Science unsettled: shells thrive on ‘acidification’

The science is never settled. Only we are settled. What we knew for certain last week, last year or even for half a life might need reforming today.

Over the last ten years or so, as the heat faded from the warming dimension of climate change, so alarm was raised about the dire effects of ocean “acidification”. The mainstream media began to describe the appalling effects on sea life, especially creatures with exoskeletons, of the increasingly “acid” waters being created by higher and higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

Coral reefs were doomed, many even now were “suffering” and all were in peril of destruction if we continued “spewing” huge quantities of CO2 into the air. Crabs, crayfish, shellfish of all kinds, plankton and krill were all at risk, and their decline spelt doom for the higher creatures in the sea, even unto man himself, who eats them.

Conch shells

The conch shell at left was exposed to current CO2 levels; the shell at right was exposed to the highest levels in the study. (Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Now, published in the December 1 issue of Geology, comes a remarkable—and remarkably courageous—study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that shows many denizens of the oceans benefit hugely from that increased CO2. Did you predict that?

The study makes it clear that many forms of oceanic life are disadvantaged to some degree by increased acidification, but this message is very different from the hitherto confident, ceaseless prognostications of universal doom proceeding from the pens of the alarmists. The scientists are calling for more detailed studies to be done, because there is so much to learn.

Anthony Watts, over at WUWT (hat-tip to Anthony), puts it succinctly:

And some thought ocean acidification would destroy everything.

Here’s how the media release from WHOI begins:

In a striking finding that raises new questions about carbon dioxide’s impact on marine life, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists report that some shell-building creatures—such as crabs, shrimp and lobsters—unexpectedly build more shell when exposed to ocean acidification caused by elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Sorry, but I guess the paper itself is behind a pay-wall; there’s no link I can find at WHOI.

7 Thoughts on “Science unsettled: shells thrive on ‘acidification’

  1. Barry Brill on December 7, 2009 at 12:47 am said:

    Isn’t Woods Hole the place where Pres Obama found his Climate Czar, Mr Holdren?

    I’ve been puzzled by all this talk of acidification.Seawater is decidedly alkaline, always and everywhere in the world. It hasn’t been acidic for millions of years.

    Now, I’ve seen airy statements about coral and seashells eaten away by acidic seas. This conjures up images of the ocean as a vast seething bath of powerful concentrated acid, consuming coral reefs (not to mention fish,people and all other life) in seconds.

    But how can that be? Even the most generous reading of the data seems to be that pH may have reduced from 8.2 (very alkaline) to 8.1 (still very alkaline).There’s not an acidic molecule in sight!

  2. Thanks, Bethyada. It’s always useful to read what the scientists themselves say.

  3. There are maps showing regions of increased pH, such as this: http://tinyurl.com/yzhl7zg . I seem to recognise the graphic, though I’ve not seen the site before; be careful, it could be dangerously alarmist!

    We are hoping that our study succeeds in making NIWA release the adjustment information we’re asking for. Only then can anybody judge the adjustments scientifically.

  4. Amadeus Diamond on December 8, 2009 at 3:46 pm said:

    I think its an extremely lofty statement to say that acidity in the seas is not localized in the first place. For example, somewhere that is higher in salt such as the Red or Dead seas would have localized effects on the life in the waters there, leading to adaptations in the sealife. This is seen as normal progression, yet at this point it time we call on certain instances like this to back up a claim that has long been in contention, to say the least.
    After seeing Treadgold’s presentation at the Yacht Club last night, i certainly think its possible this is happening right here in NZ. I read his paper overnight and its really startling how this sort of political activity DOES happen here, not just in countries with far largest interests.

  5. Barry Brill on December 10, 2009 at 10:55 pm said:

    I’ve left this comment on the BBC website you’ve referenced:

    Acidic seas:
    “Ocean acidification is a term used to describe the changes in the chemistry of the world’s seas, primarily as a result of burning fossil fuels”.

    When did it stop being a term used to describe sea water turning ACIDIC (ie pH below 7)?

    Who authorised this change of use? Does this mean we should treat the term as PR-speak (propaganda) rather than one having scientific or linguistic integrity?

    If we dilute a vial of sulphuric acid with water, do we now describe that solution as ALKALINE, solely because its pH has risen?

  6. Good one, Barry. But the alarmists don’t care about debasing the language — there’s a truth to obscure! I like your analogy of the vial of acid.

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