Should the Baltic Sea be taxed for CO2 emissions?

The Baltic Sea contributes carbon dioxide to the atmosphere

This is a view of the Baltic Sea. Credit: Photography University of Gothenburg

The Baltic Sea emits more carbon dioxide than it can bind. Local variations have increased the exposure of the Bay of Bothnia. These are the results from a study of how carbon dioxide flows between the water of the Baltic Sea and the atmosphere, carried out by scientists at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

“The capacity of the Baltic Sea to absorb carbon dioxide without major changes to the acidity of the water has changed in recent centuries. In the Bay of Bothnia, the ability to resist change has fallen, while it has increased in the south-eastern parts of the Baltic Sea”, says Karin Wesslander of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Gothenburg. 

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising steadily as a result of human activities, but global climate models remain inaccurate. The coastal seas are rarely included in large-scale climate models. Karin Wesslander has investigated the carbon dioxide system of the surface water of the Baltic Sea, in order to increase understanding of how the concentration of carbon dioxide affects seas.

Carbon dioxide is an important component of photosynthesis, which converts the energy from sunlight, and it is phytoplankton that carry out photosynthesis in the seas. The carbon dioxide in the sea is consumed during the algal blooms that take place during the spring and summer.

This means that the fraction of carbon dioxide in the water is lower than it is in the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide flows into the sea. The sea is thus a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. When the plankton subsequently die, they are broken down and the carbon dioxide reappears in the water. The windy weather that occurs during the autumn and winter causes water mixing, and the carbon dioxide returns to the surface. This is the reason that the sea is most often a source of carbon dioxide during these seasons.

“The study is based on 15 years of measurements from the sea outside of Gotland, 1994-2009, and shows that there are large differences between seasons, between years and between regions. One of the factors that contribute to these differences is the magnitude of the algal bloom. The wind is another important factor.”

The Baltic Sea is a well-defined and enclosed sea, and it receives a large contribution from the many rivers that flow into it. The composition of this river water, thus, plays a major role. Karin Wesslander’s results show that the ability of the Baltic Sea to absorb carbon dioxide without a concomitant increase in acidity is significantly higher in the south-eastern parts and around the Gulf of Finland than it is in the Bay of Bothnia.

“We believe that the differences result from the fact that the rivers flowing into the Gulf of Finland and from the coastlines of the Baltic states carry more limestone, since they flow through limestone-rich rocks. The rivers that empty into the Bay of Bothnia do not have so high a level.”

The thesis contains a model study that shows that eutrophication of the surface water of the Baltic Sea may have counteracted the acidification that the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere otherwise would have caused. The new results are part of the work to improve better environmental and climate models for the Baltic Sea.

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The thesis The carbon dioxide system in the Baltic Sea surface waters was successfully defended at a disputation held at the University of Gothenburg.

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22 thoughts on “Should the Baltic Sea be taxed for CO2 emissions?

  1. So pH increased in one Baltic corner and decreased in the another, mostly depending on which rivers flows where. Where is the human CO2-acidification link is therefore not clear. Congrats, they just discovered the buffering principle.

  2. The Baltic sea is basic, not ‘acidic’ and sea water has a huge capacity to buffer additional CO2 so the premise is odd to begin with. So, this raises the question as to whether this paper is a ‘sleeper': countering the CO2-AGW model by pretending to support it.

    He seems to be saying that calcium carbonate-rich fresh water is limiting the CO2 level in the Baltic Sea by…adding CACO3? Is that what he is saying at the end? He expresses it as limiting the drop in pH but is it implied the the continued higher ability of the Baltic to absorb CO2 is caused by the incoming ‘hard water’ from the rivers.

    If you counter an acid with CACO3, doesn’t it release CO2 as a reaction product?

  3. Maybe the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere didn’t create any acidification to be counteracted in the first place…..

    …they really need to get someone from waste water management to explain it to them

  4. I can not even tell what the heck the experiment measured!

    They seem to be associating the absorption of CO2 with plankton (only?) and then saying if the plankton die the CO2 is released to the atmosphere instead of being sequestered by the sea. They are also making statements about “Acidification” (the newest “we must save the world” manta??)

    This does not seem to dovetail with other studies.

    (A simple experiment showing CO2 absorption by water with Ca++ video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjxUwDTkd4g)

    “…Plants need CO2 for their living (the photo synthesis), and humans and animals breath out CO2 from their respiration. In addition to this biogeochemical balance, there is also an important geochemical balance. CO2 in the atmosphere is in equilibrium with carbonic acid dissolved in the ocean, which in term is close to CaCO3 saturation and in equilibrium with carbonate shells of organisms and lime (calcium carbonate; limestone) in the ocean through the following reactions (where s indicates the solid state, aq is the aqueous state, and g is the gaseous state):

    Partial reactions:

    CO2 (g) CO2 (aq)

    CO2 (aq) + H2O H2CO3 (aq)

    H2CO3 (aq) H+ (aq) + HCO3- (aq)

    HCO3- (aq) H+ (aq) + CO32- (aq)

    CO32- (aq) + Ca2+ (aq) CaCO3 (s)

    ____________________________________

    Net reaction:

    CO2 (g) + H2O + Ca2+ (aq) CaCO3 (s) + 2 H+ (aq)

    In addition there are a number of different aqueous metal complexes of lesser concentrations.

    A buffer can be defined as a reaction system which modifies or controls the value of an intensive (i.e. mass independent) thermodynamic variable (pressure, temperature, concentration, pH, etc.). Our carbonate system above will act as a pH buffer, by the presence of a weak acid (H2CO3) and a salt of the acid (CaCO3). The concentration of CO2 (g) and of Ca2+ (aq) will in the equilibrium Earth system also be buffered by the presence of CaCO3, at a given temperature. If the partial pressure of CO2 (g) is increased, the net reaction will go towards the right because of the Law of Mass Action. If the temperature changes, the chemical equilibrium constant will change, and move the equilibrium to the left or right. The result is that the partial pressure of CO2 (g) will increase or decrease. The equilibrium will mainly be governed by Henry’s Law: the partial pressure of CO2 (g) in the air will be proportional to the concentration of CO2 (aq) dissolved in water. The proportional constant is the Henry’s Law Constant, which is strongly temperature dependent, and lesser dependent on total pressure and salinity (Drummond, 1981).

    Questions have been raised about how strong this buffer is. It has been postulated (Bolin & Keeling, 1963) that an increase in atmospheric CO2 will be balanced when only approximately one tenth of this is dissolved in the ocean. This postulate fails for a number of reasons. An increase in atmospheric CO2 will namely increase the buffer capacity of ocean water, and thereby strengthen the ocean’s capacity to moderate an increase of atmospheric CO2; maximum buffer capacity for the system CO2 – H2O is reached at 2.5 to 6 times the present atmospheric partial pressure of CO2, depending on temperature and alkalinity (Butler, 1982). According to Maier-Reimer & Hasselmann (1987) the borate system also increases the ocean storage capacity for CO2 by more than 20% over an ocean with the carbonate-system alone.

    Furthermore, this carbonate buffer is not the only buffer active in the atmosphere / hydrosphere / lithosphere system. The Earth has a set of other buffering mineral reactions. The geochemical equilibrium system anorthite CaAl2Si2O8 – kaolinite Al2Si2O5(OH)4 has by the pH of ocean water a buffer capacity which is thousand times larger than a 0.001 M carbonate solution (Stumm & Morgan, 1970). In addition we have clay mineral buffers, and a calcium silicate + CO2 calcium carbonate + SiO2 buffer (MacIntyre, 1970; Krauskopf, 1979). These buffers all act as a “security net” under the most important buffer: CO2 (g) HCO3- (aq) CaCO3 (s). All together these buffers give in principle an infinite buffer capacity (Stumm & Morgan, 1970)….”

    http://www.co2web.info/esef4.htm

  5. Crispin in Waterloo said, “If you counter an acid with CACO3, doesn’t it release CO2 as a reaction product?”

    Actually CaCO3 is not entering the oceans from the rivers, as at Baltic temperatures it is quite soluble. It’s a solution of Ca+2 and carbonate ions, CO3-2, and the carbonate will soak up protons to form bicarbonate, HCO3-1. Photosynthesis is an alkalizing process, which can raise the pH up to 10+ in bays and estuaries on a sunny day, so between the two effects the carbonic acid formed by dissolving CO2 is easily handled.

  6. “The thesis contains a model study that shows that eutrophication of the surface water of the Baltic Sea may have counteracted the acidification that the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere otherwise would have caused.”

    We need more “dead zones?” Can the US earn carbon credits for fertilizing the Gulf of Mexico?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_(ecology)

  7. You need as a minimum to understand this classical graph:

    Then you need to know its increasing complexity as more substances are added.
    Then you need to know the complications of seawater as opposed to fresh.
    Then you need to know how sensitive the phase relations are to small changes in activities.
    Then you need to know the temperature response.
    Then you need to know about buffering.
    Then you need to know the largely unkown effects of the rhythm of life and the part played by biota.
    It’s not for amateurs.

  8. @Higley7 and O H Dalhsveen

    Thanks for clarifications!

    Ths study is very interesting to me because it does not take ‘the sea’ to be homogeneous.

  9. The million dollar quote “15 years of measurements from the sea outside of Gotland, 1994-2009, and shows that there are large differences between seasons, between years and between regions”

    Just as massive variability and measurement error in trash and decent temperature weather station data overwhelms the supposed “global .8 degree C temperature anomaly”, mosaic variability in CO2 flux in any large body of water over years will overwhelm any attempt to gain accurate overall data from these kinds of half-a$$ed studies. I can just imagine the numbers of study stations -perhaps 3 or perhaps a dozen when thousands are needed at least to nail down potential variance and such to make generalizations over something the size of the Baltic. Did they even attempt to measure CO2 deposition on the seafloor and other flux numbers ?

  10. “acidification” . . . I gather this is now the politically correct term to describe a seasonal and minute reduction in local alkalinity of sea water.
    I find it difficult to maintain a semblance of respect for “science” of this nature.

  11. Normal rain water with the low sulfates we have today, is about pH 3.5–5.5. Many sodas are closer to 3–4 with dissolved CO2 at 2000-10,000 ppm (0.2–1.0%). Seawater is generally 8.0–8.4, so it’s basic and the alarmists are agonizing over slightly less basic, not acidic.

    Phosphoric or citric acid is often added to lower the pH closer to 3 and keep the equilibrium pushed towards H2CO2 so that it will break down rapidly to CO2 and H2O when the head pressure is removed.

    The Baltic appears to generally be 7.9–8.0, but in low oxygen and/or H2S conditions (a more acidic condition as hydrosulfuric acid and other organic acids from biological decomposition can be at relatively high concentrations) near the bottom. This is a perfectly natural phenomenon.

    Also, bodies such as the Baltic do not mix as well as many expect with the Atlantic, so it is not unexpectedly that there would be local effects. Furthermore, marine organisms are much more resilient than the alarmists indicate and the higher CO2 is much more of a boon for corals and algae as nutrition—they shrug off any pH changes, if any, with their added metabolic power—with corals around the world thriving.

    It is good to also remember that CaCO3 is more soluble in cold water than warm, which is why we have coral reefs only in warmer climes and shells dissolve in colder waters. Thus, colder water can handle added carbonate from CO2 as it is not quite saturated yet—we do not see it crusting up on surfaces. Also, no one above has mentioned the silicate buffer system, which begins to act when sea water goes below pH 7 (pKa2 = 5.41).

  12. Richard111 says:
    October 12, 2011 at 12:06 am
    “acidification” . . . I gather this is now the politically correct term to describe a seasonal and minute reduction in local alkalinity of sea water.
    ———
    You would gather wrong.
    Degree of acidity and pH are synonyms. The terminology is standard in many fields that deal with water quality and the practice has been around for yonks. Well before ocean acidity became an issue so politics has nothing to do with it.

    The term acidity is used instead of alkalinity just as a matter of convention even though they are logically equivalent.

    There is no propaganda intent behind this and every time you try to fly this you are just making a fool of yourself in the eyes of people who deal with these kinds of measurements on a daily basis.

  13. Limestone soils often have natural alkalinity from calcium hydroxide, calcium bicarbonate, and other calcium salts. (Of course the limestone itself is mostly calcium carbonate.)

  14. Lazy Teenager

    The term acidity is used instead of alkalinity just as a matter of convention even though they are logically equivalent.

    This is directly quoted from Perfesser Wikipedia, right?

    You really really need to learn chemistry before you start spouting off nonsense you read on some web-page.

  15. Crispin in Waterloo says:
    October 11, 2011 at 1:42 pm
    He seems to be saying that calcium carbonate-rich fresh water is limiting the CO2 level in the Baltic Sea by…

    I’m guessing Ms. Wesslander won’t much appreciate her impromptu sex change operation…

  16. “You really really need to learn chemistry before you start spouting off nonsense you read on some web-page.”

    Nice social skills on display. In the old days one would point out that some (specific) thing said was incorrect and supply the correct information. And by “in the old days” I mean never since society has always been a flimsy film floating on a festering pond of human nature. Sorry, was that off topic?

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