ALFRED WEGENER INSTITUT EXPLAINS OCEAN ACIDIFICATION
FACTS ABOUT OCEAN ACIDIFICATION BY THE ALFRED WEGENER INSTITUT [LINK]
THIS POST IS A CRITICAL REVIEW OF CLAIMS MADE BY THE ALFRED WEGENER INSTITUT ABOUT OCEAN ACIDIFICATION WITH FOSSIL FUEL EMISSIONS [LINK]
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS ABOVE PROVIDED BY THE ALFRED WEGENER INSTITUT [LINK]
WHAT THE ALFRED WEGENER INSTITUT SAYS ABOUT OCEAN ACIDIFICATION
- Facts on Ocean Acidification: Knowledge at a Glance: Never before have so many scientists conducted research on what impacts the declining pH value of seawater has on animals and plants in the ocean. Here we present a summary of their major research results from the past years here.
- Oceans as a carbon store: The oceans have absorbed more than a fourth of the anthropogenically generated atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 200 years. Without this natural store the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere would be much higher and the temperature on the Earth quite a bit warmer. However, this storage function has a high price: the oceans have become nearly 30 percent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
- More acidic doesn’t mean acid. With an average pH value of 8.2 seawater is typically slightly alkaline. This figure has dropped to 8.1 over the past 200 years. Since pH values are logarithmically compressed, this corresponds to a decline of nearly 30 percent. By 2100 the pH value of the oceans will presumably drop by another 0.3 to 0.4 units and seawater will thus become 100 to 150 percent more acidic. That does not mean the oceans are actually acidic because even at values around 7.7 they remain alkaline, but are – in relative terms – more acidic than before.
- Naturally more acidic: The pH value of seawater is subject to natural fluctuations. Depending on season and region, the pH value may change. At so-called “champagne sites”, for instance, large amounts of carbon dioxide escape from natural volcanic sources. These marine regions therefore serve as windows into the future because they show which ocean dwellers are able to adapt to a low pH value and which are not.
- The colder, the more acidic: Carbon dioxide dissolves especially well in cold water. That is why ocean acidification is progressing primarily in the polar regions. Acidification of the Arctic Ocean could result in less availability of aragonite, an important building block for calcareous shells, as early as in the middle of this century.
- Bad Company: It never rains, but it pours. In addition to ocean acidification, increasing water temperatures and declining oxygen concentrations are also forcing ocean dwellers to adapt to new living conditions. A deadly trio. After all, when the three factors have a joint impact, organisms in the ocean react extremely sensitively. Moreover, oceans as habitats are frequently polluted and over-fished.
- Everything reacts in its own way: Not all marine dwellers react equally sensitively to the declining pH value of seawater. While calcifying creatures, for example, already reach their limits at low carbon dioxide concentrations, the more acidic water hardly has an effect on other living organisms.
- In some cases animals and plants differ within a single species, which is why scientists presume that some parent generations have already succeeded in preparing their offspring for the challenges of ocean acidification – a so-called epigenetic effect.
- Danger at early life stages: Ocean acidification represents a threat particularly for the young life stages of marine animals, such as eggs or larvae. Some larvae, for instance, no longer grow and develop so well in more acidic water. In contrast to more mature specimens, they have not yet developed all internal mechanisms necessary to protect themselves successfully against external influences.
- Sensitive calcareous shells: When water becomes more acidic, it means bad news especially for all ocean dwellers that build calcareous shells, such as molluscs and sea angels. This is because they then have to expend more energy to build and maintain their calcareous shells. A potential consequence: their shells get thinner and possibly disintegrate, thus offering less protection against predators.
- Too light for transport to the depths: If the shell walls of calcifying phytoplankton species become thinner and smaller in more acidic water, this may have an impact on the entire marine carbon store. The reason is that thinner shells are at the same time lighter so their weight declines. However, this additional ballast previously meant that even the shells of tiny creatures sank to the depths – and with them the carbon in their shells. The carbon could thus be stored on the seafloor for millennia. Ocean acidification might therefore result in significantly less carbon being transported to the depths.
- Corals as a high-risk group: Today the most species-rich ecosystems of the oceans, the coral reefs, are already suffering from too warm and too acidic living conditions in some regions. By the end of this century it is even possible that only 30 percent of all corals will have enough building material for their skeletons. This also has consequences for us humans: 400 million people currently owe their food and protection against storm surges to intact coral reefs.
- Energy deficiency: Marine dwellers have close contact to the water in which they live. If the pH value of seawater drops, the pH value in the body fluids of most living creatures also declines, possibly leading to an acid imbalance. More highly developed organisms like fish can regulate their acid balance within hours or days. However, that requires energy – which may then be lacking somewhere else, such as for growth and reproduction.
- If acidification is a strain on the nerves: Fish are generally relatively insensitive to ocean acidification. Nevertheless, in more acidic water they do not swim without any effects. After all, the declining pH value may have a sensory influence on fish and thus affect their behaviour. In laboratory experiments tropical clownfish, for example, swam towards their predators instead of away from them. Scientists additionally presume that ocean acidification impairs the sight of fish. Their otoliths, by contrast, grow well in more acidic water – which could strengthen their hearing and orientation. Or, on the other hand, completely mix them up since fish may overestimate the distance of certain signals.
- Boost to photosynthesis: Not all ocean dwellers react sensitively to the declining pH value. Some even profit from an increase in the carbon dioxide concentration. They include seagrass, macroalgae and phytoplankton species that do not form a calcareous shell. On the one hand, these plants predominantly live in coastal regions that are naturally subject to pH value fluctuations. On the other hand, the additional carbon dioxide is important for their photosynthesis. Seagrasses, for instance, can even positively influence the chemistry in the surrounding waters through their primary production.
- Learning from the past: The ocean repeatedly underwent acidification in the past, too – often with severe consequences, particularly for calcifying organisms. During the last ocean acidification event 56 million years ago many of the coral species vanished from the oceans forever at that time. Scientists can learn a lot about how life in the sea has reacted to more acidic water from these past geological eras. Today, however, the pH value is declining ten times faster than in the past.
- Expensive consequences: The consequences of ocean acidification for corals and molluscs alone will cost 1,000 billion US dollars. Scientists have calculated this amount with the help of forecasts.
- Only one way out: There is only one effective way of combating ocean acidification. We humans have to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. However, even if we could stop all emissions from one day to the next, the ocean would need thousands of years to recover completely.
CRITICAL COMMENTARY ON THESE CLAIMS
- The essential argument made to relate ocean chemistry to human cause is that humans have been burning fossil fuels for 200 years and over that same period we have observed a gradual drop in oceanic pH and that therefore fossil fuel emissions must be the cause of the observed change in oceanic pH. This argument for causation is inadequate and unacceptable.
- In related posts [LINK] [LINK] we test this causation hypothesis with detrended correlation analysis and also with a mass balance. It is true that correlation does not prove causation but the argument we use in the test is that though correlation does not prove causation, causation implies correlation and therefore without the correlation the causation hypothesis has no empirical support.
- The causation is tested with detrended correlation analysis at an annual time scale in a related post [LINK] with ocean acidification data comprising 124,813 measurements of ocean CO2 concentration expressed in millimoles per liter (MM/L) 1958 to 2014 provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. If fossil fuel emissions are responsible for the observed ocean acidification, we expect to find a correlation between the rate of emissions and changes in oceanic inorganic CO2 at an annual time scale. In the correlation test we find no evidence that changes in oceanic CO2 are related to fossil fuel emissions at an annual time scale.
- A further test of the causation hypothesis that ocean acidification are caused by fossil fuel emissions is carried out in terms of a mass balance [LINK] . Here too, we find no evidence of causation because fossil fuel emissions do not contain the amount of CO2 needed to explain changes in oceanic pH. We conclude from this analysis that there is no empirical evidence to support the usual assumption in climate science papers on ocean acidification, such as the Alfred Wegener Institut paper presented here, that ocean acidification can be understood in terms of fossil fuel emissions or that ocean acidification can be attenuated by taking climate action in for form of reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels.
- In another related post [LINK] we present evidence that the ocean is a far greater source of carbon by many orders of magnitude than the atmosphere and human emissions could ever be such that the ocean and does acidify itself to a much greater extent than fossil fuels could ever do given their relatively minuscule supply relative to the almost infinite supply of geological carbon in the ocean and mantle. More than 80% of all volcanic activity on earth is in submarine volcanism. Other sources of carbon in the ocean are hydrothermal vents, mantle plumes, rifts, and related geological activity. In this context the exclusive focus on fossil fuel emissions of humans as the only source of carbon available to the ocean is an extreme form of the atmosphere bias of climate science.
- The total mass of the ocean and atmosphere taken together is 1.36E18 metric tonnes of which the atmosphere is 0.38% and the ocean 99.62%. Of the total carbon inventory of the earth, only 0.2% is found on the crust including carbon life forms and the other 99.8% is the core and mantle including the outer mantle from where carbon is known to seep into the ocean by rifting and by other means. The insistence of climate science that the atmosphere tail wags the ocean dog in terms of heat and carbon dioxide content is not credible.
- As an example of the ocean’s ability to cause ocean acidification by acidifying itself is seen in the PETM event 55 million years ago that is described in related posts on this site [LINK] [LINK] .
- In the context of the data and arguments presented above for the relative insignificance of fossil fuel emissions and the atmosphere in the understanding of changes in oceanic pH, the arguments presented by the Alfred Wegener Institut for human caused ocean acidification can only be understood as an extreme form of the atmosphere bias and the human cause bias in climate science and not as objective scientific inquiry into the phenomenon of oceanic pH dynamics.
— Thongchai Thailand