2011-06-13 05:46:23analysis of some ocean acidification skupticism
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

 

Hi all - I have been working on a review of some questionably testimony from the US Senate regarding the effects of ocean acidification. I go through the whole thing in excruciating detail at my blog but I've come up with a survey of some main points. Let me know if you have any thoughts!

I also made this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LJFTDHLQyk

One thing I am worried about is image hosting - right now I only have a free photobucket account and I don't know if it will handle SkS traffic. Where would be a place I can store them?

<3

 

CO2 Problems

You are likely already aware of the CO2 problem: trace gasses (primarily carbon dioxide) in the earth’s atmosphere alter its thermal properties, causing it to retain heat. Human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and as a result heating up the earth’s surface. However, a less appreciated fact is that in addition to being a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is acidic. This is not at all controversial; it was well recognized more than a century ago in Svente Arhennius’s pioneering article 'On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground’. 

When we burn fossil fuels, we add CO2 to the atmosphere, but about a quarter that carbon winds up in the oceans. This increases the acidity of the oceans, with potentially severe repercussions for organisms like corals, which build shells out of calcium carbonate and suffer under more acidic conditions. The chemistry is relatively straightforward, and not especially controversial. But when the science of anthropogenic climate change proved politically and economically inconvenient for many people, and a cottage industry has popped up in trying to dismiss it. The same effort to dismiss ‘The other CO2 problem’ is now underway; there have been a few snipes from Monckton and the Idsos, but I want to focus on some recent congressional testimony in this vein, coming from a Dr. John Everett. A copy of his testimony can be found here

 

What’s a pollutant?

Much of the debate recently has been over the Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction in regulating carbon dioxide; to this end, ‘skeptics’like Dr. Everett often claim that because it is a natural substance with important natural roles, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.This is not a very good argument: there are plenty of chemicals which in some situations are essential, but problematic in others. Stratospheric ozone protects me from ultraviolet light, which causes skin cancer. But near the surface, ozone is a component of photochemical smog, interferes with photosynthesis, and causes respiratory illness. Tropane alkaloids are what make deadly nightshade deadly, but they’re the antidote to sarin nerve gas. Hydrochloric acid is important in my stomach, where it helps me digest food- but I don’t want to get it in my eyes.

A pollutant is an ecophysiological poison, and poisons are situational: whether or not a substance is poisonous depends upon its amount, the rate it’s encountered, and other factors. The reality of ocean acidification justifies describing CO2 as a pollutant in the current environmental context.

 

Pedantic Semantics

Dr. Everett starts off his testimony on a low note, saying 'Importantly, oceans are alkaline – not acidic, so use of the term “acidification” unnecessarily promotes fear.'

To his credit, this is great PR. It’s snappy, it’s to the point, it sounds nice, it’s easily remembered and repeated. But it’s scientifically vacuous. If a solution has a pH above 7, it is basic. If its pH drops, it has become more acid- acidified- even if the solution is still basic. If the pH of a solution changes from 9 to 8, the solution has acidified, even though it is still basic. If someone who’s fallen off a bridge says, 'I’m falling doooooooooown’, Dr. Everett’s remark would be like saying, ‘You‘re not falling DOWN! You‘re still way UP in the air!’ The most charitable explanation I can come up with is that he’s confusing the rate of change in a variable (acidification) with the variable itself (acidity). His testimony, we will see, is characterized by this sort of confusion.

Or maybe he just wants to play word games.

 

Fizzix

‘Something is very wrong’ with our understanding of carbon geochemistry, Dr. Everett declares- therefor we should ‘give the information on its impacts a second look.’ What are his concerns?

First, he revisits ‘the bombshell from Bristol,’ a paper by Wolfgang Knorr which found that the fraction of CO2 emissions which remain in the air hasn’t changed significantly over the past 160 years. Though it does not remotely challenge the AGW consensus, Knorr’s paper was picked up by the ‘skeptic’ blogosphere. Curiously, Everett’s citation for the paper is botched - its cautious title (‘Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 increasing?’) has been replaced with a more decisive  headline popular amongst the ‘skeptic’ interblogs  (‘No Rise of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Fraction in Past 160 Years’) What does the paper say? Basically, it finds evidence that the ocean and land haven’t slowed down as carbon sinks- they are still absorbing carbon emissions at the same rate as during the mid 19th century.

It’s hard to see how Knorr’s results support Everett’s opinion that projections of future acidification are overestimates. Ocean pH doesn’t depend on the fraction of CO2 in the air; it depends on the amount of CO2 in the ocean. In fact, if Knorr’s results  are correct and the carbon sinks are stable, then ocean acidification will continue unabated because co2 will continue to flow into the ocean. 

 

Dr. Everett claims to find a decline in the rate at which CO2 is building up in the atmosphere. First, he makes the long-term trend in CO2 accumulation rates disappear by stretching his graph of the data to be three times as wide as it is tall: 

FigA

I want to believe that no one would intentionally use such an insultingly transparent trick to hide an incline, but then again there’s this. [ link to sppi graph tilt :  http://www.skepticalscience.com/pics/Moncktonsnapshot3.png   ]

Then, he takes the last decade or so of this data, draws a line through it, finds no significant trend, and declares that the quantity is declining. If this sounds familiar, you’re right- do the same thing with HadCRU temperature data and you find that global warming stopped in 1998. It’s amazing!

FigB

If we apply his technique to the whole data set, we see that 8-12 years are not enough to say much about the longer term trend. Would extrapolating the sharp upswing in 1991-1999 have been a good idea? Would it have been justified? What about the sharp downswing in 1986-1994? It’s pretty clear that projecting patterns from a decade of this data a century into the future is risky at best. And he’s doing it in the face of a clear upward trend at longer timescales!

FigC

When we extrapolate the trend in the data as a whole, we find that it actually agrees fairly well with IS92a. And even Dr. Everett’s projection entails significant increases in CO2 over the next century, bringing with it significant acidification. Experiments have demonstrated decreased calcification in shellfish at these levels of CO2 (Gazeau et al 2007).

 

BiLOLogy 

Dr. Everett doesn’t trust ocean acidification experiments, though- he claims that ‘the peer review process has warts’. Although he brings up a number of issues, they are all somewhat specious. He claims that experiments have not been carried on long enough to allow organisms to adapt to high-CO2 environments... however, the paper he describes as ‘Perhaps the most thorough review of the literature on acidificaton impacts’ suggests exactly the opposite, that experiments may not be continuing long enough to show the full severity of the problem!

'Although suppression of metabolism under short-term experimental conditions is a "sublethal" reversible process, reductions in growth and reproductive output will effectively diminish the survival of the species on longer time-scales.' (Fabry et al. 2008).

Two of the authors he cites have rebutted, pointing out a number of misrepresentations of their work.  Dr. Rodriguez-Iglesias and colleauges found that under high-CO2 conditions, coccolithophores build thicker shells, which is definitely interesting. But does this mean that ‘more CO2 is good’, as Dr. Everett claims? Not really:

‘Dr. Everett’s conclusion that ocean acidification poses no threat to marine organisms is based, in large part, on the Iglesias-Rodriguez et al. (2008) study that showed that calcification within coccolithophores (calcifying phytoplankton) was enhanced under elevated CO2. However, this study also showed that growth rates for these marine algae were simultaneously impaired under high-CO2 conditions.These algae are among the most important sinks of atmospheric CO2 on the planet. Although they release CO2 through calcification, they consume it through photosynthesis (growth). Thus, a shift to enhanced calcification (release of CO2) and reduced growth (consumption of CO2) would substantially reduce the ocean’s ability to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. [...] The physiology of the whole organism, not simply its ability to calcify, must be investigated to fully assess its ability to survive in a future high-CO2 world.'

The whole thing is worth reading.

 

Deep Time is Deep

We next hear another common talking point: carbon dioxide levels have changed in the past, so what’s the big deal? To drive the point home, Dr. Everett shows us a graph from the IPCC, showing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the last 400 million years. For reference, the magnified section stretches back to before the dinosaurs vanished:

Fig1

But what he fails to consider is that the rate at which environmental variables change can be as important as those variables themselves. The price of evolution is natural selection, and If natural selection culls individuals faster than they can be replaced, the species is in trouble (as well as the species which depend upon it). The faster the environmental change, the stronger the selective pressure - and current rates of environmental change may well exceed organisms’ ability to adapt.

Fig2

Here’s what I mean. If we look at the last glacial cycle, it’s obvious that CO2 has changed over time. The present day is also clearly unusual. But when you consider the rate of CO2 change, our current situation becomes unprecedented.

Fig3

 

Endgame

Wrapping up, Dr. Everett grossly misrepresents a news item to make it appear as though acid rain was ultimately not a problem. He suggests, without further support, that, with global temperature 'having reached a peak several years ago, we are at the start of a cooling cycle that will last several decades or more.’ The earth has changed in the past. Genetic plasiticity will magickally intervene to let organisms adapt at warp speed. ‘With no laboratory or observational evidence of biological disruption, I see no economic disruption of commercial and recreational fisheries, nor harm to marine mammals, sea turtles or any other protected species.’

Don’t you feel less alarmed already?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2011-06-13 08:01:05
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.24.85

Chuckbot, is this going to be a post here at Sks?

-"Ocean pH doesn’t depend on the fraction of CO2 in the air; it depends on the amount of CO2 in the ocean"

This needs some clarification. Kinda implies that the CO2 in the atmosphere has nothing to do with OA.

And Everitt referencing Knorr's paper is bone-headed-if natural carbon sinks (such as the ocean, which is the major carbon sink) haven't slowed down absorbing CO2 emissions, it just means that there will be no slowing down of acidification!  

As for images, if you go to the author admin page, you can upload images to Sks. A lot better than relying on external hosting, where images and links can disappear.

2011-06-14 09:40:08
Doug Mackie
Doug Mackie
dougmackie68@gmail...
202.154.138.162

I'm 8 posts into writing our 15 part series (it grew a little) that presents the fundamental chemistry needed to understand OA. We are writing as a team of research chemists with lots of teaching experience. Perhaps with the feedback the posts generate we might add a few at the end to address arguments against.

We expect to start posting in the last  week of June.

2011-06-14 11:40:56
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

Rob: That is what I was thinking, if that would be okay.

How about this?

'It’s hard to see how Knorr’s results support Everett’s opinion that projections of future acidification are overestimates. CO2 emissions have to go somewhere. If the fraction which remains in the air doesn't change, then the fraction which goes other places, like the ocean, can't change either. In fact, if Knorr’s results are correct and the carbon sinks are stable, then ocean acidification will continue unabated because co2 will continue to flow into the ocean.'

Would I need to get into whether CO2 was being redistributed between the ocean and the land? But yes there were quite a few headdesk moments 


2011-06-14 11:43:00
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

Doug: That is great! I would love to read them. I am still learning new stuff all the time; ocean chemistry is really interesting (The more you read, the more you have left to read...).

 

Do you think that there is a way for our posts to reinforce one another?

2011-06-14 21:11:23
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.4.254

Chuck - That reads better, but you also might want to add that the ocean is the major carbon sink too.

Figs a & b - who gives a rats arse what Everitt thinks? I'd stick with the actual observations. The Hawaiian (ALOHA) series show dissolved CO2 matching the rates of atmospheric CO2 rise, and a corresponding decline in seawater pH: 

Biology - there's a few posts here you can reference for this too. I've got rebuttals for coral calcification lined up, but am now waiting for Doug Mackies series to go first. Save me trying to explain the calcite/aragonite saturation states etc, and make for a more streamlined rebuttal. And there's a post by Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg coming up on corals too.

OA in deep time - I'd wait until Doug Mackie and co. have started publishing their series on OA because it's a bit more complicated. The seas in deep time had lower pH, but calcite saturation states were high, and as you point out, those were steady states where critters had thousands of years to adapt (or not), whereas today they're having to do this in hundreds of years, as the oceans rapidly acidify.

I reckon the whole lot will tie in very well, but it would make sense if yours went last. You could then draw on all the content of the other posts - with the benefit it is all intended for a lay audience (sans too much gobbledygook).

2011-06-15 05:03:46
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

Rob:

My central theme I'm going for is to highlight some specific distortions (like misrepresenting graphs, extrapolating short-term trends, misconstrued literature, '[environmental variable] has changed/been extreme before', and so on.) In particular, I wanted to show the similarities between AGW and OA denial. These can be surprisingly specific - I included Fig. A as an example of the tradition of 'use a linear transformation on a graph and pretend that it changes the meaning of the data graphed'. Other examples are Monckton's graph-tilting and this bit from Tamino. It seems useful to look at specific examples to help people calibrate their baloney detectors :) I also thought that Dr. Everett's testimony was worthy of discussion because it is one of the more detailed and high profile pieces of OA misinformation I'd seen - he wasinvited to speak at 2 congressional hearings, at least once by Inhofe.

My favorite is this image. Unless I am misreading it, you can see the CO2 filtering down from above. I like this one for illustrating the effects of OA on individuals (I don't think it includes Iglesias-Rodriguez but the inclusion would only slightly alter it.)

Deep time is pretty cool and really complicated. I've simplified it a lot - I leave unjustified my decision to use the last glacial cycle as a good example (Everett has elsewhere told congress that he expects polar bears to be fine, since they survived the last interglacial). I was trying to save space so I removed a bit about past episodes of rapid CO2 release and their effects (eg, PETM). Might it be better with a word or two about them?

A cool effect I read about was that, on longer time scales, high CO2 worlds will increase temp. and rain acidity, thus increasing wearthering... which adds more alkalinity to the oceans, thus upping the saturation state. Hence the carbonate deposits of the Cretaceous. But this geochemical event is happening on a very short geological timescale.

I've tried to write this to be relatively self contained, in which things like the acidity of CO2, the attribution of CO2 trends to humans, etc. are accepted as premises. Readers with deeper questions about that sort of topic should probably go elsewhere. If it is helpful I have a short molecular introduction to OA here and some deep time stuff here.

I think I should also briefly introduce IS92a and mention that Dr. Everett specifically objects to it; as written it sort of just appears. Also links for the Knorr discussion.

2011-06-15 08:05:57
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.21.7

- "My central theme I'm going for is to highlight some specific distortion"

Oh, righto.

-"Unless I am misreading it, you can see the CO2 filtering down from above"

Not sure what you mean.

-"Readers with deeper questions about that sort of topic should probably go elsewhere"

The internet is a very,very big place. If people have do too much digging themselves they'll just lose interest. Much better if we have comprehensive coverage in the one place, I reckon. But your call, they're just suggestions.

2011-06-18 21:44:17
Doug Mackie
Doug Mackie
dougmackie68@gmail...
202.154.138.162

12 posts written now. Final count will be 17 or 18.

Our internal reviewing is slower than hoped but makes for solid science. But still on target to begin rolling out last week June. We think now 2x weekly or interest will fade.

Our intent is to start with such fundamental and unassailable science that the conclusions are undeniable.

Yes, Rob, post (with structures even) on aragonite and calcite already written and it leads into post on omega. (We saw a post here I think it was blitely mention CCD as if readers would know it wasn't a charge couple detector).

We won't cover much of the impacts, beyond a brief case study. We are mostly showing that OA can happens, OA has happened, and OA is going on now.

Doug

2011-06-18 21:56:28
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.93.2.177

Undeniable?.......c'mon now Doug, there ain't no such thing. Crocodiles will be swimming around in the Arctic Ocean and the deniers will just say "yeah, that happened before, so it must be a natural cycle"

2011-09-12 15:21:44
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

Hi all,

I've updated this to include the OA series (Well done, by the way!) and to more clearly state the purpose and theme of the post, and to touch up the wording where it needed it. Also the images have been moved to SkS. What thynx? 

 

CO2 Problems

You are likely already aware of the CO2 problem: trace gasses (primarily carbon dioxide) in the earth’s atmosphere alter its thermal properties, causing it to retain heat. Human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is increasing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and as a result heating up the earth’s surface. However, a less appreciated fact is that in addition to being a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is acidic. This is not at all controversial; it was well recognized more than a century ago in Svente Arhennius’s pioneering article 'On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground’. When we burn fossil fuels, we add CO2 to the atmosphere, but about a quarter that carbon winds up in the oceans. This increases the acidity of the oceans, with potentially severe repercussions for organisms like corals, which build shells out of calcium carbonate and suffer under more acidic conditions. The chemistry is relatively straightforward, and not especially controversial; if you would like more information on the subject, Skeptical Science has an excellent introductory series written by Doug Mackie, Christina McGraw, and Keith Hunter.

When the science of anthropogenic climate change proved politically and economically inconvenient for many people, a cottage industry has popped up in trying to dismiss it. The same effort to dismiss ‘The other CO2 problem’ is now underway; there have been a few snipes from Monckton and the Idsos, but I want to focus on some recent congressional testimony in this vein, coming from a Dr. John Everett. A copy of his testimony can be found here. I think it's important to go through this testimony, because it is one of the only pieces of high-profile misinformation on the subject, and because it shows similar distortions at work behind the denial of climate change and ocean acidification. As you read on, ask yourself: Have I seen this tactic before? Graphs manipulated so as to hide an incline? An extrapolation of a few years' worth of climate data? "It's changed in the past"?

 

What’s a pollutant?

Much of the debate recently has been over the Environmental Protection Agency’s jurisdiction in regulating carbon dioxide; to this end, ‘skeptics’ like Dr. Everett often claim that because it is a natural substance with important natural roles, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.This is not a very good argument: there are plenty of chemicals which in some situations are essential, but problematic in others. Stratospheric ozone protects me from ultraviolet light, which causes skin cancer. But near the surface, ozone is a component of photochemical smog, interferes with photosynthesis, and causes respiratory illness. Tropane alkaloids are what make deadly nightshade deadly, but they’re the antidote to sarin nerve gas. Hydrochloric acid is important in my stomach, where it helps me digest food- but I don’t want to get it in my eyes.

A pollutant is an ecophysiological poison, and poisons are situational: whether or not a substance is poisonous depends upon its amount, the rate it’s encountered, and other factors. The reality of ocean acidification justifies describing CO2 as a pollutant in the current environmental context.

 

Pedantic Semantics

Dr. Everett starts off his testimony on a low note, saying, 

 'Importantly, oceans are alkaline – not acidic, so use of the term “acidification” unnecessarily promotes fear.'

To his credit, this is great PR. It’s snappy, it’s to the point, it sounds nice, it’s easily remembered and repeated. But it’s scientifically vacuous. If a solution has a pH above 7, it is basic. If its pH drops, it has become more acid- acidified- even if the solution is still basic. If the pH of a solution changes from 9 to 8, the solution has acidified, even though it is still basic. If someone who’s fallen off a bridge says, 'I’m falling doooooooooown’, Dr. Everett’s remark would be like saying, ‘You‘re not falling DOWN! You‘re still way UP in the air!’ The most charitable explanation I can come up with is that he’s confusing the rate of change in a variable (acidification) with the variable itself (acidity). His testimony, we will see, is characterized by this sort of confusion.

Or maybe he just wants to play word games.

 

Fizzix

‘Something is very wrong’ with our understanding of carbon geochemistry, Dr. Everett declares- therefor we should ‘give the information on its impacts a second look.’ What are his concerns?

First, he revisits ‘the bombshell from Bristol,’ a paper by Wolfgang Knorr which found that the fraction of CO2 emissions which remain in the air hasn’t changed significantly over the past 160 years. Though it does not remotely challenge the AGW consensus, Knorr’s paper was picked up by the ‘skeptic’ blogosphere. Curiously, Everett’s citation for the paper is botched - its cautious title (‘Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 increasing?’) has been replaced with a more decisive headline popular amongst the ‘skeptic’ interblogs  (‘No Rise of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Fraction in Past 160 Years’) What does the paper say? Basically, it finds evidence that the ocean and land haven’t slowed down as carbon sinks- they are still absorbing carbon emissions at the same rate as during the mid 19th century.

It’s hard to see how Knorr’s results support Everett’s opinion that projections of future acidification are overestimates. CO2 emissions have to go somewhere. If the fraction which remains in the air doesn't change, then the fraction which goes other places, like the ocean, can't change either. In fact, if Knorr’s results are correct and the carbon sinks are stable, then ocean acidification will continue unabated because CO2 will continue to flow into the ocean at the present rate.

Next, Dr. Everett claims to find a decline in the rate at which CO2 is building up in the atmosphere. First, he makes the long-term trend in CO2 accumulation rates disappear by stretching his graph of the data to be three times as wide as it is tall: 

Dr. Everett presents the rate of change in atmospheric carbon dioxide. What is wrong with this image?

I want to believe that no one would intentionally use such an insultingly transparent trick to hide an incline, but then again there’s this.

Then, he takes the last decade or so of this data, draws a line through it, finds no significant trend, and declares that the quantity is declining. If this sounds familiar, you’re right- do the same thing with HadCRU temperature data and you find that global warming stopped in 1998. It’s amazing!

Linear regressions have been fit to every 8-year period in this data on annual CO2 growth rate. What a mess!

If we apply his technique to the whole data set, we see that 8-12 years are not enough to say much about the longer term trend. Would extrapolating the sharp upswing in 1991-1999 have been a good idea? Would it have been justified? What about the sharp downswing in 1986-1994? It’s pretty clear that projecting patterns from a decade of this data a century into the future is risky at best. And he’s doing it in the face of a clear upward trend at longer timescales!

A comparison between different CO2 projections. Contrary to Dr. Everett's claims, there is relatively good agreement between the rate data he presents and the IS92a emissions scenario. Note also that even his own projection entails significant future emissions.

When we extrapolate the trend in the data as a whole, we find that it actually agrees fairly well with IS92a. And even Dr. Everett’s projection entails significant increases in CO2 over the next century, bringing with it significant acidification. Experiments have demonstrated decreased calcification in shellfish at these levels of CO2 (Gazeau et al 2007).

 

BiLOLogy 

Dr. Everett doesn’t trust ocean acidification experiments, though- he claims that ‘the peer review process has warts’. Although he brings up a number of issues, they are all somewhat specious. He claims that experiments have not been carried on long enough to allow organisms to adapt to high-CO2 environments... however, a paper which he describes as ‘Perhaps the most thorough review of the literature on acidificaton impacts’ suggests exactly the opposite: experiments may not be continuing long enough to show the full severity of the problem!

'Although suppression of metabolism under short-term experimental conditions is a "sublethal" reversible process, reductions in growth and reproductive output will effectively diminish the survival of the species on longer time-scales.' (Fabry et al. 2008).

Two of the authors he cites have rebutted, pointing out a number of misrepresentations of their work.  Dr. Rodriguez-Iglesias and colleauges found that under high-CO2 conditions, coccolithophores build thicker shells, which is definitely interesting. But does this mean that ‘more CO2 is good’, as Dr. Everett claims? Not really:

‘Dr. Everett’s conclusion that ocean acidification poses no threat to marine organisms is based, in large part, on the Iglesias-Rodriguez et al. (2008) study that showed that calcification within coccolithophores (calcifying phytoplankton) was enhanced under elevated CO2. However, this study also showed that growth rates for these marine algae were simultaneously impaired under high-CO2 conditions.These algae are among the most important sinks of atmospheric CO2 on the planet. Although they release CO2 through calcification, they consume it through photosynthesis (growth). Thus, a shift to enhanced calcification (release of CO2) and reduced growth (consumption of CO2) would substantially reduce the ocean’s ability to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. [...] The physiology of the whole organism, not simply its ability to calcify, must be investigated to fully assess its ability to survive in a future high-CO2 world.'

The whole thing is worth reading.

 

Deep Time is Deep

We next hear another common talking point: carbon dioxide levels have changed in the past, so what’s the big deal? To drive the point home, Dr. Everett shows us a graph from the IPCC, showing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the last 400 million years. For reference, the magnified section stretches back to before the dinosaurs vanished:

Temperatures and carbon dioxide levels over Deep Time.

But what he fails to consider is that the rate at which environmental variables change can be as important as those variables themselves. The price of evolution is natural selection, and if natural selection culls individuals faster than they can be replaced, the species is in trouble (as well as the species which depend upon it). This is why rapid environmental changes such as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum are associated with mass extinction in the geological record. The faster the environmental change, the stronger the selective pressure - and current rates of environmental change may well exceed organisms’ ability to adapt. 

CO2 levels over the last glacial cycle. The current geochemical event is clearly outside of historical bounds at this time scale.

Here’s what I mean. If we look at the last glacial cycle, it’s obvious that CO2 has changed over time. The present day is also clearly unusual. But when you consider the rate of CO2 change, our current situation becomes unprecedented.

Here, the rate of CO2 change is calculated over the last glacial cycle. Now the current geochemical event can't be missed - it's larger than the preindustrial era by orders of magnitude.

Endgame

Wrapping up, Dr. Everett grossly misrepresents a news item to make it appear as though acid rain was ultimately not a problem. He suggests, without further support, that, with global temperature 'having reached a peak several years ago, we are at the start of a cooling cycle that will last several decades or more.’ The earth has changed in the past. Genetic plasiticity will magickally intervene to let organisms adapt at warp speed. ‘With no laboratory or observational evidence of biological disruption, I see no economic disruption of commercial and recreational fisheries, nor harm to marine mammals, sea turtles or any other protected species.’

Don’t you feel less alarmed already?

 


2011-09-13 09:07:50
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

ohhh I see now. 

 

http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2_problems.html

 

Yay!

2011-09-13 18:38:28
Glenn Tamblyn

glenn@thefoodgallery.com...
58.168.68.38

One observation.

If he doesn't discuss rates of change when looking at deep paleoclimate, what he is saying is A-Grade BS. CO2 rate of increase now is 10 times what it was during the PETM but the PETM saw a major acidification event.

Any use of deep paleoclimate data has to TOTALLY distinguish between phenomena that are level dependent and rate dependent.

2011-09-14 07:47:54
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

I've noticed a lot of people have real trouble thinking about rates vs. quantities - and a related issue, surface area vs. volume. I have been camping with friends (boy scout graduates no less) who thought you could start a fire by wrapping toilet paper around wood. It's always confused me; it seems like those would be lessons which people would more or less absorb from living in physical reality??

Okay so if there are no more comments I was going to put this into the hopper. Is it ok if I include a link at the end to the full series for readers who want more detail? 

2011-09-14 08:18:54
Doug Mackie
Doug Mackie
dougmackie68@gmail...
202.154.144.146

The delta CO2 per year is a compelling picture but is not supported by the data. That is, we just have better temporal resolution for recent past.

Mauna Loa time resolution essentially continuous, Law 5 years (from 75 y av smoothed), don't recall Taylor  off top of my head but I think it is about 200-250 y and Vostok average between readings over 1000 years (1150 iirc). Better not to leave this as an obvious loophole?

2011-09-14 15:19:43
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

Doug Mackie: Oh! Okay, I have been looking around but haven't actually seen any other analyses along these lines. Can you point me to some? 

I based this image off of a comparison between the rate calculated from the Petit et al. 420kyear record and the MLO record. This comparison appears in Fig 3. of "What Corals are Dying to Tell UsAbout CO2 and Ocean Acidification" By Ken Caldeira. I also was struck by this graphic, appearing in this talk by Andrew Knoll. I was worried about my approach as well, since one could theoretically imagine all sorts of pathologies. For example, on [0, 2pi], the function f(x) = sin (n*x) can take an arbitrarily large derivative while still having an average rate of change of zero. You can indeed in the figure see that the older a record is, the less variation there is in its calculated derivative. My instinct is to observe the variation in the Law Dome rate, which includes the postindustrial era, with relatively good correlation to the MLO record. The current rates are outside even that of this record, and the recorded post industrial rates in this record are also clear outliers from the preindustrial rates. I asked Dr. Caldeira about the issue; here is what they had to say:


If you are trying to show that their is evidence in the geologic record that CO2 levels rose as rapidly and as much as they are projected to rise this century as a result of a "business-as-usual" emissions scenario, I think you may be out of luck.  Despite what Everett says, continued CO2 emissions at current will produce conditions in the oceans that are less conducive to carbonate mineral precipitation than any that have existed since the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs. (There is sedimentological evidence for carbonate mineral saturation to deeper than 1 km for the entirety of the past 65 million years or so.)

[...]

I think the thing is that you need to make some assumption about the frequency spectrum of the noise. [ed: I implicitly do; I assume that geologic change tends to be relatively slow compared to equilibrium adaptation (via migration, evolution etc), and i assume that departures from this state tend to be fairly bleak events, (eg, PETM) for pretty straightforward reasons]

If you assume you have lots of noise at high frequency, then you can claim that there is all this high frequency variability that has gone undetected.

Neither the ice core records, nor sedimentological data,  nor our understanding of the carbon cycle support the hypothesis that there were undetected ocean chemistry changes that were of a rate and magnitude of what could occur this century under a business-as-usual emissions scenario.

(And if you halve the emissions rate from that scenario, it will take approximately twice as long to achieve a similar state.)

I think it highly unlikely that something like that could have happened without leaving a sedimentological trace. Where is the dissolution horizon in the ocean?

I also brought the issue up with Dr. Richard Alley:

[...] you are correct that in older and older samples, there is more chance of something being hidden.  However, for the last 440,000 years there are at least two records, and as you come younger you get more and more duplication.  The sampling is taken on different time steps.  The samples from different cores average over a different number of years.  If there were large, abrupt spikes in the record, this sort of sampling would cause the different records to have different character (such as higher frequency, larger changes in cores with higher snowfall rate).  We see a tiny bit of that, but not much, so it is fair to say that in the age range of good duplication, we haven’t missed anything important, with fairly high confidence.

In short, what I have gathered is that consilience tends to rule out major departures from an aproximate carbon equilibrium, pre-industrial rev. This is fortunate For Science because consilience suggests robustness, but not so great For Science Communication, since demonstrating consilience may be tedious for the reader, esp. a 'big picture' reader. My approach to the dilemma has been to save it as a discussion point if/when it came up, but if you have other thoughts on resolving this dilemma or on the matter as a whole,  let me know! :D

2011-09-15 15:36:10
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
71.22.217.151

if there are no other suggestions i humbly request that this be added to the news hopper?

2011-11-03 06:35:25
chuckbot

charles.soeder@gmail...
98.122.166.230

bump - pros, cons, mods? 

Would people feel more comfortable using one of these images rather than my graph, since that concern has been raised? 

(from this video: http://www.rockefeller.edu/evolution/video.php?src=knoll_low )

 

(from "What corals are dying to tell us", (Caldeira 2007) )

Hope everyone is doing well :D

2011-11-03 07:05:56
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

Sorry chuck, this one slipped through the cracks.  Anybody have further comments on it?