Greenhouse gases make oceans noisier?
Photo not part of original article.

Agence France-Presse

December 04, 2008 04:54am

GREENHOUSE gases worsen ocean noise by raising acidity levels and causing sound to travel farther, making it ever harder for marine mammals to communicate, UN and wildlife experts said today.

“Acidity is a new, strange and unwanted development… for a whole range of marine animals,” Mark Simmonds of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said.

Mr Simmonds, the society’s scientific director, was speaking as the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) began three days of debate on a resolution aimed at combatting ocean noise, which is caused primarily by shipping, oil and gas exploration and military sonars.

“Noisy activities are producing an acoustic fog that prevents whales from maintaining social groups, finding each other for breeding purposes, and so forth,” Mr Simmonds said.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, which is studying the rising acidity of seawater, said on its website: “As the oceans become more acidic, sounds will travel farther”, notably low-frequency sounds “used by marine mammals to find food and mates”.

Legal expert Veronica Frank of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said ocean noise has doubled each decade for the past 40 years and is expected to keep increasing.

“Blue whales’ capacity to communicate has been reduced by 90 percent,” she said.

The proposed resolution would urge the 110 parties to the CMS to mitigate the impact of ocean noise on vulnerable species, assess the environmental impact of sound-producing activities and avoid the use of high-intensity naval sonars that could pose risks for marine mammals.

The issue of ocean noise is an “international hot potato” because of the commercial and military interests involved, Mr Simmonds said.

One study found that sounds from seismic surveys using powerful airguns travelled more than 3000km from the source, the UN Environment Programme said in a communique.

Sound naturally travels farther in water than air because water has more mass.


49 thoughts on “Greenhouse gases make oceans noisier?

  1. What is the probability of CO2 sequestration leading to carbon dioxide bubbling up into the sea and making acidification of the sea a real problem rather than an exercise in propaganda?

  2. “GREENHOUSE gases worsen ocean noise by raising acidity”

    I thought it was from all the fizzing of the CO2 bubbles.

    Seriously, if they took a look at all the pure CO2 and H2S and SO2 injected directly into the water from undersea volcanoes, a few parts/million of CO2 in the air doesn’t amount to a pinch of owl scat.

    A fair rule of thumb would be to add up all the CO2 and SO2 emitted by all the volcanoes on land and double it to get a general idea of the scale of the amount being injected directly into ocean water by undersea volcanoes. And considering that most spreading centers are under water and they account for a lot of the world’s volcanism, multiplying it by 4 or 5 probably wouldn’t be out of the question. In other words, while the Earth is 2/3 covered with water, probably more than 2/3 of the planet’s volcanoes are in the ocean.

  3. Lord love us! Whatever will they dream up next?
    Past geological evidence showed CO2 levels were much higher than present and life in the oceans got along just fine. So far no major anomalies in ocean pH even though CO2 atmospheric levels still rising.

    My guess is this will be another data area to be rigorously suppressed.

  4. Aren’t the acidity levels supposed to go down – rather than up – due to “all that melting of ice all over the planet”?

    Well, just wondering…

  5. Someone please explain to me why a miniscule change in pH changes the conductivity of sound in water.

  6. “and causing sound to travel farther, making it ever harder for marine mammals to communicate”

    awe – what can I say?

  7. From the article:

    “As the oceans become more acidic, sounds will travel farther”, notably low-frequency sounds “used by marine mammals to find food and mates”.

    And the problem is …?

    [OTOH, it’s not looking good for the Dodo of the Daintree.]

  8. As Smokey pointed out, this sounds like a GOOD thing for sea animals, not bad! It means that sea animals can communicate from farther distances: Imagine taking ear mufflers off – yes, you can hear more background noise, but you can also hear noises from farther away.

    Me thinks that all change is bad from AGW scare-mongering viewpoint. Never mind that change happens all the time, and we can’t stop it.

  9. Well said Smokey! If the sound travels further how do whales become lost?

    OT Read an article online by two people a while ago on Carbon Sequestration. Forgive a senior moment if I’ve mentioned this before, but one was a “scientist” & the other wasn’t. However I found the article very interesting but somewhat familiar, talking about constructing huge underground caverns specially lined to prevent the stored carbon leaching out into the ground water back to the surface & then into the atmosphere. It turned out to be familiar because I think the authors crossed out the words nuclear waste & simply substituted the word carbon instead, from an article I read around 20 years ago in an engineering journal!

  10. So do these guys just get blank cheques and they can write in how much their research will cost? Or is it just big sack-fulls of cash with $$ or SWAG printed on the side?

    I have a theory that the melting ice (caused by global warming) and subsequent desalination of the sea water is making fish drown as they are less buoyant. I will need £160Million to study this in the lab by putting a few cod in fresh water.

  11. GREENHOUSE gases worsen ocean noise by raising acidity levels

    Isn’t ocean “acidification” caused by cooler temperatures? Something about a colder ocean being able to absorb/retain more CO2? So now we’re supposed to heat the oceans to save the whales?!

  12. “GREENHOUSE gases worsen ocean noise by raising acidity”


    This is definitely true. A freshly opened bottle of coke is always noiser than a flat one.

  13. Whatever can be merely thought up is always possible.
    What is possible is always actual.
    What is actual is always an epidemic.
    We must act now or we’re all dooooomed!

  14. Water vapor being by far the most significant “greenhouse gas”, perhaps these “experts” can explain how it raises ocean acidity.
    It’s truly amazing the nonsense they come up with, in order to keep the AGW/CC money spigot flowing.

  15. “Blue whales’ capacity to communicate has been reduced by 90 percent,” she said.
    You can’t make this stuff up!

  16. This is better propaganda than the “AGW causes kidney stones” scam earlier this year.
    This ocean propaganda piece is much harder for the typical reader to critique than the earlier scam piece, so is likely to last longer.
    That it would take dramatic changes in ocean pH to change its acoustic characteristics is too complex to explain easily. That ocean Ph is not changing outside the MOE is something people have been trained to ignore by those promoting the global temps.
    That an ocean that transmits sounds better might help sea mammals is not discussed.
    That scientists really have no idea how sea mammals handle changes in acoustics as subtle as those being discussed is too much hard thinking for the puppet media.
    I used to wonder how journalists like being propaganda puppets. I think the answer is clearly that journalists think it is completely wonderful.

  17. And one last point:
    There is not one shred of evidence that acoustic characteristics of the oceans are changing at all.
    There may be more noise in the oceans due to maritime commerce, but the nature of sound in water is not changed at all, and this article offers no evidence otherwise.

  18. The story stated that “ocean noise has doubled each decade for the past 40 years and is expected to keep increasing.”

    Now, that may have something to do with whales etc. – while the acidity part sounds like classic AGW “science” to me. Afterall, the whole idea is to simply “link” AGW to every possible and imaginable problem there is – one way and the other – isn’t it?

  19. How does the opinion of a LEGAL EXPERT matter to science?

    “Legal expert Veronica Frank of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said ocean noise has doubled each decade for the past 40 years and is expected to keep increasing.”

    Katherine, I think you are correct. If I remember my high school chemistry correctly, one of Boyle’s Laws states that the solubility of gases is inversely proportional to temperature (i.e. more CO2 would dissolve in colder water – not warmer) and acidification would increase if there was less warming.

  20. I think future historians of science will be studying this age as we study prehistoric cultures with their rituals for appeasing the gods and the human sacrifices needed.

    Or the way sociologists study the cargo cult primitives.

    It must be because in order to get any grant money one has to sing the AGW mantras, and, in this particular case, one has to avoid pointing the finger at the subsonic weapons used by the military.
    CO2 is the usual culprit.

  21. The oceans are not acidic, seawater has a pH of 8.0 +/- 0.5. Nothing is acidic with a pH over 7.0, by definition it is alkaline. So the oceans are becoming less alkaline, which only fallaciously is becoming more ‘acidic’. Since it is not acidic, it cannot be becoming ‘more’ acidic, only less alkaline. For each degree increase in ocean temperature, sound decreases about 4m/s. In saltwater sound travels at ~1550m/s. For every degree the oceans warm, sound travels ~0.26% slower. Since sound travels faster in a more dense medium, I suspect it travels farther as well. The temperature of seawater would have have a far greater effect on sound transmission than a pH shift.
    If the oceans are becoming warmer, they are less dense and sound moves more slowly, and oh yeah, it holds less CO2, so it must be becoming more alkaline. This article sounds like the same source as CO2 hysteria, finding some obscure, difficult to measure minor parameter and hoisting the weight of great influence upon it, ie. crap.

  22. I read yesterday that the oceans have decreased in alkalinity by .08 since 1750, although I am not sure how they knew the pH in 1750. To get to a neutral(not acidic) condition would require more than an order of magnitude change compared to the last 250 years. So if things continue at the same rate(big if) we could expect a neutral pH in something more than 2500 years?

  23. Hmmm, whilst i’m sorry that this “prevents whales from maintaining social groups, finding each other for breeding purposes”, who put whales at the top of the needs list?

    What about the animals that now get away because a sharks and other predators can’t hear them? Do these people who want to reduce the CO2 hate small defenceless fish? What exactly have these creatures done to them?

  24. The worsening of ocean noise may be debatable, but the noise from the UN/IPCC is increasing. A sign of desperation? The message of misanthropy is loud and clear.
    It is a miracle that the whales survived WWII.

    Governments and Wildlife Groups Take Soundings on Noise Pollution and Ship Strike Threats to Whales and Dolphins.

    Human noise drowns out song of whales.

    Carbonate buffering

    􀂄 Keeps ocean pH about same (8.1)

    􀂄 pH too high, carbonic acid releases H+

    􀂄 pH too low, bicarbonate combines with H+

    􀂄 Precipitation/dissolution of calcium

    carbonate CaCO3 buffers ocean pH

    􀂄 Oceans can absorb CO2 from atmosphere

    without much change in pH

  25. If the world is warming due to CO2, then the oceans would be warmer which would result in outgassing and less CO2 in the oceans. But if there’s cooling, then more CO2 would be absorbed. But there can’t be cooling, as that runs counter to the AGW scenario. What a convoluted mass of contradictions this is. But wait — this is the UN speaking and logical consistency is not their forte. What is going in here?

    Let’s stop a moment and reread this very telling piece. Look beyond the political/religious environmental silliness contained in the article to see the real objective. All that talk about greenhouse gases and ocean acidification is but a smokescreen for the real target. The real objective is that of “combatting ocean noise, which is caused primarily by shipping, oil and gas exploration and military sonars.” This is yet another example of aggressive environmentalism, which poses as being aimed at sensible conservation, while in fact it reveals the anti-man/anti-life motivation of aggressive environmentalism. Everything in Nature is good; everything mankind does is bad and must be stopped.

  26. Hmm. the last time I looked, increased acidity meant a lowering of PH.

    But I seem to remember that there is some amount of salt in the oceans (35 ppt). And IIRC adding Sodium Chloride, NaCl, to water raises PH (so ocean water is slightly alkaline) and the oceans have a PH higher than 7 (between 7.5 and 8.4).

    So, adding CO2 to sea water would serve to slightly lower the PH closer to the equilibrium level of 7.

    Not exactly the image of acid oceans conjured up by our dear members of the media.

    Relating increased noise levels in the oceans to shipping and similar man-created activity is one thing. Blaming greenhouse gases is quite another.

  27. And remember that when most of these fish species evolved the CO2 level was many times higher than it is today.

  28. “Noise fog” sounds like the “Brain cloud” from Joe vs the Volcano.

    “Blue whales’ capacity to communicate has been reduced by 90 percent,” she said.
    Now, just how did they come up with that number? When I was a kid, they were thought to be extinct. The current estimate is 5000 to 12000 worldwide. Did they perform a telephone poll?

    Researcher: dials phone
    Whale: Who’s there?
    Researcher: Dave
    Whale: Dave’s not here
    Researcher Scribbles furiously: Blue whale’s’ capacity to communicate has been reduced by 90 percent

    I think they pulled that number from a place I’d rather not mention.

  29. So what kinds of noises are being amplified in the water? The constant whapwhapwhap of the 80 mills at the Horns Rev Wind Farm?

  30. At last something I know about…
    Geophysical Service Inc. In cooperation with the Alaska Dept of Fisheries Conducted tests to determine the amount of damage done to fish by the geophysical air guns. Salmon fingerlings were chosen as the test target because they were thought to be most vulnerable to the air guns.

    The original test was to evaluate the effects of the air guns at distances of 2m, 10m, 20m, 30m, and 40m. The equipment was a full array (if I remember correctly, 40 guns of various sizes) of the air guns.

    The Alaska biologist suggested they start at 2m to see how bad it could get. Cages of fingerlings were placed 2m from the air guns and the array was discharged. Examinations of the fingerlings showed no physical damage. The Biologist declared the rest of the test was unnecessary and the use of the air guns was approved for use in Alaskan waters.

    Needless to say, my boss was greatly relieved when he came back to Houston.

    I have to admit they never thought to do the 2m test on a blue whale. psych evals were also not performed on the fingerlings

  31. With the planet cooling and the ice returning in the Arctic this sounds like a wonderful diversion that underlines their desperation.

    Underwater volcanoes are the most likely answer.

  32. Well, obviously the CO² must be doing something bad. One of the links showed a dead whale, didn’t it? What more evidence do we need?

    That 90% loss of communication is a POOMA number. (Bern, that stands for “Preliminary Order Of Magnitude Approximation.”)

    And regarding the relative noise levels of fresh Coke and flat Coke, beer has ’em both beat.

    Science has become an outmoded concept.

  33. That is a poorly written news article. How much more noise is now in the oceans? How much is the acidity rising? Is the noise travel a linear or non-linear relationship with acidity? Is the rise in all oceans or only in selected areas? The article has been so dumbed down to remove numbers that it is useless as a news – and only useful as propaganda (“Acidity is worse. This makes noise worse. Noise is worse. This effects whales. Trust us because we are important.” summarizes this poorly researched and written news report.)

  34. Is there any experimental research as to how far sound waves of various frequencies travel in oceans with different acidic levels, or is this a few alarmists “expert opinions” on what can or might happen? Where is the proof for this brand of nonsense?

  35. I sometimes wonder who from the Ip\PCC writes Wiki articles. Here’s what they have to say about this issue.

    Ocean acidification is the name given to the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by their uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[1] Between 1751 and 1994 surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.179 to 8.104 (a change of -0.075).[2][3]

    OMG – The ocean pH has dropped -0.000308642 per year over the last 241 years. I’m moving to another planet that isn’t covered by 2/3 ocean.

  36. Biggest racket I ever heard in the ocean was sitting in a nice warm Sea of Cortez pool among some oyster bearing rocks, with a flock os Sergeant Majors swimming around near me. I was underwater but snorkel breathing, so my regulator wasn’t discharging anything.
    I was popping off Oyster shells to wathc the Ser Majors dart in and grab the oyster. It only took a couple to train them to crowd around the edge of my screw drive waiting for the next shell to pop.

    The noise was deafening, with all sorts of clicks and squeaks and other critter conversation; lots of shrimps were responsible for a good part of it. Didn’t here any engine noises although the Cortez is alive with ourboard motor boats, and I didn’t here any whales or porpoises either, although sometimes the porpoises will coime right up to you in shallow water.

    And I don’t think the surface waters are getting more acidified or even very much less alkaline. Since CO2 is more soluble in cooler water aa deeper water, there must be a continuous pumping of CO2 from the surface to deeper layers to the the better solubility cooler layers. So I doubt that surface concentration of CO2 is increasing very much.

    In any case the whales communicate over huge distances at low frequencies, and there is more to signal revcovery than just propagation distance. Whales have pretty sophisticated signal processing capability or else they simply wouldn’t be able to communicate over the distances they do. So I would want to see a whole lot more signal to noise ratio data from this story source before I would give it any credibility.

    So If I flush my toilet twice instead of once, is that going to result in any disturbance of a surfing competition in Hawaii next month; or is it only the wind produced by butterflies that can do that.

  37. George E. Smith:
    “and there is more to signal revcovery than just propagation distance”

    Too true. I’m no submariner, but I’m sure that some sonar tech could instruct us about thermoclines and reflection layers in the water.

    Also, have they taken into account the incredible array of auditory sensitivity in various forms of marine life? They don’t all hear the way we do.

    As a parting shot I would like to point out that acid (rock) vastly increased the noise in my environment, and although it has reduced my auditory range, I was still able to find food and mate. I think that the whales will be ok.

  38. I found an online PDF copy of the paper by Hester, K.C. et al.

    Unanticipated consequences of ocean acidification: A noisier ocean at lower pH

    After reading the paper several times in appears that no actual measurements were made by this research team. What they did was draw conclusions from other research papers with a lot of CYA verbiage add to give them wiggle room. There are many variables which impact the absorption of sound in seawater including salinity/density and temperature. There is a passing reference to temperature and no mention of salinity or density at all. If being able to hear better is a survival advantage to marine life and decreasing pH improves the transmission of sound, then if this paper were correct lower pH values should be a plus to marine life dependent on long-range communications, not a negative.

    Having kept tropical and non-tropical species of fish for over 50 years, I am well area of the sensitivity of some species of fish to pH but that was not the subject of this paper. Read it yourself and draw your own conclusions.

    Michael Ronayne

  39. Why do I keep reading all this alarmist stuff in the first place. Why, I have to do some antiacids to settle my stomach.
    I just want to know just how much CO2 is necessary to drop the ph of the oceans below ph=7.0 since it is currently averaging ph=8.1. Oh by the way, that would have to be only anthropogenically generated CO2, not the CO2 bubbling up from the ocean floor.
    Funny, I have to worry about ph fluctuations in my goldfish tank , but the hobbyist websites say oceans and lakes aren’t prone to fluctuations.

  40. I would like to know just how much noise is caused by those earthquakes causing those massive tsumamis we read about.
    And does AGW cause them too?

  41. I was intrigued by this report, and went into it in a bit of detail. It is true that there is a minor term in sound absorption that relates to relaxation frequencies of Boric acid. However, sound absorption is dominated by temperature, depth and salinity. The points to note about the paper are:
    1) It is based on complete knowledge of pre-industrial CO2 levels. There is plenty of evidence to show that the current acknowledged levels are open to debate.
    2) It makes no actual measurements. It even goes so far as to make the rather strange statement “As shown, sound absorption has already decreased due to pH changes and is likely already contributing to increased ambient noise levels.” This is without actually measuring a pH change, nor a sound absorption change, nor providing any evidence other than their model.
    3) The calculation for sound absorption coefficient is based on Francois and Garrison (1982). This quantifies the Boric acid relaxation contribution to the absorption. It only really applies below 10kHz. But most importantly, it is quickly swamped by the other terms as depth is increased. Note that the depth chosen for their calculations is only 0.05m. There is good reason for this: I reproduced their results, but then also plotted the effects at various depths. By 10m down the pH effect had all but disappeared. Now whales are remarkably adaptable animals. US Navy tests recently showed that when whale signals were deliberately drowned out using strong sonars, the whales simply increased the length of their own signals, thereby ensuring their messages got through. So I suggest that if they are getting confused by all the noise, they will simply sink slightly deeper before listening or sending.

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