‘Ocean Acidification’ Exposed as Fake News

Written by Kenneth Richard

The ocean “acidification” narrative that claims humans are gradually lowering pH levels in sea water with their CO2 emissions may rest on presumptions, hypotheticals, and confirmation bias — not robust, observational scientific evidence.

A paper by Wei et al. (2015) published a year ago in the Journal of Geophysical Research effectively illustrates the vacuousness of the ocean “acidification” paradigm.

In the paper, the authors assert that “model calculations” (yes, calculations from modeling) have indicated oceanic pH levels may have decreased (i.e., lowered pH = less alkaline = more “acidic”) since the 1800s by a total of about 0.1 as consequence of the rise in anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

This overall pH-lowering “trend” of less than 0.1 since the industrial era began is “predicted” to “potentially threaten the existence and development of many marine calcareous organisms”.  Again, it’s the 150-year -0.1 trend in pH-lowering — which the authors admit is subject to “large errors” in measurement — that threatens the oceanic biosphere according to modeled predictions.  In contrast, large natural pH drops of -0.2 to -0.5 occurring on 10-year timescales do not threaten “marine calcareous organisms.”   Here are the key points from the paper:

Wei et al., 2015       Ocean acidification is predicted to reduce the saturation state of carbonate minerals in seawater and potentially threaten the existence and development of many marine calcareous organisms, such as calcareous microorganisms and corals. Model calculations have indicated an overall decrease in global seawater pH of 0.1 relative to the preIndustrial era value, and a further pH reduction of 0.2–0.3 over the next century.
We here estimate the OA rates from the two long (>150 years) annually resolved pH records from the northern SCS (this study) and the northern GBR [Great Barrier Reef], and the results indicate annual rates of -0.00039 +/- 0.00025 yr and -0.00034 +/- 0.00022 yr for the northern SCS [South China Sea] and the northern GBR [Great Barrier Reef], respectively. … [T]hese two time-series do not show significant decreasing trend for pH.  Despite such large errors, estimated from these rates, the seawater pH has decreased by about 0.07–0.08 U over the past 200 years in these regions.   …  The average calculated seawater pH over the past 159 years was 8.04 [with a] a seawater pH variation range of 7.66–8.40.

Below is the “money” graph from the paper that depicts sea surface temperature anomalies (top) and decadal-scale variations ranging between 7.66 and 8.40 in seawater pH (bottom) since the 1850s for the West Pacific Ocean:


First, notice that the Wei et al. (2015) sea surface temperature (SST) graph (top, green font) indicates there has been a rather significant cooling trend in the Western Pacific since the 1980s, and that SSTs are no warmer today than they were in the 1850s.  This is consistent with other reconstructions that show modern SSTs in the region (NW Pacific) may still be a full degree C colder than they were during the Medieval Warm Period, and multiple degrees colder than they were a few thousand years ago (Yamamoto et al., 2016, Rosenthal et al., 2017).

But the bottom graph (red font) of pH variability since the mid-19th century is even more cogent.  Notice that pH levels fluctuate between about 7.7 and 8.4 throughout the 150+ years, with many of the amplitudes found in the rises and falls in pH occurring at rates of + or – 0.2 to 0.5 per decade.  So we are apparently expected to believe that changes in pH of + or – 0.2 to 0.5 per decade are not dangerous or “predicted” to “potentially threaten the existence and development of many marine calcareous organisms”, but the overall “acidic” or pH-lowering “trend” of less than -0.1 over 150 years is supposed to be dangerous to the oceanic biosphere.   Below is an annotated version of this same graph brandishing this flagrant contradiction.



Daniel Cressey, who has previously helped expose a growing corruption problem infecting the scientific community, recently summarized the state of research on ocean “acidificaton” for the prestigious scientific journal Nature.  He poignantly states that the lack of skepticism and an eager willingness to just accept the presumptions of others based upon their authoritative status (“groupthink”) may have “damage[d] the credibility of the ocean sciences”.   And once scientific credibility is damaged, it becomes very difficult to earn that credibility back.

Cressey (2015)       The state of the world’s seas is often painted as verging on catastrophe. But although some challenges are very real, others have been vastly overstated, researchers claim in a review paper. The team writes that scientists, journals and the media have fallen into a mode of groupthink that can damage the credibility of the ocean sciences. The controversial study exposes fault lines in the marine-science community.   Carlos Duarte, a marine biologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, and his colleagues say that gloomy media reports about ocean issues such as invasive species and coral die-offs are not always based on actual observations. It is not just journalists who are to blame, they maintain: the marine research community “may not have remained sufficiently sceptical” on the topic.

Scientists Find Higher CO2, Lowered pH Levels (‘Acidification’) Have Little To No Effect On Ocean-Dwelling Organisms

Scientists continue to construct experiments testing the effects of highly elevated CO2 (usually with volumes several times modern levels) on sea-living creatures.  They routinely find that higher CO2 levels (and higher sea temperatures) have little to no effect on growth rates or survival for the species tested.  In fact, it has been found in some cases that elevated CO2 benefits ocean-dwelling organisms, meaning that they thrive and prosper in these conditions.  Obviously, these scientific studies wholly undermine the paradigm that envisions the long-term survival of the oceanic biosphere is jeopardized by rising anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Uthicke et al., 2016       Near the vent site, the urchins experienced large daily variations in pH (> 1 unit) andpCO2 (> 2000 ppm) and average pH values (pHT 7.73) much below those expected under the most pessimistic future emission scenarios. Growth was measured over a 17-month period using tetracycline tagging of the calcareous feeding lanterns. Average-sized urchins grew more than twice as fast at the vent compared with those at an adjacent control site, and assumed larger sizes at the vent compared to the control site and two other sites at another reef near-by. … Thus, urchins did not only persist but actually ‘thrived’ under extreme CO2 conditions.
Vicente et al., 2016       The long-term exposure experiments revealed no effect on survival or growth rates of M. grandis to high pCO2 (1198 µatm), warmer temperatures (25.6°C), or combined high pCO2 with warmer temperature (1225 µatm, 25.7°C) treatments, indicating that M. grandis will continue to prosper under predicted increases in pCO2 and sea surface temperature. 
Moore, 2016       If the forecasts of continued global warming are borne out, the oceans will also become warmer and will tend to outgas CO2, offsetting to some extent the small increased partial pressure that might otherwise occur. … An analysis of research on the effect of lower pH shows a net beneficial impact on the calcification, metabolism, growth, fertility, and survival of calcifying marine species when pH is lowered up to 0.3 units, which is beyond what is considered a plausible reduction during this century. … There is no evidence to support the claim that most calcifying marine species will become extinct owing to higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and lower pH in the oceans.
Hildebrandt et al., 2016       Elevated pCO2 did not directly affect grazing activities and body mass, suggesting that the copepods did not have additional energy demands for coping with acidification, neither during long-term exposure nor after immediate changes in pCO2. Shifts in seawater pH thus do not seem to challenge these copepod species.
Cross et al., 2016       A CO2 perturbation experiment was performed on the New Zealand terebratulide brachiopod Calloria inconspicua to investigate the effects of pH conditions predicted for 2050 and 2100 on the growth rate and ability to repair shell. Three treatments were used: an ambient pH control (pH 8.16), a mid-century scenario (pH 7.79), and an end-century scenario (pH 7.62). The ability to repair shell was not affected by acidified conditions with >80% of all damaged individuals at the start of the experiment completing shell repair after 12 weeks. Growth rates in undamaged individuals >3 mm in length were also not affected by lowered pH conditions
Heinrich et al., 2016       In this study, we tested the effects of elevated CO2 on the foraging and shelter-seeking behaviours of the reef-dwelling epaulette shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum. Juvenile sharks were exposed for 30 d to control CO2 (400 µatm) and two elevated CO2 treatments (615 and 910 µatm), consistent with medium- and high-end projections for ocean pCO2 by 2100. Contrary to the effects observed in teleosts and in some other sharks, behaviour of the epaulette shark was unaffected by elevated CO2.
Sunjin and Jetfelt, 2016       [A]n increasing number of studies show tolerance of fish to increased levels of carbon dioxide. … We investigated the possible effects of CO2 on behavioural lateralization, swimming activity, and prey and predator olfactory preferences, all behaviours where disturbances have previously been reported in other fish species after exposure to elevated CO2. Interestingly, we failed to detect effects of carbon dioxide for most behaviours investigated
Schram et al., 2016       There were no significant temperature or pH effects on growth, net calcification, shell morphologies, or proximate body composition of snails. Our findings suggest that both gastropod species demonstrate resilience to initial exposure to temperature and pH changes predicted to occur over the next several hundred years globally and perhaps sooner along the WAP.
Brien et al., 2016       Corals were collected from reefs around Orpheus and Pelorus Islands on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. They were then exposed to elevated pCO2 for 4 weeks with two CO2 treatments: intermediate (pCO2 648) and high (pCO2 1003) compared with a control (unmanipulated seawater) treatment (pCO2 358). Porites cylindrica growth did not vary among pCO2 treatments, regardless of the presence and type of competitors, nor was the growth of another hard coral species, Acropora cerealis, affected by pCO2 treatment. 
Zhang et al., 2016       The present study investigated the physiological responses (ingestion, absorption rate and efficiency, respiration, and excretion) and scope for growth (SfG) of an intertidal scavenging gastropod, Nassarius festivus, to the combined effects of ocean acidification (pCO2 levels: 380, 950, and 1250 µatm), salinity (10 and 30 psu), and temperature (15 and 30°C) for 31 d. [E]levated pCO2 levels had no effects in isolation on all physiological parameters and only weak interactions with temperature and/or salinity for excretion and SfG. In conclusion, elevated pCO2will not affect the energy budget of adult N. festivus at the pCO2 level predicted to occur by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the year 2300.
Wang et al., 2016       The pMENs results were in line with the null hypothesis that elevated pCO2/pH does not affect biogeochemistry processes. The number of nodes within the pMENs and the connectivity of the bacterial communities were similar, despite increased pCO2 concentrations. Our results indicate that elevated pCO2 did not significantly affect microbial community structure and succession in the Arctic Ocean, suggesting bacterioplankton community resilience to elevated pCO2.
Pančić et al., 2015       The effects of ocean acidification and increased temperature on physiology of six strains of the polar diatom Fragilariopsis cylindrusfrom Greenland were investigated. Experiments were performed under manipulated pH levels (8.0, 7.7, 7.4, and 7.1) and different temperatures (1, 5, and 8 °C) to simulate changes from present to plausible future levels. … By combining increased temperature and acidification, the two factors counterbalanced each other, and therefore no effect on the growth rates was found.
Wall et al., 2015       Cold-water corals are important habitat formers in deep-water ecosystems and at high latitudes. Ocean acidification and the resulting change in aragonite saturation are expected to affect these habitats and impact coral growth. Counter to expectations, the deep water coral Lophelia pertusa has been found to be able to sustain growth even in undersaturated conditions. … Skeletal morphology is highly variable but shows no distinctive differences between natural and low pH conditions. … We suggest that as long as the energy is available to sustain the up-regulation, i.e. individuals are well fed, there is no detrimental effect to the skeletal morphology.

Oceanic Microbes Routinely Endure Water Temperature Extremes That Exceed (Modeled) Future Warming Changes

According to climate models, sea surface temperatures are expected to rise dramatically during the next century due to the rise in anthropogenic CO2 emissions.  Doblin and van Sebille (2016), however, point out that upper-ocean microbes routinely travel through (and thrive in) waters that vary in range by up to 10°C more than they do from one seasonal extreme to another (i.e., winter vs. summer), and thus the predicted warming of near surface ocean waters will not even be close to the extreme temperature variations these organism routinely endure.

Doblin and van Sebille, 2016       Here we show that upper-ocean microbes experience along-trajectory temperature variability up to 10 °C greater than seasonal fluctuations estimated in a static frame, and that this variability depends strongly on location. These findings demonstrate that drift in ocean currents can increase the thermal exposure of microbes and suggests that microbial populations with broad thermal tolerance will survive transport to distant regions of the ocean and invade new habitats.
[press release]        The results of the study … show for the first time the range of temperatures that plankton travel through. In most locations, they endure temperature extremes that go beyond what is predicted by models of global warming.

Corals Naturally Adapt To Elevated CO2, Water Temperature; Their Long-Term Survival Is Not Threatened

Somehow corals were able to evolve and survive and thrive — avoiding extinction — during periods when atmospheric CO2 concentrations were several times higher than now, and when sea water temperatures were multiple degrees C warmer than now.  And yet those advocating the ocean “acidification” narrative claim that corals are not longer able to adapt to the modern (tiny) temperature and CO2 changes that have occurred in recent decades.  Scientists, meanwhile, have found that corals are quite resilient, and can adapt quickly to large environmental changes well beyond the range of recent and projected climatic conditions.

Prada et al., 2016       Our study suggests that populations of Orbicella species [corals] are capable of rebounding from reductions in population size under suitable conditions and that the effective population size of modern corals provides rich standing genetic variation for corals to adapt to climate change.
Matz et al., 2015       Heat tolerance in corals can be passed down the generations, suggesting that corals can adapt as the climate warms.
Georgiou et al., 2015       The FOCE experiment was designed to simulate the effects of CO2-driven acidification predicted to occur by the end of this century (scenario RCP4.5) while simultaneously maintaining the exposure of corals to natural variations in their environment under in situ conditions. Analyses of skeletal growth (measured from extension rates and skeletal density) showed no systematic differences between low-pH FOCE treatments (Δ pH=0.05 to0.25 units below ambient) and present day controls (ΔpH=0) for calcification rates or the pH of the calcifying fluid (pH cf)[C]oral living in highly dynamic environments exert strong physiological controls on the carbonate chemistry of their calcifying fluid, implying a high degree of resilience to ocean acidification within the investigated ranges.

Corals Are A Net Source Of CO2, For They Release CO2 As They Grow And Thrive; ‘Acidification’ A Sign Of Healthy Corals

Scientists have found that higher “acidification” levels (lower pH) in the vicinity of coral communities are indication that the corals are thriving and growing.  Why?  Because corals produce their own “acidification” by releasing more CO2 than they absorb.  They are a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere.

McGowan et al., 2016        Here we present by way of case study the first direct measurements of air-sea CO2 exchange over a coral reef made using the eddy covariance method. Research was conducted during the summer monsoon over a lagoonal platform reef in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Results show the reef flat to be a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere of similar magnitude as coastal lakes, while adjacent shallow and deep lagoons were net sinks as was the surrounding ocean. This heterogeneity in CO2 exchange with the atmosphere confirms need for spatially representative direct measurements of CO2 over coral reefs to accurately quantify their role in atmospheric carbon budgets.
Yeakel et al., 2015       Our results reveal that coral reefs undergo natural interannual events of rapid acidification due to shifts in reef biogeochemical processes that may be linked to offshore productivity and ultimately controlled by larger-scale climatic and oceanographic processes.
[press release]       More acidic water may be a sign of healthy corals, says a new study, muddying the waters still further on our understanding of how coral reefs might react to climate change. … Andreas Andersson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, and his colleagues carefully monitored a coral reef in Bermuda for five years, and found that spikes in acidity were linked to increased reef growth. … The researchers observed the chemistry of the water on the reef between 2007 and 2012. During that time, there were two sharp spikes in acidity – once in 2010 and again in 2011. The team found that coral growth itself made the water more acidic as the corals sucked alkaline carbonate out of the water to build their skeletons. The corals also ate more food during these high-activity periods and pumped more CO2 into the water, increasing acidity further.

More Than 90% Of Ocean pH Changes (‘Acidification’) Caused By Natural Variability, Not Anthropogenic CO2

Finally, the assumption that changes in the oceans’ pH levels are primarily caused by humans is just that: a non-confirmed assumption.  As Duarte et al. (2015) conclude, there is “no robust evidence for realized severe disruptions of marine socioecological links from ocean acidification to anthropogenic CO2”.  Possibly the only people who still “believe” in the paradigm are those who are inclined to accept doomsday scenarios and those who are being financially compensated to keep them going.

Goodkin et al., 2015       Here we reconstruct 222 years of biennial seawater pH variability in the Sargasso Sea from a brain coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis. Using hydrographic data from the Bermuda Atlantic Time-Series Study (BATS) and the coral derived pH record, we are able to differentiate pH changes due to surface temperature versus those from ocean circulation and biogeochemical changes. We find that ocean pH does not simply reflect atmospheric CO2 trends, but rather that circulation/biogeochemical changes account for >90% of pH variability in the Sargasso Sea and more variability in the last century than would be predicted from anthropogenic uptake of CO2 alone.
Duarte et al., 2015       [T]he link between these declines and ocean acidification through anthropogenic CO2 is unclear.  Corrosive waters affecting oysters in hatcheries along the Oregon coast were associated with upwelling (Barton et  al. 2012), not anthropogenic CO2. The decline in pH affecting oysters in Chesapeake Bay (Waldbusser et al. 2011) was not attributable to anthropogenic CO2 but was likely attributable to excess respiration associated with eutrophication. Therefore, there is, as yet, no robust evidence for realized severe disruptions of marine socioecological links from ocean acidification to anthropogenic CO2, and there are significant uncertainties regarding the level of pH change that would prompt such impacts. …  A number of biases internal and external to the scientific community contribute to perpetuating the perception of ocean calamities in the absence of robust evidence.

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