Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

CO2 Acidifying Oceans Faster Than Oceans Can Adapt


The Earth’s oceans are taking quite the pounding.  As a direct result of people’s activities, most of the accumulated warmth has been absorbed by the oceans.  CO2 also presents a problem: chemical reactions involving CO2 work to make the oceans more acidic.  It doesn’t take too much of a difference from long-term pH values for life-forms to be negatively impacted.  The world’s oceans are currently acidifying at a rate that hasn’t been seen for at least 800,000 years.  That acidifying rate is projected to further increase during the remainder of this century.

Something the deniers don’t like to discuss is the observed rate is higher than the agreed-upon results presented in the IPCC reports.  Not lower, as would be expected if anthropogenic CO2 emissions weren’t wrecking havoc across the climate system, but higher.  Stop to think for one moment what higher CO2 emission rates in this century would mean.  Deniers might tell you that plants like CO2; that really, it’s good for the biosphere.  Wrong.  Higher CO2 concentrations with no change in temperature or rainfall or nitrogen and phosphate would mean weeds would grow much faster than they do today while most other plants would only grow slightly faster.  As we know from the science, however, temperatures are projected to increase (by 15-18°F in the central US; up to 27.4°F in the Arctic, for example) and annual rainfall increases in some areas and decreases in others but overall comes in more intense periods – which means droughts are more likely.  Changes in nitrogen and phosphate aren’t documented as widely, but for the purposes of discussing this news aren’t critical.

But I’m sure that if ocean pH levels fall enough to cause ecosystems to collapse, the deniers will resort to their usual fallback: “It’s all natural anyway; people can’t possibly have an effect on something as big and complex as the climate; and CO2 isn’t … blah, blah blah.”

The science is pretty clear on most aspects of the expected climatic response to the unbelievable amount of CO2 we’re forcing into the system.  It’s getting clearer by the day.  Most projections underestimate the timing and magnitude of the effects of doing so; they don’t overestimate them.  Too many processes remain under-studied and thus haven’t been included in papers that recommend policy.  The oceans’ vitality depends on that changing.

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8 thoughts on “CO2 Acidifying Oceans Faster Than Oceans Can Adapt

  1. Not exactly. The oceans are acidifying faster than projected but the cause(s) is / are still scientifically unknown since there have not been enough objective studies on this phenomenon.

    While all the causes I can come up with are anthropogenic, they’re not all related to C02 emission. Over fishing, which would reduce “marine snow” which is chemically alkaline could easily be a culprit in this as well or in replacement for Co2.

    It would truly suck to misread the causal factors in this one…

    • Really? Wow, then hundreds of years of elementary chemistry are just plain wrong, then? That’s interesting.

      Or one could read what is actually in the scientific literature, such as this Nature article, which began with:

      When carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean it lowers the pH, making the ocean more acidic.

      The causes are well known. What isn’t well known are the myriad specific effects that will result.

      The paper concluded:

      We conclude that unabated CO2 emissions over the coming centuries may produce changes in ocean pH that are greater than any experienced in the past 300 Myr, with the possible exception of those resulting from rare, catastrophic events in Earth’s history.

  2. You don’t get it, do you? You can achieve the same pH change by lowering higher pH chemicals in the ocean.

    My point was that we don’t truly know why the ocean is acidifying at the rate that it is doing so – a point I have no contention with.

    You Warmists can unilaterally blame it on CO2 if you want to, but doing so without doing serious research into other possible causes is foolish.

    Then again, you’re whole platform melted down in the public’s eyes and you’re poor science and refusal to look beyond a convenient cause is no longer a significant threat to civilization.

  3. At what rate would lowering higher pH chemicals in the ocean have to occur to achieve the observed pH change? More importantly, what is the mechanism that could drive that change?

    The responsible chain of events is well understood (by scientists, at least) and is relatively straightforward. Increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2 is the proximate cause of increased dissolving of CO2 into the ocean, which is the cause of increased oceanic hydrogen ion concentrations, which is the cause of lowering pH values.

    Moreover, these processes are occurring at the scales necessary to drive the observed decrease in pH levels globally. Overfishing, while a problem in its own right, isn’t a driver of lowering oceanic pH; not at the scales involved. The scientific explanation does a suitable job explaining what’s going on – if it didn’t, alternative causes would be investigated.

    Again, the things that are not well known are the effects on life forms.

    Now, on a more personal note – the public may or may not view climate change as the existential threat that scientists do. There is more information pointing to the public’s acceptance of the state of affairs and their desire that something be done about it than the other way around. But the public’s attitude isn’t really the issue. Anthropogenic climate change, for which the scientific evidence is overwhelming, doesn’t care whether people understand it or not or whether more or less people want to do something about it. It’s a physical process; it’s occurring. The climate system will continue to do what it’s supposed to do, regardless of peoples’ attitudes.

    • I do not know at what rate the lower of those chemicals would have to be to cause the effects we’re seeing, nor does anyone else that I know of because too many scientists have fixated on another cause that serves their own self-interests more.

      As for the mechanism – it would be the reduction of both bone matter and shells from mollusks. We’re dramatically reducing the populations of many fish species and mollusks. When we do that we equally reduce the carcasses sinking to the bottom and the “marine snow.”

      • Darn those self-serving scientists anyway!

        So the over-fishing is causing the pH levels of the entire world’s oceans to lower while increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere can be tossed aside as irrelevant?

        And if only there was one scientist (or would there have to be dozens or hundreds?) in the entire world who didn’t subscribe to the ill-defined cause you cite, they would prove beyond all doubt that that’s true?


      • It’s a hypothesis, Warmist. But it’s one that goes against your false religion and so you will utterly discount it.

        Ah well, I’m done here. Have fun in your delusions as irrelevant as they now.

  4. Yes, it is a hypothesis. It’s a hypothesis that isn’t supported by refereed papers, the coin of the realm for scientists. There are papers that tangentially deal with marine snow, but none identify it as something that has already occurred on a scale which would be necessary to explain the observed drop in pH values.

    But what this blog doesn’t deal with are unsupportable conspiracy theories. There are plenty of sites that deal exclusively in conspiracies – I suggest you give them a try. You can also throw all the meaningless insults around that you want – it doesn’t do anything for your hypothesis or your arguments.

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