They’re dragging out ocean acidification again

Posted: August 31, 2016 by oldbrew in alarmism, Ocean dynamics

It’s getting tougher every year for ‘warmists’ to dream up climate scare stories that aren’t obviously just that.

American Elephants

ocean waves
James Delingpole, British writer, rants regularly at Breitbart about the utter goofiness of the world’s climate true believers.  He wrote today about a  climate “science” scam  that keeps on rearing its ugly head, in spite of being debunked thoroughly over and over.

Aside from the need to debunk once more, it’s a classic example of the workings of climate science. In this case, one of Delingpole’s articles was supposedly debunked in The Marine Biologist(the magazine of the marine biologist community). He wrote:

There was a time when I would have just ignored it: the guy who wrote it – one Phil Williamson – is the embodiment of Upton Sinclair’s dictum that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Not only is Williamson based at the “University” of East Anglia – aka Climate Alarmism Central, heavily featured in the Climategate scandal…

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  1. oldbrew says:

    The myth of ocean acidification by carbon dioxide

    ‘…just another scary scenario, a phantom menace’

    Got to keep those climate hobgoblins going.

    ‘A hobgoblin is something you fear or dread’ e.g. ‘monsters that lurk under the bed.’

  2. oldbrew says:

    Delingpole: ‘Ocean Acidification was invented to serve the same purpose as the Siegfried Line did for the Germans in the Second World War: that is, as a fall-back position for when all the other plans failed.’

    ‘What I’m going to do is post up Williamson’s paper, with some of the criticisms I have so far, some of them my own, some from people who really know the field in some detail like Patrick Moore. Then, in the comments section, what I’d like you guys to do is help me nail every one of Williamson’s “rebuttal” arguments. These I can then incorporate into the body of my piece.’

    Stay tuned.

  3. ren says:

    “Since mid-June, heightened earthquake activity has been registered in the Katla caldera. Summertime increases in caldera seismicity are an almost annual occurrence at Katla, often associated with the drainage of geothermal meltwater in the form of minor floods in glacial rivers from Mýrdalsjökull.

    Overall, the elevated seismicity appeared to be in decline until 29 August, when two magnitude ~4.5 earthquakes occurred in the north-east part of the caldera. These earthquakes are significant as they are the largest in Katla since 1977. The ensuing swarm produced over 100 earthquakes, the largest of which was magnitude 3.3 on the same day, 29 August. Following this earthquake, relatively little seismicity has been detected in the caldera.

    Throughout the summer, electrical conductivity levels in Múlakvísl, which drains from the eastern side of Mýrdalsjökull, have remained unusually high, reflecting a constant source of geothermal meltwater. Together with increased conductivity, there have been frequent reports of a sulphur smell close to Múlakvísl. Gas measurements near the source of Múlakvísl show unhealthy levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S), signifying high concentrations of geothermal fluids. Travellers are urged to not spend time close to Múlakvísl, especially the upper reaches of the river. The recent earthquake activity does not appear to have significantly affected conductivity levels in Múlakvísl.

    Our overall assessment is that the summertime unrest, and the earthquake swarm on 29 August, are not necessarily precursors to an imminent volcanic eruption. Similar unrest has taken place at Katla several times since the 1950s without resulting in an explosive eruption. However, Katla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and the interval since the last eruption in 1918 is unusually long in relation to recent centuries.

    The Icelandic Meteorological Office has several monitoring networks around Mýrdalsjökull and, via twenty-four-hour monitoring, every effort will be made to issue a timely warning in the event of a volcanic eruption.”

    Again, the geomagnetic storm.

  4. Oldbrew, It is a bit unkind to call James Delinpole’s essays rants. He gets it about right. The oceans will not in a thousand years ever become acidic. The pH of the oceans varies around the world depending on depth and water temperature. The solubility of CO2 reduces with increasing temperatures. For this reason the pH of the ocean around tropical islands (unchanged over the last 40 years of measurements in the range 8.1-8.3) is higher than in colder waters below 100m depth and in the polar regions where the pH is in the range 7.5-7.8. It is a lie that Coral in the Great Barrier Reef or in the Coral Sea or in the Caribbean is affected by changing ocean pH due to anthropogenic fuel burning. There is in fact good reasons to believe that there has been varying concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere due to changes in SST (sea surface temperatures) as shown by Beck’s research. see

  5. Graeme No.3 says:

    Rather poor odds you are giving…a thousand years?
    By my calculation the oceans will become neutral once CO2 reaches between 810,000 and 870,000 ppm. 81-87%. As that leaves no place for oxygen (or argon) we need not worry about acidification or CO2 toxicity for a billion years minimum.
    Neither will corals, as they evolved in the Jurassic with CO2 levels above 2600 ppm. and have ‘seen’ temperatures much less and much more than present times. Perhaps they possess a little more intelligence than the ignorant climate ‘scientists’ who carry on about acidification.

  6. dai davies says:

    Thanks for the link, and the opportunity to discuss the issue in a science blog. I think It’s important to respond to these ‘debunkings’ however tiresome. If there’s no response they claim to have won the argument.

    I’ve not studied the issue of ocean acidification in much detail because I haven’t seen anything that has caused me to treat it seriously, but I have been watching. I have, however, been looking closely at the carbon cycle, which determines upper ocean CO2 content and ocean pH [1].

    I’ve been surprised at how small the impact of our industrial activity has been. I’ve based my analysis primarily on the IPCC model from AR5 – not because I think it is valid, but as common starting point. At 460 GtC, our total industrial emissions have added just 1% to total active carbon in the cycle. Where it looks as though it might be significant is that about half this amount is equivalent to the atmospheric rise over the past century or so. Superficially, the connection seems obvious, and I once thought it was. The problem with that view is that the atmosphere is a tiny reservoir at 2% of the cycle. Its significance is as a conduit, not as a reservoir. It turns over about a third of its CO2 each year.

    I split air-surface fluxes equally between land and ocean, which is a higher terrestrial proportion than the IPCC’s. They admit that they ignore soil biota and it is as large as the upper ocean inorganic CO2 reservoir. Looking at the upper ocean and assuming no buffering, net deep transport over the industrial era, or biota influence, we would have added the equivalent of 10% to dissolved CO2. A simple calculation gave me an estimate of a 0.10 drop in pH, which I later found matched a value given in one of Phil Williamson’s references. But, and it’s a very big ‘but’, all else is not equal here. The oceans buffer pH, an accepted fact that Williamson acknowledges, and there has been surface to deep CO2 transfer, though even the sign of that is open to debate. There have also been changes in marine biota – natural ones, increased nutrient flows from land, and excessive fishing.

    Another of Williamson’s references, Newton [2] concedes that the mapping of ocean pH is sparse. The document is basically a plea for more funding. Significantly, they show that only a tiny fraction of the Argus buoys have the ability to take pH measurements – clearly not seen a high priority. Building a scare campaign around an idea where nobody has the data to prove you wrong is not the way for science to inform public policy.

    Taking Phil Williamson’s critique point by point (his quotes if not otherwise stated)

    1. Coral bleaching is mainly temperature. Perhaps, but we clearly disagree on what has caused temperature changes.

    2a. “… dead skeletons of coldwater corals … are at increasing risk of dissolving…” But not so far.
    2b. “Current growth rates are around 10% lower than they were before human activities increased atmospheric carbon dioxide” We lack accurate historical data on all environmental fronts. Rarely are measurements aggregated on a global scale as accurate as 10% even for the best of contemporary methods. Our contribution the carbon cycle is minimal and unmeasurable within the data uncertainty of greater than 10%.
    2c. “it is near-certain there will be more frequent bleaching, due to further warming, together with even slower re-growth and population recovery due to ocean acidification.” The impact of warming may have been a short term disturbance, but not unprecedented, and not known accurately enough to allow a pH influence to be extracted. Long term warming is unlikely, since the most accurate models of ocean temperature by far, cyclic ones, eg. [3], show the current climate optimum to have peaked and have us heading back to the conditions of the Little Ice Age.
    2d. “the seriousness of ocean acidification to be dispassionately assessed; for example, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” To suggest that the IPCC is not politically motivated is naive at best. It was initially dominated by NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF, and has only slowly shed that legacy and the extreme claims that came with it, such as serious ocean acidification.

    3.1. David Attenborough: “If the temperature rises up by two degrees and the acidity by a measurable amount…” those are big and implausible IFs, but glad he agrees that it is currently not measurable.
    3.2. “More than 150 scientific articles on ocean acidification were published before 2003. Between 1989 and 2003, these averaged 9 per year, including geological, chemical and biological studies.” This is a tickle, so not much interest till recently, which supports Delingpole’s point that it’s a rearguard action.

    4. “the ‘climate alarmism’ of the title is spurious” Only a flying fish knows about water.

    5. “The alternative to ‘scaremongering theory’ is not to dismiss ocean acidification as nothing at all to worry about.” The alternative is open, public, and sustained debate. Congratulations for joining in.

    6. “The term ocean acidification is scientifically correct.” In most of chemistry, and biology in particular, the distinction between acid and alkali is a highly significant qualitative one. To non-scientists acidification has scary connotations.

    7.1.”Matt Ridley also has only limited, if any, expertise in marine science.” He’s an astute politician that can sense when he’s being mislead.
    7.2 “For example: 2015 was the warmest year on record (mean surface temperature 1⁰C higher than in pre-industrial times)” This is THE central, persistent straw man argument. Nobody disagrees that there was a little warming over most of the globe since the depths of the Little Ice Age. We recently had an el Nino that peaked it. Sadly, it didn’t match previous millennial peaks, and now it’s downhill [1], with the usual human suffering that goes with it.

    8. “Who exactly is the ‘alarmist camp’?” Fish and water? The IPCC and entourage are a good starting point.

    9. “Whilst its text does state “studies that report no effect of OA [ocean acidification] are typically more difficult to publish”, those words are preceded by a crucial qualifier: “As is true across all of science”.” True, is has always been difficult to publish ideas that go against the current consensus. Too many people look to science for fixed, known truths rather than seeing it as a process that’s never complete. Even our thinking about gravity may be undergoing revision at the moment.

    10.1. “First, the sensors used until around 1988 were not sufficiently precise to reliably detect changes of ~0.002 pH units per year;” So it’s agreed that we have no reliable historical perspective.
    10.2. “Furthermore, measurements of many other environmental factors (and considerable statistical skill) are needed to determine a ‘global average’ in ocean pH from a limited number of water samples randomly collected at different times of year from different places at different water depths.” True, and where have we ever succeeded?

    11. “… Wallace plotted a chart of his own, incorporating all the available data, covering the period from 1910 to the present.” Delingpole, Williamson, and Wallace are all flailing about in the dark here due to an admitted lack of reliable current data and no historical perspective.

    12.1. “Whilst a full response is not appropriate here,” Why not? But a reference to a paywalled article is certainly not appropriate. Have the points never been made elsewhere? Open public debate means not expecting people to pay a parasitic publishing industry ridiculous prices to peek at work they payed for in the first place.
    12.2. “Yes, ocean buffering is a real effect – but it takes tens of thousands of years,” No. That’s an IPCC line that doesn’t run. Our impact on the whole carbon cycle is just 1%. We don’t need to remove that from an appreciative biosphere.
    12.3. “net global ocean uptake” A present net approach is flawed. Warm oceans emit, then air circulation sends CO2 poleward where cold oceans absorb and send it down for a millennial journey in the Ocean Conveyor [1]. The IPCC gets sources and sinks wrong – basically just interested in our industrial emissions.

    13. Metabolic response of marine organisms to pH change: Comes down to IPCC carbon cycle being fundamentally flawed. They ignore marine biota, for a start.

    14. A fair point that £12.5M is not a lot of money in climate science or just about anywhere these days.

    15. Delingpole: “in the last decade or so, the climate change industry has become so vast and all encompassing, employing so many people, it simply cannot be allowed to fail.” Good point ignored by Williamson. Fish and water again.

    16. “The quoted cost of the ‘climate change industry’ includes the global effort directed at improving the efficiency of energy, transport and buildings, as well as actions more explicitly related to climate change (e.g. climate-related insurance).” I agree that efficiency measures are desirable, regardless of CO2. The last point means that insurance premiums go up unnecessarily. A boon to the industry with no justification if CO2 has minimal impact.

    17.1 Delingpole: “Hence the need for a fallback position — … Ocean acidification fitted the bill perfectly.” Yes, this is the endgame, but it will be a protracted one.
    17.2 Oyster farming: From Barton[4], referenced by Williamson: “A recent survey found that over 50% of the those in the West Coast industry have personal experience with effects of OA, and 75% were very or extremely concerned about OA (Mabardy, 2014). There is hope among the industry, however, in that 59% of respondents indicated they believed they were definitely or somewhat able to adapt to OA.” Coastal waters face many changes and problems largely caused by increased nutrient and silt runoff from land. Generally, phytoplankton numbers have increased recently in coastal waters along with their many predators.
    18. “There undoubtedly has been inappropriate manipulation of science to promote specific agendas. But by whom?” It is the CO2 sceptics who have been calling, all along, for an open scientific debate and the new breed of climate scientists and activists who have steadfastly refused with a ‘The science is settled’ mantra.

    I have seen myself as an environmentalist since I first heard the word. I watched the totalitarian left, later to badge themselves as Greens, take over the environment movement group by group. I was a member of Greenpeace till, after a management coup, they sent me a letter saying the no longer wanted members.

    I’ve been engaged in environmental research since the 1970s whenever I’ve been able. I am self financed, so have the intellectual freedom to go wherever the data leads me. A commenter on Delingpole’s blog stated that they had never been told what results to produce. You don’t have to be told explicitly if the consensus opinion is obvious.

    I have only one formal environmental publication – from when the ANU paid me a little as a research assistant to write up some of my work, which they published as a monograph. It was reviewed by academics, I was grilled by a government specialist, and questioned face to face by industry engineers. That’s the way science should inform public policy, not the politically dominated group-think products of the IPCC. For what it’s worth, I can add ‘PhD’ after my name if I wish to.

    The Politics
    I agree with Delingpole that we are seeing the end game of the broader CO2 scare. Proof of that has been the lack of response by governments to the Climate Carnival in Paris last year. While vested interests, financial and reputational, still trumpet the cause, many politicians are understandably wary of going down a path that is obviously leading to a dismantling of industry and unreliable domestic energy supply, and some have slowly become aware of the counter arguments. The majority of the public have lived long enough to have developed scare fatigue.

    The sceptic blogsphere has been the only stage on which this issue has been thoroughly and publicly addressed, but the debate is buried in thousands of long unstructured comment threads. There is no consensus, and I see this as an asset that has allowed the debate to progress and evolve. The alarmists cling to a dated consensus for support, but it has become their greatest weakness as people are forced to defend positions that are now unsupportable – positions that I and many other sceptics once held, but in the free flow of discourse that blogs like Tallbloke’s Talkshop have provided, the depth of analysis and viewpoints have evolved.

    I have the impression that most sceptics are, like myself, primarily motivated by a personal need to understand an issue, and enjoy the sport of a lively argument. I sense an understandable distain for the stultifying inanity of the output of the MainStreamMedia-BigScience-Industrial alliance. But every year that this continues, lives are lost, billions of people are being denied cheap reliable energy, and our own energy supplies and economies become more seriously threatened.

    There is a need to respond and actively push back, but in our own individual idiosyncratic ways. My approach has been to start compiling summary reviews where I feel I have some grasp of a topic [1, 5], and see them as works in progress rather than established, fixed positions.


    1. Dai Davies, The IPCC and the Carbon Cycle – Fact or Fantasy?,
    2. JA Newton, Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network: Requirements and Governance Plan, Second Edition, October 2015
    3., or SignalR150203.135529_1S2.gif
    4. Barton,
    5. Dai Davies, Energy and Atmosphere,

  7. oldbrew says:

    We’re in an era of low CO2 on historical timescales, so in theory at least the oceans should be in no danger.

    [credit: WUWT]

  8. dai davies says:

    Patrick Moore has gone through Williamson’s article in Delingpole’s followup post and done far better than my little rant. He actually has credentials in the area. Well worth a read.

    It’s worth noting that Williamson’s article wasn’t just a comment by a lone, disgruntled marine biologist. It was a lead post sponsored by “The Marine Biological Association Promoting marine scientific excellence and representing the marine biological community since 1884” So it was a statement promoted by the Association.

    Is that the best they can do?


  9. dai davies says:


    “We’re in an era of low CO2 on historical timescales, so in theory at least the oceans should be in no danger.”

    I agree. I think the party line is that it’s rates of change that matter – that ecosystems and species take time to adapt. There’s truth in that, but taken simplistically it denies the complexity and resilience of Life. There are various ways something like a coral reef can adapt. A variety that has adapted to similar conditions elsewhere can colonise. Or remnants can evolve to adapt.

    Many people, some scientists included, see the genome as a single blueprint, but it is better viewed as a bag of tricks that the species has accumulated over its evolutionary experience, or even picked up from other species by viral transfer. Epigenetic systems choose the best combination for the current conditions. With microorganisms, lifespans are measured in days, so it can be rapid.

    The temperature plot in that diagram also has an interesting story to tell. There is a very clear upper limit. Another plot of that data has this limit at about 26 Cº, which is just under the Earth’s water thermostat limit of about 30 Cº that I discuss in the article Energy and Atmosphere.

    Life is resilient and fights back. A memory I hold dear is of a seedling that had just managed to push its way up through asphalt paving.


  10. dai davies says:

    The article Energy and Atmosphere has been updated to point out the long term action of our water thermostat going back at least 600My. Interesting to note how much of that time the temperstures have been about 10 Cº above present levels – through times when life on our planet has boomed.

  11. dai davies says:

    Back to the carbon cycle:
    The deep historical view of CO2 levels supported my intuition that the rise we’ve seen recently was not likely to be unprecedented, but I did fall into the trap of thinking that we were significantly responsible for the present rise. I now doubt that. Overall our total industrial contribution of about 360 GtC is 1% of the carbon cycle.

    The IPCC claim, that our atmospheric contribution will hang around for millennia, is based on the idea that the carbon cycle has to shed our 1%. It doesn’t. Fluxes from atmosphere, to upper ocean, then lower ocean can be measured in decades rather than millennia. Our annual emissions are at most 10% of these fluxes and there is no reason to believe that they are saturating this flow to the main reservoir of the deep ocean waters (r32 to r37 in the table). Data collected by the Global Carbon Project show that we are not.
    Our total and annual contributions only look large if we compare them with the atmosphere as a reservoir, but it is only 2% of the total. It’s significance is as a conduit, not a reservoir. It comes down to rates and fluxes that are much faster than millennial, as has often been discussed by sceptics. To look deeper I’ve done a breakdown, and our impact on the various fluxes involved are well within the range of natural variability and also smaller than uncertainties in the data.

    In the article IPCC-CO2 I’ve tabulated our contribution to reservoirs and fluxes in detail from different perspectives. A brief quote:

    Table 1 lists IPCC values for CO2 reservoirs and fluxes then my updates. This is an overview and sensitivity analysis rather than suggesting an alternative model. The “% of total” column shows the relative size of each reservoir. “Emissions as %” show our total and annual emissions as fractions of reservoirs and fluxes. For reservoirs, our total emissions are also shown spread over a 50 year period to give a rough indication of our average annual impact. For fluxes, three scenarios are presented: the IPCC figures, then values based on marine primary production being 50% or 80% of the total (9, 8). A 50 year total for phytoplankton production (r2) has been included to provide a sense of perspective.
    The dark red highlighted values show where our emissions are less than 10% of the component, so well within a plausible range of natural variation on scales of years to millennia. Along with the light red, they are also lost within a 20% uncertainty range for the data, so not only negligible but unmeasurable.
    A brief perusal of these figures shows the small impact we are having on the cycle – less if we divide the cycle into its land and sea components as represented by the blue figures, which assume that the equivalent of 50% of our emissions go to land biota. Although our emissions are rising, the highlighted figures can double and still have little significance for the whole cycle.

    Table 1: Human emissions of CO2 as % of cycle reservoirs and fluxes.
    The two scenarios for phytoplankton primary production (50% and 80% of biosphere total) provide a plausible range that illustrates the high sensitivity of the cycle to this parameter. The alignment of the 50% respiration figure with measurements (r42, r43) provides some support for this lower value.
    The impact of phytoplankton mass on the upper ocean dissolved CO2 will depend on the degree of local recycling of CO2. For an extended, static ecosystem this may be high, but phytoplankton blooms are localised and highly dynamic, which means they will draw down dissolved CO2 as populations rise and enhance absorption from the atmosphere. Much of this will then be lost to deep waters.

    I also talk about the fact that the ocean conveyor takes CO2 and heat for a millennial journey. This time lag is ignored in all energy balance diagrams I’ve seen, and rarely mentioned in discussions – and then only by sceptics. We are now experiencing an echo of the past millennial peaks – the historical ‘climate optima’. I show an extrapolated view of one of my cyclic models of southern sea surface temperature data that used models of sunspot cycles based on planetary influences as a starting point. Henry’s solubility law indicates that atmospheric CO2 will follow similar cycles.

    Round and round we go. Sadly, this recent peak has been lower than past ones. What this model is missing is a general downward slope seen in data for the past 10 Ky or so.

    To finish with another quote – the most significant result from my modelling, which shows that the assumed causal link between atmospheric CO2 and temperatures is missing:
    The value of a model is not how well it fits the data, but whether it can answer questions about our world. Is the rise in temperature over the last century part of an ongoing upward trend caused by increasing atmospheric CO2, or is it part of a natural cycle?

    The full model I’m using here exhaustively optimises the fit to data given the specified initial constraints – in the illustrated case, four cycles of unconstrained period. Replacing the millennial cycle with an upward sloping straight line that might represent the influence of rising CO2 levels, then letting the model relax to an optimum, reduces accuracy relative to the cycle.
    Can a combination of straight line and long cycle improve the fit? Optimising with both present, but fixing the straight line at increasing slopes for successive optimisations, provides a maximum slope for the line of about 0.3 Cº per century before it doubles the error and the data starts screaming for mercy. An upward turning line would be worse. The data demands a long term cycle in ocean temperatures. There is no significant role for CO2.

    It’s fun working in areas where others are constrained by dogma. There’s so much low hanging fruit ripe for the picking.

  12. dai davies says:

    Last comment – Wordpress rejected images. Can be downloaded from:Table 1:
    Table 1
    And the cyclic model at:


  13. dai davies says:

    OK, newbie problem. I think I’ve got it. Use tinypics. Hope this works.

    Table 1: Human emissions of CO2 as % of cycle reservoirs and fluxes.

    … I show an extrapolated view of one of my cyclic models of southern sea surface temperature data that used models of sunspot cycles based on planetary influences as a starting point. Henry’s solubility law indicates that atmospheric CO2 will follow similar cycles.

    Cycles model extrapolated.

    [mod] see prior comment, edited to show images

  14. tom0mason says:

    You may be interested in this program I’ve just (6th September) heard on the BBC Worldservice

    VERY alarming program about ‘fragile’ corals dying. Alarm, alarm and more propaganda.

    Over the past eight months almost a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef has died – according to some estimates – because of coral bleaching, which can happen when sea temperatures rise.

    No counter argument was offered. The fact that corals have been around for 2 million years or so seems to eluded these AGW advocates.

  15. oldbrew says:

    Barrier Reef non-issue – or somebody must be wrong.

    Great Barrier Reef tourist operators found less than 5 percent of the natural wonder has died off from “bleaching,” despite claims from scientists that most of the reef had been killed off by the effects of global warming.

    Report was two weeks ago.