2010-08-20 22:39:10Basic rebuttal 79: "Ocean acidification isn't serious" - REVISION 2
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97

Ocean acidification threatens entire marine food chains

Not all of the CO2 emitted by human industrial activities remains in the atmosphere.  Between 25% and 50% of these emissions over the industrial period have been absorbed by the world’s oceans, providing a massive buffer that has prevented atmospheric CO2 buildup from being much, much worse.

But, this buffer comes at a considerable price.

As CO2 is absorbed by ocean waters they become more acidic.  After remaining stable for at least the last 800,000 years, the average pH level of global surface waters has dropped by 0.1 units since the pre-industrial period.  And it’s projected to drop another 0.2 to 0.3 units by the end of the century even under optimistic scenarios, with potentially devastating impacts to marine ecosystems.

Endorsed by seventy academies of science from around the world, a June 2009 statement from the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) stated the following.

"The current rate of change is much more rapid than during any event over the last 65 million years. These changes in ocean chemistry are irreversible for many thousands of years, and the biological consequences could last much longer."

- The InterAcademy Panel, June 1, 2009


As oceanic pH drops, it becomes more difficult for marine life like corals, shellfish, and pteropods to form the hard shells necessary for their survival.  Coral reefs provide a home for more than 25% of all oceanic species, and pteropods are tiny snails at the base of many oceanic food chains.  The degradation of these species at the foundation of marine ecosystems could lead to the collapse of these environments with severe implications to millions of people in the human populations that rely on them.

The IAP also stated that, if atmospheric CO2 were to reach 550 parts per million (ppm) along its current rapid ascent from its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm, coral reefs around the globe could be dissolving.
2010-08-20 23:03:16First suggestions
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

Excellent rebuttal!

A few suggestions.

1) You need to explain 'buffer' to the layman (or use another word). He thinks it's what stops trains running off the end of tracks.

2) Move 'tiny snails' up earlier to the first use of 'pteropods'. Or, if that won't work for other reasons, drop the first instance of the word 'pteropod' and just say 'snails'; then it's OK to use, "...and pteropods are tiny snails at the base... " in the next sentence.  

3) I suggest add a last line that says. "The current level is 387 ppm and rising at a rate of 2 ppm each year". Check if these figures are correct -- I just made up the 2ppm).  

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-21 04:49:25
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
This is a tough one because pH is something pretty much impossible to analogize yet it's the hinge of the problem. Maybe a footnote on pH is unavoidable here? That would also afford an opportunity to get past the silly "acidification" semantic quibble of skeptics, explain how "acidification" is the standard term employed to describe a drop in pH number, does not mean a solution is absolutely acid on the scale.
2010-08-21 05:10:15Suggestion - picture of pteropods?
BaerbelW

baerbel-for-350@email...
93.231.191.158

Not sure, but even with a description like "tiny snails" most people - me included! - will not be able to associate anything with the word pteropods. Would it help to include a picture of pteropods (perhaps even next to a picture of a coral and a shellfish)? The text itself is not very long so adding a picture wouldn't really hurt. Or, if not a picture than perhaps a link to an article like this on in Wikipedia on "Sea butterfly" could be included.

Btw, "Sea butterfly" is a much more endearing name than "pteropods"!

2010-08-21 05:22:38Small suggestion
rockytom

rockytom@comcast...
71.228.108.140

Drop pteropods.  Shellfish should do it.  Very few know what a pteropod is.

 

Good job! 

2010-08-21 08:49:59
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97

Thanks for the review and comments everyone!  Some great recommendations.  I'll be posting the revision shortly.

I took a shot at addressing the buffer, pH, and pteropod items.  I'd really like to keep the pteropod reference, because it is an impact to the very bottom of many food chains.  I do like the image suggestion, so I took a shot at that as well.  I'm also a bit hesitant to reference the exact rate at which atmospheric CO2 is rising.  I think most are aware that it is rising rapidly, and a rate, to me, almost implies there's a time frame in which action can be taken when it needs to be now.

Let me know what you think!

2010-08-21 09:00:48Revision 1
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97

Ocean acidification threatens entire marine food chains

Not all of the CO2 emitted by human industrial activities remains in the atmosphere.  Between 25% and 50% of these emissions over the industrial period have been absorbed by the world’s oceans, preventing atmospheric CO2 buildup from being much, much worse.

But, this atmospheric benefit comes at a considerable price.

As ocean waters absorb CO2 they become more acidic.  This does not mean the oceans will become acid.  Any drop in pH is an increase in acidity, even in an alkaline environment.  A hot location that experiences a decrease in temperatures gets “colder” even if that location remains hot.  And ocean life can be very sensitive to slight changes in pH levels.

After remaining stable for at least the last 800,000 years, the average pH level of global surface waters has dropped by 0.1 units since the pre-industrial period.  And it’s projected to drop another 0.2 to 0.3 units by the end of the century even under optimistic scenarios, with potentially catastrophic impacts to marine ecosystems.

Endorsed by seventy academies of science from around the world, a June 2009 statement from the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) stated the following.

"The current rate of change is much more rapid than during any event over the last 65 million years. These changes in ocean chemistry are irreversible for many thousands of years, and the biological consequences could last much longer."
- The InterAcademy Panel, June 1, 2009

As oceanic pH drops, it becomes more difficult for marine life like corals and shellfish to form the hard shells necessary for their survival.  Coral reefs provide a home for more than 25% of all oceanic species.  Tiny creatures called pteropods located at the base of many oceanic food chains can also be seriously impacted.  The degradation of these species at the foundation of marine ecosystems could lead to the collapse of these environments with devastating implications to millions of people in the human populations that rely on them.

The IAP also stated that, if atmospheric CO2 were to reach 550 parts per million (ppm) along its current rapid ascent from its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm, coral reefs around the globe could be dissolving.

 

Oceanic species threatened by acidification 

2010-08-21 10:01:02Copy Editing may be Premature, but...
MattJ
Matthew Johnson
mej1960@yahoo...
64.105.35.191

I can't help but notice" the comma after 'But' in "But, this buffer comes at a considerable price" should not be there.

 

Otherwise, this is a great sentence, perfectly placed.

 

Now concerning the word 'buffer'. I see people have already pointed out that the average reader does not think of the chemist's sense of the word. This is true. But interestingly enough, I found the whole post quite comprehensible without assming the chemist's particular sense; the generic sense of 'buffer' as "something that shields against something" fits quite fine. So I dont' think you need to change or explain it.

 

Similarly, I see people have already commented on pH. To be sure, the term 'unit' in "0.1 unit" sound suspiciously vague. Not only that, but a common reader's reaction is toing to be "but 0.1 of any unit sounds too small to worry about". Until, of course, you point out that this is actually a huge percentage change over that same 800,000 years you mention. So what if instead of pH, you used as your 'unit' the original concentration of hydrogen ions? Then reported percentage change in terms of that unit. Then it would be clearer why a chnage of only "0.1 unit" could be so devastating.

Somebody somewhere mentioned that even vertebrate fish could become extinct due to this, leaving our descendants resorting to eating jellyfish instead. If that doesn't shock people into doing something, I don't know what will!

 Unfortunately, I don't have a reference for this, but I am sure you can find one. Certainly mention of such a shocking consequence could only add to your rebuttal.

2010-08-21 11:31:23
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.162.8

Perhaps we can get around the introduction of technical terms by adding a Wikipedia (or other reference) hyperlink to such things as pH and buffer. That way, the flow of the text is not disrupted by explanations but any puzzled reader can quickly check out the meaning of the term for him/herself. Wikipedia is not always written at a basic level either.

 I think this is ready to go. I'd like to see scale bars on the photographs but that's just me being picky!

2010-08-21 15:48:50pH nag
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
How about just a hint that pH is a logarithmic scale so folks understand a change of 0.3 units is significant?
2010-08-21 16:11:35Good stuff
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

Nice work Michael - thumbs up from me. And here's a suggestion for the Twitter friendly title, if you care to use it:

The Acid Test: Is ocean life threatened by CO2?

2010-08-21 16:12:28Idiot (me)
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17
Sorry, forgot the thumb...
2010-08-21 16:21:45Tout for SkS glossary development feedback
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

A commercial interruption:

Andy's suggestion about using linked definitions reminds me we're looking for some feedback on a development plan for an internal SkS online glossary.

Questions, comments or fire-hosings may be directed here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/thread.php?t=55

 

2010-08-21 18:30:29Links to basic English
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

Don't forget there is a 'Simple English' wikipedia: designed for the simple English -- like me. 

Here's what it says about ph...

http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/PH

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-21 18:59:49Buffer
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

Providing a link to the word 'buffer' (for example) would be one way.

But there must be an alternative way of explaining what a buffer is. As it's cerntral to this rebuttal I think it's worth taking time to explain -- how about a side box? My problem is that if a reader doesn't understand the meaning and goes to a dictionary they will be really confused. For example:  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/buffer

I've just checked with a workman I have in the house at the moment and he has no idea what 'buffer' means in the context to which we are referring -- he's a carpenter so he said it's a machine you polish things with, a device that drummers put in a drum to change the sound and, of course, what stops trains running off the end of the track. And I've just checked with my son -- an MEng computer scientist -- who completely understands its meaning in a data store context but had no idea it could be applied to what oceans did with CO2. I only guessed myself (not now but first time I came across it in climate science) because they often use mechanical buffers on production lines in factories to even out the flow of components or product; and I also knew it's meaning in a computer context.    

Best wishes,

JR    

2010-08-21 19:06:48Buffer
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215
Note also that anyone who knows a bit about chemistry is likley to be confused...
From the dictionary above...
Chemistry .
a.
any substance or mixture of compounds that, added to a solution, is capable of neutralizing both acids and bases without appreciably changing the original acidity or alkalinity of the solution.
b.
Also called buffer solution. a solution containing such a substance.
I rest my case.
Best wishes,
JR
2010-08-22 02:48:26
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

"...it's a machine you polish things with..."

Lovely language we've got, eh?

2010-08-23 06:34:26I think the language should be simplified
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.112.96

Michael Searcy,

 I think the language is a little too sophisticated. I also think the text is a little too long.

 To be definite, I will just plunge in and propose a version myself: You can see if it inspires you to make any changes:

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Ocean acidification threatens entire marine food chains

25 to 50% of the CO2 produced by industrial activities have been absorbed into the oceans, rather than building up in the atmosphere. This keeps that portion from contributing to the greenhouse effect, but has the negative effect of making the waters more acidic. This doesn't mean that the water will actually become an acid, but that, on the chemical scale (pH) from alkaline to acid, the ocean's chemistry will shift towards the acidic. And that's not good for life in the ocean.

When the ocean pH drops, it gets harder and harder for shellfish to create their shells and for corals to create their reefs; since coral reefs provide a home for 25% of all oceanic species, this is a serious threat. Further, the tiny creatures at the base of many oceanic food chains, the pteropods, are harmed by this change in chemistry, so there are knock-on effects to the higher oceanic life above them, and to the human food supply.

How bad is the situation now? The oceanic pH had been stable for 800,000 years, but has dropped by 0.1 over the industrial period; during this time, the atmospheric CO2 has gone from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm. Scientists believe that if atmospheric CO2 reaches 550 ppm, coral reefs around the world will dissolve. This means no more scuba exploration of coral reefs; but it also means a sharp blow to global fish populations, as well as to marine ecosystems generally.

INCLUDE PHOTOS AND CAPTIONS

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

- I think the quotation & reference to IAP is too much for the basic-level presentation, so I omitted it.

- I propose a somewhat hand-waving connection between coral-reef disappearance and global fish populations. If anyone could be a little more specific, especially concerning the relationship between coral and fish populations that we currently eat, it would be a bit punchier. You already said that 25% of species depend on coral reefs; but are there specific species (like tuna, salmon, etc.) that would be seriously impacted at first or second order?

2010-08-23 08:39:48Revision 2
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97

The Acid Test: Is ocean life threatened by CO2?

Ocean acidification threatens entire marine food chains

Not all of the CO2 emitted by human industrial activities remains in the atmosphere.  Between 25% and 50% of these emissions over the industrial period have been absorbed by the world’s oceans, preventing atmospheric CO2 buildup from being much, much worse.

But this atmospheric benefit comes at a considerable price.

As ocean waters absorb CO2 they become more acidic.  This does not mean the oceans will become acid.  Ocean life can be sensitive to slight changes in pH levels, and any drop in pH is an increase in acidity, even in an alkaline environment.

The acidity of global surface waters has increased by 30% in just the last 200 years.  This rate of acidification is projected through the end of the century to accelerate even further with potentially catastrophic impacts to marine ecosystems.

Endorsed by seventy academies of science from around the world, a June 2009 statement from the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) stated the following.

"The current rate of change is much more rapid than during any event over the last 65 million years. These changes in ocean chemistry are irreversible for many thousands of years, and the biological consequences could last much longer."
- The InterAcademy Panel, June 1, 2009

As surface waters become more acidic, it becomes more difficult for marine life like corals and shellfish to form the hard shells necessary for their survival, and coral reefs provide a home for more than 25% of all oceanic species.  Tiny creatures called pteropods located at the base of many oceanic food chains can also be seriously impacted.  The degradation of these species at the foundation of marine ecosystems could lead to the collapse of these environments with devastating implications to millions of people in the human populations that rely on them.

The IAP also stated that, if atmospheric CO2 were to reach 550 parts per million (ppm) along its current rapid ascent from its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm, coral reefs around the globe could be dissolving.

 

Oceanic species threatened by acidification

2010-08-23 08:43:30Thanks!
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97
Thanks for all of the comments.  I've taken another pass at it trying to incorporate several of the recommendations and am pretty happy with its current format.  Looking for thumbs to go forward unless there are any serious reservations or issues.
2010-08-23 17:41:55Bump
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17

This one should have had five thumbs ages ago - come on boys and girl, give the man his due.

(BTW Michael, if you want to use my Twitter caption, stick it at the top of the post, but leave your main title in place below it)

2010-08-23 22:22:40
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn
bioluminescence@hotmail.co...
212.139.81.253
Aye, I agree with Graham - this is ready to go. Great post.
2010-08-25 08:26:07Bump for thumbs
Michael Searcy

scentofpine@yahoo...
72.91.223.97
**cough**
2010-08-25 11:14:23
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.162.8
An alternative twitter caption could be The Shell Game, but that was already used by Scott Mandia in this blog post, which is a nice summary of the acidification issue. It seems that denying acidification is a reviving skeptic meme, so I would encourage people to give this a thumb's up (I already voted). So John can get this published.
2010-08-25 13:30:25the last paragraph...
AL

alundell@gmail...
205.206.18.215

In your last paragraph you wrote... "coral reefs around the globe could be dissolving".

 this does not sound right.  It should be  could dissolve, or could start dissolving.

 Other than that i think it really looks good.  :)

 

Andrew

2010-08-25 17:49:15Cheating
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
217.44.86.17
I'm going to vote for this one a second time in a moment...come on folks, let's see those thumbs...
2010-08-28 09:01:38Comment
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.188.138
ready
2010-08-28 09:06:41Tally-ho
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
And go...
2010-08-28 10:25:35Published
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.187.125.135
Thanks Michael, for writing this and showing much patience. The peer-review process can sometimes take a while :-)