refuse to look data straight in the eye and say, "Hmm ... Houston, we have a problem."

      Grow a pair, denialists. We do indeed have a problem, but we're quite capable of taking steps to fix it — if you've got the balls to step up to the plate.

      Ah ... Sorry .. What's the Brit equivalent of "step up to the plate?" There must be a cricket or football saying, eh? Enlighten me — this is a cross-cultural challenge, and I, for one, need some cross-cultural education.

      Whatever. Climate change is real. Deal with it.

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        " What's the Brit equivalent of "step up to the plate?" "

        I say, pull your socks up, old chap!

        In reality it has become a joke - when it's used in Cricket, Football, Auto-Sport etc - but far, far worse was on yet another tedious cookery programme where the dancer host (ffs!) used it as a catchphrase.

        We do have many phrases to use instead of one from macho rounders.

        'Git yer bleedin' finger aht!' is rather popular.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Rik, the problem is that all those data sets you mention have been 'adjusted' to give the results the carers want. It is very interesting that NOAA GISS will not supply any information about how they adjust the raw data. We can only assume that is because it will show up the fraudulent manipulation.

        1. Rik Myslewski

          9/11 was an inside job, as well

          Okaaaaaay. So there's a worldwide, multi-continent conspiracy among climate scientists, oceanographers, statisticians, satellite-instrument managers, and those-whom-you-think-are-self-serving-cranks to manipulate decades of data merely to ... what? ... enslave you? ... get grant money? ... further their careers? ... get laid?

          The overwhelming evidence is that the oceans and the troposphere are, indeed, warming, and in a way that can't be explained in any other way than by accelerated CO2 release into the atmosphere by we puny humans. It's been vetted, analyzed, refined, and carefully examined for decades (http://bloom.bg/1GppERp).

          But for reasons unknown, you'd prefer to think that there's some sort of global conspiracy among scientists — folks who love to argue about anything and everything.

          C'mon, Ivan, take off that tinfoil hat and imagine — just for a moment, okay? — that the data are correct.

          If the data are correct — this is your "thought experiment," remember — what should we do?

          Bottom line: It's real. Deal.

          1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
            Mushroom

            Re: 9/11 was an inside job, as well

            I agree on the real part, it's been happening off and on since the Little Ice Age. Where I stop listening to anyone's article/argument especially in peer-reviewed publications is when I'm not allowed access to the raw. More recently we've had a few retractions in my late field econometrics where it was later discovered that invalid transforms were used, and this doesn't even begin to discuss wholesale hard sciences where not only was the research non-replicable (absolute basis of science) but it turned out the datasets were forged.

            If it's science, I need to see your raw data. Then when I collect mine we can compare to see the variance, which just might clue someone about replicability before long drawn out analyses. And if it can't be replicated without the raw, it ain't science. PERIOD.

            1. Eric Olson

              Re: 9/11 was an inside job, as well @Jack of Shadows

              Would you know what to do with the raw data? Do you even know what "raw" means when it comes to data? It's not just unadjusted, but bereft of any attempts to remove anomalous readings that are clearly incorrect.

              For example, my computer records the current air temp every 5 minutes from a sensor I have on the north side of my house. It even has a ventilation shroud over it to ensure it's measured as a shade temperature and it's 6' off the ground. However, for about 3 months every year, the early morning sun is able to reach the sensor and cause a rather substantial increase in temperature for about 30 to 40 minutes, at which time it can jump 10 to 15 degrees before falling back to the actual air temperature. Should I take that to mean that from May to August, my location experiences an unusual phenomenon that causes the local temperature to spike a hour of so after sunrise, or that I have bad sensor placement and need to throw those readings out until I've corrected the situation?

              That's what raw data is. And if you think that it tells you anything besides you have a period of bad measurements, you're just fooling yourself. Science includes applying your brain; without that, we'd still be talking about that amazing experiment that demonstrated how neutrinos can travel through the Earth at a speed faster than light.

              Weather stations move, they are subject to maintenance issues, human error, and other problems that can make for bad data. And even without all of that, weather stations are stationary, but the world around them is not. What once was a bucolic glen at the edge of town is now the middle of an airstrip, surrounded by tarmac, planes, and buildings. I think you'd be surprised how much worse global warming would look if each weather station was left unadjusted and tracked through the 100+ years as an urban heat island developed around it.

              1. Rik Myslewski

                Re: 9/11 was an inside job, as well @Jack of Shadows

                Well played, smart-man Eric, well played.

        2. Eric Olson

          @Ivan 4

          My understanding is that most of the adjustments reduced the rise in temperatures, as they were taken in locals that 100 years ago were quiet village greens or city-outskirt farms, while today those same locales are in the middle of the urban jungle and/or in the middle of an airfield surrounded by tarmac.

          The heat bubble is a very real thing and routinely elevates nighttime lows, to the point that some all-time record winter lows are considered near untouchable, not because of climate change or any such thing, but because it would take a once in a 150 year Arctic blast to get the thermometer in the urban core to bottom out, even if 20 miles away, they are actually seeing the mercury freeze. And that's not to even account for historical weather stations that moved numerous times over 100+ years where elevation, protection from the elements, and other things can provide anomalous data or render comparisons to even the same city meaningless.

          But sure, keep waiting for that single wisp of smoke to turn into a raging firestorm just to prove that right, while ignoring all the other things like acidification of the ocean.

      3. Chris G Silver badge

        "Stiff upper lip old chap! Best foot forward and all that Eh?"

        Well, maybe 60 or 70 years ago, otherwise as mentioned "Get yer bloody finger aht!"

        An alternative could be one of my old Sargeant Majors one of the most articulate men I have ever met

        " YOU! THAT MAN, YOU FUCKIN' DONKEY, GET YER FUCKIN' HANDS OUT OF YER FUCKIN' POCKETS OR I'LL WORK YER RIFLE UP YER LEFT FUCKIN' NOSTRIL."

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          "

          I don't know why a washing machine would need a cradle to drop the phone into. It should just talk Bluetooth to the phone, then the phone could multi-task across several appliances.

          "

          One of the best I heard was a troopie being berated for forgetting to remove his beret after entering the chapel - "Oi you - 'ats orf in the 'ouse of Gawd - cunt!"

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Obviously you are NOT looking at the raw data. Why are you pretending?

  12. David Pollard

    Meanwhile at the Alfred Wegener Institute

    A report out today foresees "far-reaching and largely irreversible impacts on marine ecosystems" unless greenhouse gas emissions are curtailed.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150703135248.htm

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meanwhile at the Alfred Wegener Institute

      Irreversible? Of course but only because time as we know it does not run in reverse. Don't worry, the planet will be fine, it has adapted, changed and evolved in response to much greater and much faster variations.

  13. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Windows

    Limestone

    There is a lot of carbon dioxide fixed into limestone deposits. How did that happen, and are the mechanisms and circumstance applicable to the current situation?

    Just askin'.

    1. Thought About IT

      Re: Limestone

      No, because that happens over geological timescales, while we're pumping CO2 out at an ever increasing rate now.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, the phytoplankton will be fine...

    ...except that 'phytoplankton' covers a vast range of microscopic organisms, which in addition to being 'vast' is also one of the most rapidly adapting organisms on the planet. The phytoplankton will be fine, although it won't be the same phytoplankton that we're referring to atm. Something that won't be the same are all the shellfish the depend upon carbonates for their shells - they're gonna be disolved, and it won't just be cockle, winkle and whelk eaters that lose out.

  15. W Donelson

    Of course, by 2100 there will be only 500m humans left...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Trouble is that the composition will be 50-50 between middle management & politicians, so pretty much what DNA foresaw.

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        "composition will be 50-50 between middle management & politicians,"

        I think that's a natural entropic state -- not one caused by DNA

        1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

          "composition will be 50-50 between middle management & politicians"

          But what will happen without all the telephone box cleaners?

  16. JLV Silver badge
    Meh

    "one of the basic engines"

    Good news, in this case, but the operational word is "one".

    Are you a betting man that all essential cycles will not be disrupted? That's the problem with this global warming bit. We don't know exactly where we are headed.

    https://xkcd.com/1379/

    It doesn't mean that I like greens a lot. I don't, and I would probably prefer to have a beer with Lewis than with Naomi Klein or her ilk. But rapid changes in an environment are cause for worry.

    At least one other engine looks shaky: we are having large die offs of oysters in Vancouver Island. The current suspect is CO2-caused acidification of the seawater which complicates shell formation. This is not news, as a theoretical risk, but actually seeing the first possible signs of it, fairly early on in the current climate change cycle, is worrying.

    Ocean ecosystems have a lot of unexpected couplings.The kill off of all the sea otters here led to increased sea urchin populations who ate up a whole of kelp which shelter fish. End result was less kelp and less fish.

    Who'd have thought removing one fish-eating predator would let to loss of fish stocks? No one, until it happened.

    So, good to know about plancton surviving, but let's not assume we'll dodge all bullets.

    1. MondoMan

      Re: "rapid changes in an environment"

      The issue, of course, is that the changes are not rapid at all on a human timescale, so the alarmists are left trying to spur drastic changes today for changes that won't start to be evident to the average person until hundreds or thousands of years from now.

      The reasonable person will conclude that we can wait at least a few more decades to properly sort out the science. For example, climate scientists acknowledge that even the sign (warming or cooling) of clouds' effect on global surface temps is unknown. Such gaping holes in the understanding of the climate system naturally lessen one's confidence in the computer climate models that are the only basis for predicting significant warming in a few hundred years' time.

      (then there's the name-calling: "denialists", really?)

      1. JLV Silver badge

        Re: "rapid changes in an environment"

        "are not rapid at all on a human timescale"

        But extremely swift on a geological and evolutionary timescale, wouldn't you say?

        "won't start to be evident to the average person until hundreds or thousands of years from now."

        Oh, really? As I am typing this my usual clear West Coast coastal air is strongly reminiscent of a Beijing smog fest. After pretty much zero snow this winter we've had an unusually dry, clear and hot June. Lots of broken temperature records. Now we have about 50 ongoing forest fires within a 200 mile radius, an air quality warning with about a 3/4 mile visibility when I woke up and ots of sub 2.5 micron particles, precisely the crap that's associated with extra pulmonary diseases.

        Add to this, what 1000-2000 deaths each in Pakistan and India due to heat waves in the last month, a pretty extreme drought in California and the Australian brush fire deaths of a few years back.

        No, none of this is evidence of global warming causation. But those problems are clearly caused by increased local temperatures.

        If global warming turns out to be real, and not the laughable hoax you think it is, we can expect more of these kinds of events, precisely because temperatures are trending up. And, again, it is worrying to see this development so early on. By any metric, even well-intentioned and effective climate change mitigation will take a long time to slow down CO2 increases and yet we seem to be observing some impacts already. That on the basis of 600-800 million historically heavy polluters in North America, Europe and Japan. To which we are adding hundreds of millions of newly-polluting Chinese.

        Again, wanna bet that this will not cause any problems?

        BTW what are you going on about "denialist"? Did I use the word?

        I am all for funding for scientists who could disprove the A in AGW. Too much at stake to be censoring science. Science depends on contrarians to advance. And, granted, a lot of our current reactions have been laughably stupid: ethanol biofuels, German nuclear abolition and coal increase, GMO scare-mongering...

        But that's not quite the same as being impressed by your arguments. Or giving the small minority of anti-AGW scientists the same weight in public policy and debate on the basis of "balance". At least, not until they've presented credible evidence that increased CO2 is not going to be a problem after all.

        Science is not a democratic process where 2+2=5 if enough voters say it is. Give critical scientists funding sure, but keep a neutral assessment of the facts and evidence, unclouded by personal preference of how you would prefer it to be. If 20 data points say global warming is real, don't claim that a contradictory 21st disproves the preceding 20.

        That's called cherry picking and that's precisely why I lack respect for your opinion. Disprove them all and sink AGW and I will be very grateful - this global warming stuff is a ghastly inconvenience.

        1. MondoMan

          Re: "rapid changes in an environment"

          You clearly misunderstood my post -- I didn't (and don't) claim that "global warming" isn't happening, just that it's happening so slowly that we have decades yet to sort out the science so we can figure out what policies make sense. Your anecdotes about current weather events have no bearing on global warming or its speed, as you acknowledged before seemingly arguing the opposite. Check out the IPCC AR5 report -- no increases in numbers of big storms, sea level rise still as slow as it was 100 years ago, and so forth; I think it was fair for me to write "won't start to be evident to the average person until hundreds or thousands of years from now."

          You also wrongly claimed that I engaged in "cherry picking" -- perhaps you were thinking of a different poster here?

          I am curious -- do you actually believe the computer climate models can predict global surface temps to within 1C a hundred or more years from now, given a specific GHG emissions scenario? If so, do you then think that clouds have no significant effect on global surface temps?

          1. JLV Silver badge

            Re: "rapid changes in an environment"

            >Your anecdotes about current weather events have no bearing on global warming.

            My anecdotes, as I acknowledged in the interest of honesty, are not individually proof of causation by global warming. However, the increased accumulation of "anecdotes" (Antarctic ice shelves breaking away, shrinking arctic ice cover, 2014 being the warmest year one record, the Midwest and Eastern seaboard aside*) do add up to a growing body of evidence that the 90%+ percent of AGW-leaning scientist might, just, perhaps, be on to something. And, no, they don't seem to think that your "decades" are worth the hot air you are using to spout them.

            >do you actually believe the computer climate models can predict global surface temps to within 1C?

            No, I don't. They may overshoot or undershoot. Your point?

            You remind of the great and glorious general McClellan of the Union army. He wouldn't ever move until he had every last gun and soldier in place. By the time he did it was usually too late and he got his ass handed over to him time and again by Lee.

            I suppose that, in your worldview, nothing should not much be done until every single bit of doubt and uncertainty is removed. Even if there is generally accepted scientific consensus that inaction and increasing emissions are putting us at risk. The uncertainties you point out do not affect the big picture all that much and you seem educated enough to know better. And that's why I did not have someone else in mind when I claimed cherry-picking.

            I will grant you is that cutting emissions by X% on any fixed volume of our carbon emissions will be easier and cheaper to do in 10 years than now. We are, slowly, learning our way around the engineering and, yes, the science. And should not overcommit to any given technology until they are proven to work. We are also learning that Greens, and various political parties, do not always just care about CO2 and science, sometimes they'd like to hitch their preferred worldview along for the ride - GMOs, organic farming, consumption limitation, etc ,etc....

            Those are real considerations in planning our strategies but it does not, in my opinion burying our head in the sand because every single iota of your questions hasn't been answered. We don't have "fixed slices of emissions", all of them are still growing and will take more effort to bring back down later on.

            Last, one thing that many scientists seem to be agreeing on - while it may be difficult to limit CO2 emissions, CO2, once in the atmosphere will, in terms of your precious "human timescales" be essentially permanent. We do not at this point, have any credible large scale way to remove it and no natural processes will do it very quickly either. So erring on the side of caution would seem prudent.

            * https://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-determines-2014-warmest-year-in-modern-record

            1. Rik Myslewski

              Re: "rapid changes in an environment"

              Love the McClellan analogy. Well-played, sir, well-played.

              It's not about certainty or uncertainty, it's about intelligent, well-balanced, look-at-the-risks, bottom-line-oriented risk management, eh?

              My money's on AGW. I may be wrong (thought I doubt it), but the odds are well in my favor — and if I'm right, well, I'm certainly glad that the globe's movers 'n' shakers understand risk-management statistics and theory, and are working to craft policies in light of such statistical imperatives, as well.

              Oh ... wait ...

              Never mind ...

      2. Rik Myslewski

        Re: "rapid changes in an environment"

        C'mon, okay, fair is fair, y'know?

        You write "... then there's the name-calling: 'denialists', really?"

        But before that, you write, "... the alarmists are left trying to ..."

        Not a big deal, not a big deal at all, of course — but how 'bout a level rhetorical playing field?

  17. phil dude
    Boffin

    Proof of evolution on the back of beer mat....

    E.coli, the lab work horse has a DNA replication error rate of approx 1 base in 105, which for a 5 Megabase genome is about 100 mutations per generation. E.coli can reproduce in 20 minutes, and occupies a volume of 1um3. So one metric ton of sea water can hold 1018 E.coli at OD600=0.6. Hence, starting with a single bacterium, this volume could be filled in less than a day - producing approximately 1020 mutations.

    Even ignoring lateral gene transfer, this is a massive diversity of sequence, and demonstrates the thorough search carried about by biology every microsecond for the last 3.5 billion years. Our existence (as is all multicellular life) is dependent on microbial life. It is by pure chance that humans have adapted to be the only species that can affect all other life on Earth. A little bit of humility would not go amiss when bandying around wild guesses on the fate of the planet.

    The microbes however, have absolutely nothing to lose. They were here before us ,and will be around long after us.

    P.

    1. Spasticus Autisticus

      Re: Proof of evolution on the back of beer mat....

      Yup, the planet will be fine. It'll be far better off once we've all gone.

      What we're doing to The Earth is perfectly natural, we are part of nature, we developed from nature and anything, ANYTHING we do is natural. It would only be unnatural if we couldn't do it - whatever 'it' is.

      If nature doesn't get us first then perhaps an asteroid or comet will - more natural phenomena (shit, I spelt that right first time - its a good day today already :-) ).

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: Proof of evolution on the back of beer mat....

        It's just that we seem to think - as I guess all species do - that we are 'special'. But most mammalian mobs don't really last that long, 2-3 million years or so then it's back to the soup.

        Maybe David Ike is right - them lizards have been around for a while . . .

  18. Mikel

    The corals in the Great Barrier Reef are 150 million years old

    The current ice age is only 3 million years old. Somehow these corals have adapted to 150 meter swings in sea level, diverse thermal gradients. They are in no danger.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: The corals in the Great Barrier Reef are 150 million years old

      The Great Barrier Reef is 20,000 years old. It is built on an older, (dead) reef that began life about 600,000 years ago.

  19. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    FAIL

    But so sad for the rest of the ocean

    Coral bleaching. Decades old. The first blatant sign that we humans had ruined the oceans. But it couldn't be our fault! It must be el niño events of overheating the oceans. Oh darn, we forgot to measure the pH as well as temperature. Darn, we've acidified the oceans so incredibly badly that coral can no longer survive. It can't fix calcium carbonate out of the water any longer. We forgot all about that chemical equilibrium between CO2 and carbonic acid.

    Oh and then there's that swirling sea of plastic waste building up in the Pacific. We humans really are such selfish slobs.

    Sorry optimistic scientists, but nice as the phytoplankton may have it in the future, we've already devastated vast ocean environments and ecologies. Feeling all good about the phytoplankton negates nothing regarding what we've already ruined of the ocean's future, with more selfish slobbiness to come...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: But so sad for the rest of the ocean

      Er... how does that fit in with what the Woods Hole Oceanographers have found?

      http://joannenova.com.au/2015/06/researchers-astonished-coral-reefs-thriving-in-a-more-acidic-ocean/

      You can't have it both ways especially when there is no acidification - the oceans are not yet pH neutral so all they are doing is showing they are slightly less basic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But so sad for the rest of the ocean

        Those are areas where the water is naturally more acidic. Meaning the corals there have had a very long time to adapt to the decreased pH. Taking a species that can only handle a highly basic water and transplanting it into those acidic waters will not work out well.

        That study only shows that some species of coral have adapted to that environment. Not that all have, or that all can--especially not on the time scales that are considered as a result of anthropogenic climate change. It especially doesn't tell us anything about the predominant species that are found elsewhere will cope with the change in pH.

        Mind you, if you'd actually read the Woods Hole release and not the spin, you wouldn't be nearly so confused:

        ‘Our study revealed increased bioerosion to be the only consistent community response, as other signs of ecosystem health varied at different locations,’ Barkley says.

        ‘This is important because on coral reefs, the balance between calcium carbonate production and removal by bioerosion and dissolution is very tight,’ adds Cohen. ‘So even if rates of production are not affected by ocean acidification — as we see on Palau — an increase in bioerosion can shift reefs to a state of net calcium carbonate removal, threatening their survival.’

    2. MondoMan

      Re: corals are already dead?

      @DerekCurrie: You write that "Darn, we've acidified the oceans so incredibly badly that coral can no longer survive..."

      This is news to me -- do you have a reference you could share to any actual science that shows this is true today, much less "decades old" as you claim?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More than meets the eye.

    I don't think we get the whole acidification process but we are encouraged to laugh at those who question global geoengineering practices.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=245&v=uv0Ko2OU4Ec

  21. Lars Silver badge

    What the hell

    I live by the Baltic Sea, It's polluted, I remmber what I could see as a kid and now I cannot. Just a fact. boffins agree, the shit you find in the fish is just a fact. Nobody denies anything about the damn simple fact that the Baltic is polluted. Efforts, are slow, perhas too slow, but it would be hard to find anybody who would claim adding to the pollution is the way to go. How surprising is that.

    Why do we give idiots like Bill O'Reilly, a guy who doesn't know why the tide comes in and out, this handle to argue about man made or not.

    Is polluting the air a good thing or not, I would think very few people would dissagree, it just cannot be a good thing. Why do we force idiots to think of ice bears and complicated stuff. If we cannot deal with idiots we have become idiots too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What the hell

      "Why do we give idiots like Bill O'Reilly, a guy who doesn't know why the tide comes in and out, this handle to argue about man made or not."

      Because the media is run by arts graduates who don't know any science? It would explain a lot.

  22. Shannon Jacobs
    FAIL

    Byline checked. Do NOT read.

    What are the actual assets of a media outlet, even a webzine like the Reg? Integrity and credibility. Do they face the truth and do we trust what they say.

    By extension, these assets are also needed by the authors or so-called journalists. This byline has ZERO value.

    Time for a new pen name, and best of luck in hiding your corrupt deceitfulness for as long as possible. Maybe the new name will have some beginner's value for as much as two articles.

  23. Jim Birch

    Couldn't Lewis Page write on something he understands?

    Every article the that Lewis Page writes on AGW involves cherry picking research articles and then seriously misrepresenting it. He is either clueless, or an ideologue, or both.

    Couldn't he write on some other area where he has some actual expertise? If such an area exists, of course. If not, he has appropriate skills for selling fitness apparatus to idiots.

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: Couldn't Lewis Page write on something he understands?

      He is the ultimate cherry-picker. On the upside, he provokes much debate.

    2. Rik Myslewski

      Re: Couldn't Lewis Page write on something he understands?

      I couldn't agree more. The Reg has tons of intelligent, well-informed, up-to-the-minute, finger-on-the-pulse technologists who do this website proud.

      And then there's Lewis.

      1. MondoMan

        Re: Couldn't Lewis Page write on something he understands?

        Come on, Rik, even you write poorly-argued alarmist climate posts without understanding the science (your other articles were generally quite good, though). Lewis' military-related articles have been quite informative, particularly the series on the UK's aircraft carrier boondoggle.

        1. Rik Myslewski

          Re: Couldn't Lewis Page write on something he understands?

          I couldn't agree with you more about Lewis' well-analyzed insights into the UK's ludicrous carrier expenditures (and I'd love to hear his thoughts on my country's F-35 insanity), but his climate-science reporting is reliably reverse-engineered as he consistently works to pick denialist dogma out of any pile of cherries that honest scientists uncover.

          Consistency in defending a predetermined opinion is often demonstrably more important to a settled-in-his-ways dogmatist than is sober analysis as performed by an honest, objective scientist, might you agree? Or do you believe that climate scientists are dishonest?

          Oh, and on a less-important side note — and hopefully not seeming to be too defensive — what science do you assert that I don't understand, and to which "poorly argued alarmist climate posts" of mine might you be referring?

  24. Martin Budden
    Boffin

    Plankton can be surprisingly big.

    The definition of a plankter (the singular of plankton) is an organism in seawater which can't swim fast enough to make headway against the current. Put an average human in the Gulf Stream, that human is a plankter. North Pacific Right Whales live in the Pacific so you wouldn't ever find one in the Gulf Stream anyway - but if you did, it would be a 100 ton plankter.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good news I guess.

    At least removing huge amounts of life from the oceans, and in particular most of the largest fish and mammals isn't the threat once thought. Unless of course our research and reporting is being driven by something other than concern for the environment. In that case all changes will be seen as negative and caused by which ever issue has the best lobbyists.

    I'm sure that is not the case so we can continue to increase our population and fishing for decades and centuries to come and the oceans and phytoplankton will be fine.

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