Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A cornucopia of chocolate


as guthrie put it. Eli has started throughFred Singer's Nonsensical Summary for Bad Climate Policy. You gotta understand, forcing somebunny to read this thing straight is what the CIA substituted for waterboarding, but it is such a rich source of chocolate (thanks Fred) that it is hard to resist. So what to fisk, what to fisk, oh yeah on page 19.

Measurements of increased ocean acidity give us little additional information about the sources of CO2 increases. Although higher concentrations of carbon dioxide reduce the pH of the ocean to some degree, it still remains slightly alkaline; pH values range from 8.2 (in the Norwegian Sea of the North Atlantic) to 7.9 (in the Eastern Pacific and Arabian Sea) [Doney 2006]. There seems no imminent danger of impact on shell formation by marine creatures. The much-feared effects on coral growth are not supported by actual data. [Lough & Brnes 1997; Fine & Tchernov 2007]
Simon Donner will probably have some very nasty things to say about this startling piece of deception, but let us, dear anonymice, take a shot at it . What about
Measurements of increased ocean acidity give us little additional information about the sources of CO2 increases.
Strawman alert!! Strawman alert!! Strawman alert!! Strawman alert!!

Measurement of atmospheric mixing ratios, decline of O2 mixing ratios, pCO2 in the ocean, and the isotopic carbon composition and other stuff tells us about the source of CO2 increases. Ocean acidity is a RESULT of increasing atmospheric CO2 mixing ratios. So, dear mice, why did old S. Fred slip that irrelevancy in Eli asks, but let us pass on. How about
Although higher concentrations of carbon dioxide reduce the pH of the ocean to some degree, it still remains slightly alkaline; pH values range from 8.2 (in the Norwegian Sea of the North Atlantic) to 7.9 (in the Eastern Pacific and Arabian Sea) [Doney 2006].
Strawman alert!! Strawman alert!! Strawman alert!! Strawman alert!!

Ocean pH varies between oceans, the pH remains slightly alkaline. What we don't see is that the average pH has decreased by ~0.1 units since 1750 which corresponds to a 30% increase in [H+] concentration (e.g. acidity), that various types of sea life are well adopted to the local acidity and sea temperatures and not so for the changing ones.

Well, fish swim, but corals don't so are corals threatened? Maribo had some good stuff on that and Eli riffed on it a bit, but what do the Chicago boys have to say
There seems no imminent danger of impact on shell formation by marine creatures. The much-feared effects on coral growth are not supported by actual data. [Lough & Brnes 1997; Fine & Tchernov 2007]
Poor Eli, doomed to disappointment, he went and RTFR only to discover that S. Fred was dissembling, no, actually he was flat out selling male milk chocolate.

Fine and Tchernov, hmm, as the abstract says, what did they find
Anthropogenic-driven accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and projected ocean acidification have raised concerns regarding the eventual impact on coral reefs. This study demonstrates that skeleton-producing corals grown in acidified experimental conditions are able to sustain basic life functions, including reproductive ability, in a sea anemone-like form and will resume skeleton building when reintroduced to normal modern marine conditions. These results support the existence of physiological refugia, allowing corals to alternate between nonfossilizing soft-body ecophenotypes and fossilizing skeletal forms in response to changes in ocean chemistry. This refugia, however, does not undermine the threats to reef ecosystems in a high carbon dioxide world.
Which in plainspeak means
  1. increase the acidity and
  2. the animals who build the corals can't form shells, but
  3. some of the animals who build the coral reefs can exist without shells, although
  4. fish and other animals who eat those newly naked coral dwellers will get fat
  5. until they eat all of them
  6. and the reefs disappear at least
  7. until the CO2 mixing ratio returns to where it was
  8. and the few remaining coral builders start working again, but
  9. don't hold your breath for this to happen
and in a reply to comments by George Stanley, they conclude
We share Stanley’s concern that our findings might be misinterpreted by the reader, as the title suggests “survival.” The last sentence in our paper, however, clearly states that while we discovered physiological refugia for corals under acidified conditions, coral reefs and their services will be lost. Corals without carbonate skeleton do not provide protection from predators to both the coral host and the numerous species that are associated with it. So even if corals survive acidification, reefs will not.
that last sentence was
Physiological, versus geographical, refugia may provide a broader explanation for the existence of corals during times of stress. It is important to note that although survival as soft bodies allows corals to persist, substantial decalcification of reefs will cause major changes to the structure and function of coral reef ecosystems and the services they provide to human society.
Technically the nanomules are called corals, and what they build are the reefs. At least some of the corals might survive without their shells, but many would become fish food. Worse, F&T did not look at all possible corals and many may not be able to survive without shells.

-The Auditors

21 comments:

Nick Barnes said...

And it's not just corals threatened by acidification. Many other shell-forming sea creatures will be adversely affected. Also squid, ISTR.

it still remains slightly alkaline

ROFL! So it's OK if I piss in your vinegar, because it will remain slightly acidic?

Anonymous said...

Why not use the phrase "reducing alkalinity" rather than "acidification"? If sea creatures need a pH of at least 8.1 then any lowering should be prevented if possible, but calling a reduction in pH that will never take the level below 7 "acidification" is not logical. Anything above 7 is not acid - so the sea is not becoming more acidic. Increasing H+ ions is not increasing acidity, just reducing alkalinity - until you get below 7 there is no acidity.

The shells need an alkaline environment - so why not say it? Calling the risk to coral "acidification" is giving sceptics an easy target to attack.

Arthur said...

Increasing H+ ions is the chemical definition of increasing acidity. Should scientific terms be modified for public discourse? That would be yet another avenue for attack. The issue of logic is obviously not one of great concern to the "disinformers".

Anonymous said...

Cooling from a hot temperature is still cooling. This is no different.

Anonymous said...

I was waiting for such a comment. It has been raised a few times before. I have a very slight sympathy with it on a practical level (see the "proviso" below). However, in common parlance, even among (electro)chemists, the two terms increasing acidity/decreasing alkalinity are synonymous. Moving toward the acid regime/moving out of the alkaline range are similarly synonymous, or however else you may wish to phrase it, is an exercise in semantics. It is, or should be, a non-issue.

On your "Increasing H+ ions is not increasing acidity" comment, this is not true, which may be appreciated simply by looking at the theoretical definition for pH:

  pH = -log[H^{+}]

or perhaps more properly:

  pH = -log[H_{3}O^{+}]

i.e. pH is defined in terms of acidity.

Now (and here comes the proviso), the glass electrodes and meter used to monitor pH (properly calibrated against known-pH solutions close to the range of pH you are interested in measuring, and at the temperature you will be doing the measuring) nominally measure [H^{+}] up to pH 7, i.e. they really are pH sensors measuring [H^{+}]. Above pH 7, however, they do actually become pOH sensors, measuring [OH^{-}], since it is proven (IIRC) that it is the build up of OH^{-} rather than specifically a reduction in H^{+} that leads to the change in PD that is output to the meter and read as pH.

But to recap: it is, or should be, a non-issue.

Cymraeg llygoden

Flavius Collium said...

He (Arthur) actually said increasing H+ ions *is* increasing acidity. :)

Anonymous said...

Flavius Collium

If your remark was meant towards this little Welsh mouse, then yes I know what "He (Arthur)" said.

My comment was in answer to "Anonymous 3:36 AM", which I should perhaps have made clear (though I thought it was from the content) not to Arthur.

If your comment was not meant for me, then no matter as this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds . . . . POOOOF! :-)

Cynthia said...

Prof. Rabett,

Not sure how chocolates relate to corals... But since the innards of, say, M&M's are similar to the innards of corals, then I can clearly see why they both oughta wear coats! And as your bunnies are gathering chocolate eggs this spring, I'm sure they'll only gather the ones with a coating -- candy or otherwise...

Chris Colose said...

Here is another post I did on this topic

http://chriscolose.wordpress.com/2007/12/22/corals-in-peril/

Increasing H3O^+ obviously does raise the acidity, as the anonymous poster mentioned...the slight change in pH can have a remarkable effect on the change in Hydrogen ion concentration. You can also express that as 10^(- pH) = [H30^+] where [] denotes concentration. This is rather basic chemistry and should not be in question. More importantly, is the narrow range of tolerance that a lot of marine biomass has to relatively large changes in pH (the small numbers may not be impressive, but I suppose neither is 1 degree over 100 years). What's more, is that the pH changes very fast after additional CO2 interacts with water, but could take millennia to come back to the original levels.

guthrie said...

I mentioned chocolate as a riff on the Chocolate teapot idea, probably because I spent the weekend in Leeds at a historical fencing conference, where I did some fencing and also got to handle a bronze sword and a medieval poleaxe. So imagine someone pulls a chocolate gun on you. You'll be scared, right?

EliRabett said...

If it were a male milk chocolate gun, no. OTOH it would be quite messy.

Simon Donner said...

Fingernails across a blackboard. Matt Nisbet has it right when he compares this effort by the Heartland Institute to the Discovery Institute's's ongoing effort to rebrand the non-science of creationism to the more science-y sounding intelligent design. I'm reluctant to even engage in discussion about the particulars in the "NIPCC" report, aka the Skeptics Greatest Hits. What's amazing is the silly arguments about ocean pCO2 and pH in the report are actually seem mild compared to the truly inane discussion in the report about changes in ocean heat content.

Brian said...

"Measurement of atmospheric mixing ratios, decline of O2 mixing ratios, pCO2 in the ocean, and the isotopic carbon composition and other stuff tells us about the source of CO2 increases. Ocean acidity is a RESULT of increasing atmospheric CO2 mixing ratios. So, dear mice, why did old S. Fred slip that irrelevancy in Eli asks..."

Ethon could answer that, but if the bird's away, try an Annan:

"... is essentially posing the question as initially one of detection - can we show that the AGW has had an effect, and that the observations are not just the result of climate variability? - before moving on to attribution - how much of a change can we describe as being due to this particular cause?

There is, however, an entirely different but equally valid approach that could also be used from the outset, which is: what is our estimate of the magnitude of the effect? The critical distinction is that the null hypothesis has no particularly priviledged position in this approach.

....But by placing the null hypothesis in a priviledged position from which it can only be dislodged by a mountain of observational evidence, this approach provides a strong inbuilt bias for the status quo which cannot be justified on any rational decision-theoretic grounds."

http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2006/02/detection-attribution-and-estimation.html

Off topic, but could the Rabett send me an email? I've been trying to get through.

EliRabett said...

EliRabett2003 then the usual sign followed by yahoo.com. This message will self destruct in a day or so Mr. Phipps.

EliRabett said...

Brian, I don;t think so. For attribution (if you want to look at the pCO2), isotope studies would be best. Singer just makes no sense, it is just a red herring.

Gareth said...

guthrie: Historical fencing? Isn't that beyond the pale?

Lester Housemouse said...

While the human body is far from a perfect analogy for the oceans, I think it's worth pointing out that seemingly very small changes in the pH of your blood can have huge impacts on your health. The normal pH of human blood is 7.4, and anything below 7.35 of above 7.45 will begin to cause problems (yes, even though 7.35 is still "alkaline," the technical term is "blood acidosis"). A blood pH below 6.8 or above 7.8 could result in death.

Like I said, this analogy's imperfect, but I'm going to run with it anyway. It's interesting to consider that the pH of both the oceans and your blood is maintained by carbonate (and/or bicarbonate) buffers that keep the system from getting too far out of whack. The problem for the oceans is that the pH compensating mechanism involves slowing the rate of limestone deposition, which takes thousands of years, and we're adding CO2 over hundreds of years, so the "buffer" is overwhelmed.

The body has two handy ways of regulating pH when its buffers aren't enough to do the job: by shuffling off extra H+ ions into the urine, or by removing more CO2 via the lungs (one of the reasons that you breathe more rapidly when you exercise is to remove excess CO2 from your blood). If the oceans had lungs of kidneys, carbonate-dependent organisms would be able to survive the sudden injection of acid that we've given them, but in spite of whatever Gaia-like wishful thinking we might invoke, the oceans have proven sadly deficient in the respiratory and renal departments, which is really too bad. Perhaps we'd be making CO2 reductions a higher priority if the oceans were able to piss that extra acidity back onto the land.

guthrie said...

Gareth- no, historical fencing is not Irish.

Hank Roberts said...

Thanks for focusing on this issue, Eli.

Hank Roberts said...

By the way, does it seem to you that these folks have invented a whole new form of debate?

Aside from the familiar strawman (no brain) argument, I'm seeing a lot of the tinman (no heart) argument.

Raju said...

Thanks for the nice post.