Thongchai Thailand

TBGY Does Ocean Acidification

Posted on: January 18, 2020


bandicam 2020-01-18 19-45-01-496








  1. It’s an emotive title isn’t it? Ocean Acidification. Makes me think I can’t go swimming in the sea without my face melting off. But is it an example of gross exaggeration to play up to the mainstream media or is it a precise description of what’s actually occurring? To be honest, I didn’t have the answer to that. So I thought I better go and find out.
  2. Quite recently my dad bought a Soda Stream which he is very pleased with and which is certainly helping him to reduce unnecessary water and plastic waste; but it occurred to me that there is another way you can use it. So I bought my own and here it is.
  3. Now, this thing is a kind of pressurized carbon dioxide. In fact, the CO2 they use in these things is primarily a by-product of other industrial processes. That’s not to say that those processes should not be moving to a carbon free energy source – of course they should. But at least in the meantime, they’ve got some sort of carbon capture process which is by no means the solution but it’s better than nothing. Oh yeah, the irony of Pepsi, the world’s second favorite sugary water producer having just bought Soda Stream wasn’t lost on me either.
  4. Anyway, these things (soda-stream) work by forcing carbon dioxide into water at pressure and that then dissolves in the water before bubbling up to try and escape. And that’s what makes all fizzy drinks fizzy. But it also causes a chemical reaction that we can measure using a pH indicator. No I didn’t have a pH indicator lying around the house; and yes I did go our and buy one just for this experiment; and yes that is quite a nerdy thing to do; and no I don’t care. So there.
  5. I will pour some water from this bottle into the jug so we can measure the pH. It says that the pH=7 which is bang on neutral on the pH scale. So let’s get that out of there and pour it back in our bottle and give it some CO2 and see what happens. If we pour some of that out into here again and pop it back in here we we can see what’s going on and put out pH indicator back in and it comes out to pH=4.7. A pH of 4.7 is very acidic. bandicam 2020-01-19 13-47-53-366
  6. Essentially, that’s what our scientists are telling us is happening on our ocean. So here is how it works. It turns out that the oceans are extremely good at absorbing CO2. Since about 1750 our industrial systems have pumped enormous quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere and our oceans have absorbed about 30% to 40% of it. Which is just as well because without that our planet would be a lot warmer than it already is. After CO2 is absorbed in the ocean, this happens. Carbon dioxide plus water becomes H2CO3 which is basic chemistry I can remember from school and which I can just about manage even now as H2O + CO2 => H2CO3 and H2CO3 is carbonic acid. This next bit gets a bit weird. H2CO3 <> H+ & HCO3-. <> 2H++ CO3 –. Carbonic acid molecules can release one of their Hydrogen ions to become a bicarbonate and not content with that the bicarbonate molecule can release another hydrogen ion to become a simple carbonate. At normal temperature and alkalinity level, the simple carbonate can then combine with calcium to make Calcium Carbonate CaCO3 and that is what coral and shells are made of. bandicam 2020-01-19 13-59-29-201
  7. The surface of the ocean about a hundred years ago had an average pH value of about pH=8.25 which is clearly on the alkaline side of neutral. But today the average pH is about 8.14. So that’s a decrease of 0.11 which sounds pretty insignificant but the pH scale is logarithmic which means that two is not two times more than one but ten times more than one and three is ten times more than two or a hundred times more than one. So our 0.11 reduction is actually a 30% increase in acidity and apparently that is significant. But pH=8.14 is still alkaline isn’t it? So why is it so important? It turns out that the whole reaction we looked at earlier is reversible. It works both ways depending on temperature and alkalinity and that means as the CO2 concentration of the oceans increases and more and more of the Hydrogen ions start floating around causing trouble, the simple carbonate can recombine with a Hydrogen ion and go back to being a bicarbonate. bandicam 2020-01-19 15-17-42-823
  8. The BJERRUM PLOT: THE BJERRUM PLOT: The vertical axis is logarithmic indicating concentrations of carbon dioxide, bicarbonate, and carbonate. The horizontal axis shows the pH range from very acidic on the left to very alkaline on the right side. When the water is very acidic you get mostly carbonic acid with just a little bit of bicarbonate action going on down here. When the water reaches pH neutral the bicarbonate becomes dominant. Then as the water moves into alkaline territory the simple carbonate end of the reaction becomes the most prevalent, which is good news for shells and corals and all of that. So if we draw a vertical yellow line for pH levels a hundred years ago and another one at today’s pH level we can see the direction of travel. As more and more CO2 gets dissolved into the ocean simple carbonate levels go down and bicarbonate levels go up and that means less carbonate available to combine with calcium to make calcium carbonate and that means that shell fish and coral are less able to grow and repair themselves. bandicam 2020-01-19 15-34-33-039
  9. Like most things that go on in our ocean and our atmosphere, the process involves many other variables so it’s extremely complicated and it is not black and white at all. For example, there is an argument that as the sea gets warmer, the metabolism of all organisms get faster and that includes phytoplankton (microscopic ocean algae) and phytoplankton take in CO2 as they grow (as in photosynthesis) just like trees on land do. So that’s a good thing, right? Other studies like the one from the AGU (Capotondi, Antonietta, et al. “Enhanced upper ocean stratification with climate change in the CMIP3 models.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 117.C4 (2012). ABSTRACT: Changes in upper ocean stratification during the second half of the 21st century, relative to the second half of the 20th century, are examined in ten of the CMIP3 climate models according to the SRES‐A2 scenario. The upper ocean stratification, defined here as the density difference between 200 m and the surface, is larger everywhere during the second half of the 21st century, indicative of an increasing degree of decoupling between the surface and the deeper oceans, with important consequences for many biogeochemical processes. The areas characterized by the largest stratification changes include the Arctic, the tropics, the North Atlantic, and the northeast Pacific. The increase in stratification is primarily due to the increase in surface temperature, whose influence upon density is largest in the tropical regions, and decreases with increasing latitude. The influence of salinity upon the stratification changes, while not as spatially extensive as that of temperature, is very large in the Arctic, North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific. Salinity also significantly contributes to the density decrease near the surface in the western tropical Pacific, but counteracts the negative influence of temperature upon density in the tropical Atlantic.) suggest that the nutrient the phytoplankton needs grow is supplied from deeper water and as the oceans get warmer you get more temperature separation between the different depths since there is less mixing of the layers that make these nutrients available and this causes phytoplankton growth and CO2 uptake to decrease which results in more available CO2 in the water. And of course different parts of the ocean have slightly different pH levels anyway as these charts show. So the effects will vary around the globe. bandicam 2020-01-19 16-01-44-037
  10. And what we really don’t know is how much more CO2 humans will spew our in the course of the next 50 years or so. But if we stay on the path the scientists call RCP8.5, which is the worst case representation concentration pathway, otherwise known as the business as usual scenario, which is the curve we are following at the moment, then according to the IPCC, we can expect the further lowering of the average pH by about o,3 to 0.4 by the year 2100. That will drop the pH level to about pH=7.8 which is very likely to have a negative impact on the eco system of our ocean. Here’s a pteropod swimming around in pH of 8.1 Pteropods are tiny little marine snails which are really a kind of plankton. They play a very big role in the oceanic food chain and eco system. Here is what happens when it’s put in water at pH=7.8 which is what we might get to in 2100 if we continue on the way we are. It may take a month and a half for this to happen but essentially the shell dissolves as carbonate reacts with the free hydrogen ion to make bicarbonate. bandicam 2020-01-19 16-25-56-264
  11. While we are on the RCP 8.5 business as usual, renewable energy technology is advancing at breathtaking speed and social and political will is changing fast despite the noise coming out of the White House. So it’s unlikely that we will stay on that trajectory all the way to 2100 and in fact we probably wouldn’t get there if we did. That’s not an oxymoron. A study by the Royal Society in 2014 which carried out a combined survey of the water and the pteropods along the Washington, Oregon, California coast in August 2011 shows that large portions of the shelf waters are already corrosive to pteropods. They found that 53% of the onshore and 24% of the offshore pteropods had severe dissolution damage. The study estimated that the incidence of pteropod severe shell dissolution due to anthropogenic ocean acidification has doubled in near shore habitats since pre-industrial times across this region and is on track to triple by 2050. {Bednaršek, N., et al. “Limacina helicina shell dissolution as an indicator of declining habitat suitability owing to ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281.1785 (2014): 20140123, ABSTRACT: Few studies to date have demonstrated widespread biological impacts of ocean acidification (OA) under conditions currently found in the natural environment. From a combined survey of physical and chemical water properties and biological sampling along the Washington–Oregon–California coast in August 2011, we show that large portions of the shelf waters are corrosive to pteropods in the natural environment. We show a strong positive correlation between the proportion of pteropod individuals with severe shell dissolution damage and the percentage of undersaturated water in the top 100 m with respect to aragonite. We found 53% of onshore individuals and 24% of offshore individuals on average to have severe dissolution damage. Relative to pre-industrial CO2 concentrations, the extent of undersaturated waters in the top 100 m of the water column has increased over sixfold along the California Current Ecosystem (CCE). We estimate that the incidence of severe pteropod shell dissolution owing to anthropogenic OA has doubled in near shore habitats since pre-industrial conditions across this region and is on track to triple by 2050. These results demonstrate that habitat suitability for pteropods in the coastal CCE is declining. The observed impacts represent a baseline for future observations towards understanding broader scale OA effects}.
  12. So what’s to make of all this complicated information? Well, ocean acidification doesn’t mean that our oceans are all full of acid so I can park my irrational fear of going swimming and melting my face but the science is telling us that the direction of travel is toward a less alkaline composition. And when a reaction like that takes place in a body of water as vast and as fundamental to life as our ocean systems then it must surely be something that we need to keep a very close eye on.




  1. If ocean acidification is driven by fossil fuel emissions there ought to be a detectable statistically significant detrended correlation between emissions and oceanic CO2 concentration to establish the responsiveness of the rate of increase in oceanic CO2 concentration to the rate of fossil fuel emissions at an annual time scale. That is, years with very high rates of fossil fuel emissions should show larger increases in oceanic CO2 than years with low fossil fuel emissions. This test is carried out in a related post [LINK] . No such correlation is found in the data [LINK] . The relevant chart from the linked post is reproduced below.  DETCORR-TEMP-ADJUSTED
  2. An additional consideration is the mass balance. In a related post oceanic CO2 concentration data 1958-2014 are presented that show average annual increase 0.002 millimoles of CO2 per liter of ocean water in the top 5000 feet of the ocean for a total increase of 0.114 millimoles/liter (MMPL) in the study period 1958-2014. CO2-TREND
  3. The total cumulative fossil fuel emissions in this period 1958-2014 was 328 gigatons. Even in the impossible scenario that all of the fossil fuel emissions ended up in the ocean uniformly distributed throughout the ocean, it could cause an increase in CO2 concentration by 0.021 MMPL. However, since the oceanic CO2 data presented above are taken from the top 5000 feet of the ocean (approximately 80% of the ocean in terms of volume), we assume that fossil fuel emissions change CO2 concentration in only the top 5000 feet of the ocean. In that case, the maximum possible increase in oceanic CO2 concentration is 0.021/0.8 = 0.026 MMPL.
  4. The mass balance presented in paragraphs 2&3 above show that fossil fuel emissions cannot explain the observed change in oceanic CO2 concentration. Therefore causes other than fossil fuel emissions must be considered particularly since the the assumption in paragraphs 2&3 above that ALL fossil fuel emissions end up in the ocean is unlikely given the IPCC figures that show that CO2 in emissions go mostly to photosynthesis and increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.
  5. In addition to the the mass balance and correlation problems in the attribution of ocean acidification to fossil fuel emissions there is a vertical concentration gradient issue. If the atmosphere were the source of the CO2 found in the ocean we would expect a vertical concentration gradient with high concentration near the surface and lower concentration in deeper waters; but that is not the case. As the chart below shows, the vertical gradient shows higher concentrations in deeper waters. CO2-DEPTH
  6. The analysis and evaluation of oceanic CO2 data in terms of fossil fuel emissions and atmospheric CO2 concentration is yet another extreme example of the atmosphere bias in climate science and the corruption of scientific principles with anti fossil fuel activism [LINK] . This approach to understanding the ocean ignores significant paleo data that demonstrate the impact of the ocean itself and its geological sources of carbon and heat in climate phenomena [LINK] [LINK] [LINK] [LINK] [LINK] . It is likely that the ocean acidification fear of AGW climate change is derived from the PETM event when the ocean had poisoned itself with CO2 with a horrific oxidation event involving geological carbon that depleted the oceans oxygen and caused mass extinctions that on the plus side gave rise to land based mammals from which we humans are derived. The climate science assumption that mass extinctions are a bad thing and should not be allowed to happen ignores the important evolutionary function of mass extinctions of species that are normally followed by mass explosions of new species.
  7. An additional argument often made in the ocean acidification scenario is the CO2 warming feedback horror that when the acid gets to the ocean floor where dead shellfish have sequestered carbon, the acid will melt the shells and release the carbon back into the ocean-atmosphere climate system. This scenario is not consistent with the known properties of the ocean floor much of which is made of large igneous provinces that consist of basalt, a high pH basic substance that will surely neutralize the relatively insignificant amount of acid that humans can produce.
  8. To summarize: No matter what kind of horror can be painted in terms of ocean acidification chemistry, until it can be shown that it is a creation of fossil fuel emissions and that it can be moderated by taking climate action in the form of changing the global energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels, the presentation has no relevance to the climate change issue. 



7 Responses to "TBGY Does Ocean Acidification"

Regarding the vertical CO2 gradient, does the volumetric concentration take into account increased density due to compressibility with depth? And could sub-oceanic volcanic activity be a contributing factor?

Good questions. Thank you. I will look into this and respond soon.

According to this reference,

the density of seawater increases by about 1% between the surface and a depth of 5000 feet. So even if the CO2 readings are volumetric, correcting for density would not make much difference.

Since the mean ocean depth is about 12,000 feet, most sub-oceanic volcanic activity probably occurs well below 5000 feet. So any resulting CO2 from this source would be from superheated plumes rising and upwelling.

Thank you for this. Interesting and useful information.


[…] more disastrous consequences of that extra CO2 absorption. Consequences like OCEAN ACIDIFICATION [RELATED POST] which among other things is affecting the long term viability of shell fish and coral reefs. But […]


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