The Oceans are Not More Acidic Now Than in the Past 300 Million Years

Posted: October 7, 2013 by tallbloke in solar system dynamics

My Garden Pond

…despite what the Guardian says.Update:…as the Guardian now agrees.

[Update: 9 Oct 2013 13.01 pm:The headline and first paragraph of the article have now been changed following email correspondence between Fiona Harvey and me. Credit to Fiona and the Guardian for this response. The links now lead to the updated version which can be compared with the screenshot below. Further update: See also http://www.newssniffer.co.uk/articles/690315/diff/0/1 for a side-by-side comparison.]

Fiona Harvey’s article in the Guardian on 3 October 2013 Ocean acidification due to carbon emissions is at highest for 300m years misrepresents the scientific literature. This error has propagated across the Twittersphere.

(H/T Latimer Alder for the tweet that alerted me to this article)

Harvey wrote (my emphasis)

‘The oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years, due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and a mass…

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Comments
  1. oldbrew says:

    Bishop Hill has also pointed out the glaring error.

    ‘It is unfortunate that an environmental journalist should confuse the rate of acidification with levels of acidity, but appalling that this story was tweeted uncritically by Nature Geoscience and other influential accounts. This is not some esoteric area of climate science. It is well known that CO2 was much higher during parts of the past 300 million years than it is today and therefore ocean surface pH would be expected to be lower. Why was Harvey’s assertion that “[the] oceans are more acidic now than they have been for at least 300m years” not challenged (as far as I can see) by anyone from the scientific establishment?’

    Because either a) they are too dim to notice or b) they prefer to crank out scare stories rather than tell the truth. Either way it reflects very badly on them. Pathetic really.

  2. tchannon says:

    A single figure for something so massive, layered, deep in a world with moving plates, a myriad of changes?

    A few point measurements and we know? Even affected by subsea vulcanism.

    It will get more acid, gutter drains into the sea, where the Guardian is going unless they grow up.

  3. Oldbrew most people do not understand pH of water unless they get water tested for their swimming pool (our pool chemical suppliers recommend a pH of 7.3-7.5) Distilled water has a pH of 7.0 and that is called neutral. Rain water usually has a pH of just below neutral ie around 6.8-6.9 but is good to drink. Some pristine mountain streams can have a pH down to 6.0 -still in the neutral range. It is refreshing to drink and fresh water fish and water creatures are happy to live in it. Coca-Cola is acidic with a pH below 5.0 (in the past it was around 3.5) -it will clean up copper coins. Bacteria can live in Coca Cola but few fish can survive.
    The Ocean surface in the mid-Pacific around the Pacific Islands (eg Tahiti) has a pH of 8.1 to 8.2. There is no evidence that it is changing. Upwell currents (from below 700m) near the Mexican Pacific ocean have been measured to have pH in the range 7.7 to 7.8 (ie still alkaline). Upwelling also occurs on the Pacific coast of USA The reason for the lower pH is not known. Some think in the past surface water was a lower pH than at present and all the water at depth has a lower pH than the present surface. The lower pH could also be due to volcanic activity or plate movement (at least along the Pacific coast of North and Central America)
    The Greenies are good liars.

  4. michael hart says:

    I think Ruth Dixon is being rather generous to Fiona Harvey and environmental journalists in general when she writes
    -“It is unfortunate that an environmental journalist should confuse the rate of acidification with levels of acidity.”

    Relatively un-buffered fresh water systems could be expected to respond even quicker than the ocean does to changes. Where is the evidence for a CO2 catastrophe here?

  5. hunter says:

    AGW is not about mere pesky facts. It is a bout the grand revelaed wisdom of the CO2 obsessed.

  6. Kon Dealer says:

    Another classic example of “churnalism”.
    “Science” journalists devoid of any science training hanging onto every syllable dripped from the orifices of climate psientists.
    When did investigative journalism die?

  7. suricat says:

    Carbonated water is only ‘weakly acidic’. That’s the nature of the compound, but CO2 is the first gas to dissolve in water though. In the duration of about a minute or so, a beaker of deionised water at a purity of electrical resistance 10 M ohm/cm^2 will degrade to an electrical resistance of ~4 M ohm/cm^2 when left open to clean air.

    Dissolution stops about there, with CO2 being the main gas dissolved. Are these guys thinking of ‘carbonated drinks’ that have fruit acids mixed in to improve the taste?

    The most likely route for ocean acidification is Vulcanism. Sulphuric acid will do that. 😉

    Best regards, Ray.

  8. Graeme No.3 says:

    cementafriend:
    Coca Cola pH was 2.2 and as far as I know hasn’t been changed. That is because of the 0.45% phosphoric acid put in to make it palatable with the sugar level. The phosphoric is enough to derust steel, helped by the citric acid also added. (That helps brighten ‘copper’ coins).

    For why the greenies are carrying on see:
    WARNING: EXTREME SELF CONTROL REQUIRED WHEN READING esp. graph page 2

    Click to access 1acid_final_091812.pdf

    I have a copy filed under acid ocean crap.
    This references
    Orr, J. et al (2005) Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms. Nature, 432:681-686.

    as “proof” that the oceans have become 30% more acid recently. Based on pre-industrial pH readings on sea water taken well before there were such meters (amazing what you can do with computer models with built in bias). Since 30% can only be a change from 8.0 to 7.9 (or 9.0 to 8.9 or 7.0 to 6.9) because of reverse logarithm scale. Your revelation that ocean waters are defying the eco-loonies won’t win you greenie points from them (not brownie points as they need all the brown for their publications).

  9. Graeme No.3 says:

    There seems to be some confusion between rain water and salts containing sea water. The latter contains calcium and magnesium ions (and small amounts of a lot of others) which can precipitate as carbonates. Most CO2 is present as a gas which doesn’t affect the pH. The relevant equations are equilibriums, hence reversible e.g. by temperature. The conversion to carbonic acid, liberating those 2 hydrogen ions the eco-loons love to show, works best above pH10. The bicarbonate move is affected by pH and virtually stops around pH5.5.

    CO2 will drop the pH as the graph in the article shows. Down to pH 7.5 in the Cretaceous.

    Wikipedia gives the mean CO2 level of 1700ppm and temperature 4 ℃ above present (I have seen different figures but as these are ‘green edited’ the eco-loons have to accept them). So where is the acidification? And, since the white cliffs of Dover were deposited by marine creatures in the Cretaceous, where is the ill effects on sea life?

  10. Roger Andrews says:

    A few numbers to provide some perspective on “ocean acidification”:

    8.10 – the in-situ ocean surface pH at station ALOHA north of Hawaii in 1992

    8.08 – the in-situ ocean surface pH at station ALOHA in 2008

    8.14 – what the in-situ ocean surface pH would have been at station ALOHA at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution if ocean surface pH is controlled by atmospheric CO2.

    2,600 ppm – the atmospheric CO2 concentration needed to reduce ocean surface pH at station ALOHA to 7.0 if ocean surface pH is controlled by atmospheric CO2.

  11. Ruth Dixon says:

    (this comment was also posted elsewhere – apologies for cross-posting!)

    I hope you’ll be pleased to hear that the headline and first paragraph of the Guardian article on ocean pH have now been changed following email correspondence between Fiona Harvey and me. Credit to Fiona and the Guardian for this response which now means that the article agrees with the cited report. The links in my post now lead to the updated version of the Guardian article which can be compared with the screenshot of the original in my post.

    http://mygardenpond.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/the-oceans-are-not-more-acidic-now-than-in-the-past-300-million-years

    And no, if you are wondering, I wasn’t credited by the Guardian!

    Questions remain about the role of the authors in allowing this misinterpretation of their report to stand. The lead author and founder of the International Programme on the State of the Oceans tweeted the article approvingly on 3 October https://twitter.com/AlexDavidRogers/status/385682377738952704

  12. tallbloke says:

    Thanks for the update Ruth. You get credit here anyway. WELL DONE.