Are the Oceans Becoming More Acidic?

Guest essay by Clyde Spencer

There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” – William James


Are the oceans becoming “more acidic,” as is often claimed in recent research papers and trumpeted by the news media? I’ll explore that in the following discussion. However, there are two parts to the answer, so I’ll provide the response in two parts.

Part 1

I’ll start with some basic chemistry to be sure that everyone is at the same level. Some of the water molecules in pure water will naturally dissociate into hydrogen (hydronium) ions (cation) and hydroxyl ions (anion) in equal amounts. The amount is very small: 0.0000001 or 10-7 moles per liter of each; this is defined as a neutral solution. If a quantity of a base, such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is added, there will be a decrease in the hydrogen ions (with the creation of some water molecules) and an increase in the hydroxyl ion concentration; this is called an alkaline solution. If a quantity of an acid, such as hydrochloric acid (HCl) is added, there will be an increase in the concentration of hydrogen ions. If both NaOH and HCl are added in appropriate quantities, then the solution can still be neutral, but it will also be saline. What usually isn’t appreciated by those who aren’t chemists is that the concentration of the two ions varies inversely. That is to say, the product of the concentration of the two ions is a constant, approximately 10-14. The use of the hydrogen ion concentration alone is a convenience that implies that the hydroxyl ion is also present in inverse proportion to the hydrogen ion. Either ion could be used to characterize the chemical activity of the solution. The important point, which is usually overlooked in discussions of the chemistry of seawater, when talking about the hydrogen ion concentration, is that it is the ratio of hydrogen ions to hydroxyl ions that determines the chemical behavior. If the ratio is one, then the solution is neutral, neither acidic nor basic. If the ratio is less than one, the solution is alkaline, and vice versa.

The hydrogen ion concentration is expressed with the pH scale universally, which avoids having to deal with extremely small numbers. The logarithmic pH scale was developed to make the handling of ionic dissociation changes in an aqueous solution, with a range of more than 14 orders of magnitude, less cumbersome. In addition, dealing with very small numbers in a denominator (as when calculating percentage change) can lead to the false impression that a change has greater significance than is warranted. A pH decline from 8.2 to 8.1, the commonly claimed recent change in seawater, ( amounts to a change of -1.2% on the pH scale (-0.1/8.2) and it would take a change of about -15% to reach neutrality (pH = 7). It is disingenuous to cite an equivalent change of 30% in the untransformed active hydrogen ion concentration ( without noting the percentage change required to reach even neutrality, let alone an actual significant acid condition. The alleged change that has occurred in hydrogen ion concentration is actually about 25% (The value usually cited is rounded up considerably!). It would take a change of nearly 1500% in the hydrogen ion concentration to reach neutrality. That is, there has been a percentage change of about 1.7% (25/1500) of hydrogen ion concentration necessary to reach neutrality. Inflating numbers and not putting them in context seems to me to be an act of hyperbole that raises a question of objectivity.

Solutions with a pH of less than 7 have been called acidic, and greater than 7, alkaline or basic, for more than 100 years. Acids and bases have different properties. The hydrogen ion concentration of an alkaline solution, which experiences a lowering of pH, moves in the direction of acidity, but does not become acidic until neutrality is first reached and then passed. A pH converging on 7 – from either end of the pH range – is referred to as neutralizing. One might think that referring to alkalinity would be the obvious way to refer to the state of an alkaline solution. Unfortunately, alkalinity was given a very specific definition that is related to buffering capacity, or the resistance to pH change when an acid is added to an alkaline solution. Although, some pool and spa-chemical manufacturers commonly label their pH-increasing product, sodium bicarbonate, as “pH/alkalinity up.” The phrases “less alkaline,” “reduced base,” or “de-alkalizing” would convey more information than ‘acidification.’ That is, one would immediately understand that seawater is alkaline and the pH is decreasing. The term lowered or decreased ‘basicity’ might be used alternatively, although it tends to be used to describe how chemically ‘basic’ a particular anion is. Even saying “decreasing towards neutrality” has merit over the shorter, casual ‘acidifying.’ One could legitimately say that an alkaline solution experiencing a reduction in pH is becoming less caustic; however, the expression is nearly as loaded as “more acidic.” Carbonation is a term that has been suggested as an alternative to ocean acidification. I could support this because it isn’t a pejorative word and it speaks to the process that is of concern, namely the chemical changes resulting from the absorption of carbon dioxide.

The pH scale as it should be presented




Note that fresh water, slightly buffered with sodium bicarbonate, super-saturated with CO2 (Club Soda), has an initial pH of about 5 when first opened. After reaching equilibrium with CO2 in the air (becomes ‘flat’), it has a pH of about 8. Tap water, with some calcium and magnesium carbonates present (hard water), has a pH of about 7.5 to 8.0. Putting that same tap water in a soda charging-bottle and super-saturating it with CO2 yields a solution with a pH of about 6, initially. Freshly opened commercial 7 UP™, with both carbonic acid (H2CO3) and citric acid has a pH of about 3!

A commonly held misconception is that as the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere increase, thus increasing the dissolved CO2 in the oceans, the weak carbonic acid builds up, which causes the oceans to be acidic ( According to Gattuso (2011), the resident carbonic acid that is created is less than 0.3% of the free aqueous CO2 in solution. In actuality, the carbonic acid that forms has a lifetime of about 26ms; it turns into a hydronium ion (which may react with other anions present) and a buffering bicarbonate anion ( This creates a buffering system whose behavior is much more complex than generally appreciated ( ).

I recently reviewed my college oceanography text, the classic, The Oceans (Sverdrup, Johnson, and Fleming, 1963). I found no use of the terms “acidification,” “acidifying,” or “more acidic” except in association with the laboratory procedure of titration for determining pH or CO2 content, where the end goal was to produce a solution that was an acid. The authors consistently refer to the chemical condition of the oceans with pH, alkalinity, salinity, and chlorinity.

Sverdrup et al. (1963), remark that buffered solutions resist changes from alkaline to acid condition. Further, “This property is of vital importance to the marine organisms, mainly for two reasons: (1) an abundant supply of carbon can be available in the form of carbon dioxide for the use of plants in the synthesis of carbohydrates without disturbance to the animal life that may be sensitive to small changes in pH, and (2) in the slightly alkaline habitat the many organisms that construct shells of calcium carbonate (or other calcium salts) can carry on this function much more efficiently than in a neutral solution.” That is to say, less energy is expended to create and maintain shells in alkaline water.

It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that CO2 bubbling up on the floor of the ocean in various locations is deleterious to the organisms normally found there. In a similar manner, CO2 diffusing up through the ground has killed trees on the margin of Long Valley Caldera in California. These are exceptional circumstances that, in my opinion, are not good analogues for what might happen to the oceans in general if the CO2 content of the atmosphere were to even double. The volcanic CO2 vents create a situation where the water is super-saturated with CO2 compared to the partial-pressure of the CO2 in the atmosphere, similar to the behavior of soda water. That would be an impossible widespread situation as long as CO2 remains a minor constituent of the atmosphere. Oceanic CO2 vents are a poor model for the real world impact of CO2 increases in the atmosphere because of the strong buffering capacity of seawater. Thus, the concerns expressed in NOVA’s recent Lethal Seas are considerably exaggerated!

When TV programs, such as Lethal Seas, state that CO2 is “raising the ocean’s acidity,” I’m sure that the typical viewer is going to incorrectly assume that the oceans are acidic. Thus, rather than being educated, viewers are being misled! I may be paranoid, but it seems to me that when people substitute pejorative words for neutral words that are more accurate they are not being objective and possibly have an agenda other than communicating facts. Thus, when the TV program PBS NOVA talks about the oceans “becoming more acidic,” it raises questions about the objectivity of the writers and producers. The practice of being a disinterested observer seems to have been abandoned.

It is appropriate to use “more” or “increasing” when referring to an open-ended scale like temperature. However, if the temperature were to change from -10° to -5° C, people would look at you as if you were daft if you said that it was becoming hotter. It has to be hot before it can become hotter. I will allow that it is sometimes casually said – indeed often jokingly – that it has become warmer, but saying that it is ‘less cold’ or that the temperature had simply increased would be more accurate and is what I would expect in a scientific article. However, when there are natural or defined boundaries for measurement systems, then you cannot have more of nothing. The current use of “more acidic” for a decreasing pH of alkaline water is like saying that a block of ice that has increased in temperature slightly (say from -10° to -5° C) has become ‘more liquid’ while it is still obviously solid! In the same manner, something that is not acidic cannot logically become more acidic. It is, at best, grammatically careless to use those words.

Let’s see if I can further illuminate this point. Assume that you are observing a beam of cyan (blue-green) light (for purposes of analogy, let’s call it alkaline). You then add increasing amounts of red light (acid) to it. It is correct to say that the red component (hydrogen ions) is increasing. However, anyone observing the mixed beam would initially only see cyan light, with the saturation of the hue decreasing as more red light is added. Therefore, it would be sophistry to maintain that the beam was becoming more red when it was clearly still cyan. Only after becoming colorless would the light start to become perceptibly red (acidic). Then, there would be no disagreement that adding more red light (acid) would cause the beam to become more red (acidic) in appearance.

Note that when the term “ocean acidification” is used in recent publications, it is usually followed by the parenthetical explanation that it means a decrease in pH. I would suggest that is tacit acknowledgement that the readership – well-educated or not – is not expected to understand what “ocean acidification” means. That is because it is a new, inappropriate term!

The current use of “Ocean Acidification (OA),” has no historical precedent. Using Google Scholar to search for the first use of the term, it apparently was first used in the title of a Nature article in 2000; it subsequently showed up in numerous articles in 2005 and continues to today.

One of the first publications to use the misnomer “Ocean Acidification,” is a 2005 Royal Society (RS) article with twelve contributors. It refers to the UNESCO Symposium on the Ocean (2004), wherein some authors use the term “Ocean Acidification.” The RS article seems to be the primary source of many of the statements regarding the claimed decline in surface pH. Interestingly, their list of formal definitions does not include “Ocean Acidification” or “OA,” and it unconventionally claims pH is the acidity of a solution instead of the original, long-standing, hydrogen-ion concentration. That is, Krauskopf (1967), and others, formally define pH as follows: “The negative logarithm of the hydrogen-ion concentration.” (I was pleased to find that a current, local high school chemistry text (Sarquis & Sarquis, 2015) uses the conventional definition.) Only one of the RS article’s 162 citations uses the word “acidification” in the title of the article. Therefore, while this Royal Society publication is not the first to use OA, it is apparently a watershed event in what appears to be an attempt to change scientific vocabulary. They had a measure of success in introducing Newspeak because since 2005 there have been numerous published articles using “ocean acidification,” as well as NOAA websites.

The unconventional use of the term “acidity” in recent oceanography publications can be confusing, particularly when comparing the ‘acidity’ of ocean water with the real problems of Acid Rain and Acid Mine Drainage, and characterizing the water as having low acidity or high acidity. There should be consistency between different scientific disciplines that invoke chemistry.

The reason that the English language has so many words is to communicate subtleties. A reduction in vocabulary, such as avoiding using the word alkalinity, prevents communicating those nuances. Indeed, it may lead to false impressions. One of the regular contributors to the comment section of The Conversation blog was of the opinion that sinks in the limestone in Florida might be caused by the oceans having become ‘acidified.’ Therefore, whether the oceans are alkaline or acid is a distinction that makes a difference. Words should be used correctly and precisely so that meaning isn’t obscured and information reduced.

I have to ask why any writer would choose a phrase that conveys less information, is potentially confusing, and is tacitly pejorative. I can think of a few: The writer, 1) knows little about chemistry; 2) is sloppy and/or careless; 3) has little regard for communicating effectively; 4) is “ideologically motivated” and wants to heighten concern by using pejorative words (think disfigured by acid splashed in one’s face); or, 5) is unthinkingly using terminology used by others who were influenced by one or more of the preceding.

What is at issue here really is why some scientists would adopt a term that is a poor choice for communication. “Increasing acidification” is ambiguous at best and misleading at worst. It says something about the direction of change, but leaves readers clueless about where on the pH scale the change is taking place. For me, it implies that a solution is already acidic and is becoming more so. For laymen, it probably is similarly interpreted since most probably don’t know what a base is and what the differences in the characteristics of acids and bases are. However, writing for a well-educated audience, one can reasonably assume that most of the readers know the characteristics.

Therefore, I don’t know whether the current generation of oceanographers is less competent then their teachers were, or if they are embellishing for reasons they best know. If one is willing to distort facts to promote an ideology, then it really doesn’t matter how expert one is.

Scientists have a responsibility to not only do research, but to communicate it to their peers in clear, unambiguous ways. It helps if the communication is clear enough that even journalists can understand. I’m concerned that ideological motivations are taking precedence over good writing. In science, an ace beats a full house any day. Therefore, I’m not impressed that current scientists make the same mistake of describing alkaline sea water as becoming more acidic. Consequently, I’m asking for clarity in scientific writing so that people actually understand and not go away with the mistaken impression that the oceans are acidic.

In summary, recent research publications are using a term (OA) that is technically incorrect, misleading, and pejorative; it could not be found in the oceanography literature before about 15 years ago.

Part 2

Recent journal articles and media headlines have used “more” or “increasing” with “acid” as a root for a supposed lowering of the average pH of the oceans from 8.2 to 8.1. I say, “supposed,” because Sverdrup et al. (1963) state, “The pH encountered in the sea is between about 7.5 and 8.4.” Elsewhere, they say, “The pH of water in contact with the air will vary between about 8.1 and 8.3, depending upon the temperature and salinity of the water and the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” Similarly, the well-known Stanford geochemist Konrad Krauskopf (1967) states, “The pH of ocean water sampled near the surface is almost always between the narrow limits of 8.1 and 8.3. Locally and temporally it may deviate from this range, but by and large the pH stays surprisingly constant.” Thus, the claimed recent decline to an average pH of 8.1 from 8.2 is within the bounds of the typical range observed more than 50 years ago. Further, the claim has been made that the average pH of the oceans in pre-industrial times was 8.2; yet values as high as 8.3 were reported commonly 50 years ago. Thus, it would seem that neither the claimed values of 8.1 currently, or 8.2 150 years ago are credible. Unfortunately, the claims for the current “average” don’t specify whether the mean, median, or mode is intended. So much for ‘science!’

Interestingly, the Royal Society article (2005), mentioned in Part 1, has conflicting information. It states that, “The surface waters of the oceans are slightly alkaline, with an average pH of about 8.2, although this varies across the oceans by ±0.3 units because of local, regional and seasonal variations.” [p. 1]. They cite a paper (Caldeira & Wickett, 2003) that claims a decline of 0.1 pH units from pre-industrial times; there are no error bars provided to accompany this claimed value. They call this hydrogen ion increase (-0.1 pH) a “considerable increase,” after just acknowledging that the oceans typically vary ±0.3 units! In another contradiction, they re-state [p. 6], the above claim of a current average of 8.2 units; they then immediately cite a personal communication from Sabine [p. 7] that the average is 8.08 units. Table 1, [p. 13] lists an average surface pH of 8.07! What is the correct value? None of these claims provides estimates of the standard deviation. The paper also mentions the onerous 30% increase in hydrogen ion concentration, despite not stating a definitive value for the current average ocean-surface pH, nor the pre-industrial pH!

Caldeira and Wickett (2003) base their claims on modeling and literature review. Krauskopf (1967) has some cautionary observations for modelers. He remarks,

“These numbers give us a quantitative expression of the variation in the solubility of CaCO3 that we predicted from qualitative arguments in the last chapter. Our next move obviously should be to compare the theoretically derived numbers with actual measured concentrations of CaCO3 in natural solutions. The comparison is easily made, but it turns out to be most disillusioning. Concentrations of CaCO3 in natural waters are extremely variable and only rarely come close to the numbers predicted in the last few paragraphs. Low concentrations can be plausibly explained as the result of failure of solutions to reach equilibrium with solid carbonate. In many natural waters, however, the discrepancy is in the opposite direction; concentrations are embarrassingly high, much higher than can be accounted for even with generous assumptions about temperature, CO2 pressure, and acidity.”

He then goes on to offer possible explanations for these anomalously high values. This is important because pH is not the only factor to consider with respect to bioavailability of carbonate. However, the point is that predictions from modeling may be wrong and it is imperative to actually test these predictions. One last point that Karauskopf (1967) makes that modelers should take to heart is, “Seawater is a concentrated and exceedingly complex solution, containing electrolytes in great variety plus an abundance of living and dead organic material. The ordinary laws of dilute solution cannot be applied, or at best need great modification. The chemistry of seawater can be described fairly satisfactorily in general terms, but details about the behavior of even so simple a substance as CaCO3 remain obscure.” [My emphasis]

Despite the claims of a recent lowering of pH (without associated ranges or uncertainties), there is a lack of good evidence that there has actually been any significant changes in the pH of seawater. Indeed, Wallace (2015) takes strong exception to the claim because most of the historical data on ocean pH are not used. Apparently, According to Wallace (2015), the claim of pH decline is based on hindcasts from a computer model.

NOAA (2015) goes to some trouble to explain why it chooses not to use pH data acquired before 1989. One rationalization (Telford, 2015) for dismissing historical data is that poor sampling protocol renders the historical data useless and therefore only modern data are reliable and useful. Telford further complains that older data are not gridded. The only good data that one has is the measured data. Interpolating with a gridding program is a best-guess (with lots of implied assumptions) at intermediate-point values, but it doesn’t actually provide additional data for averaging. However, the same complaint could be made about all temperature data, and especially the historical data. Similarly, CO2 data are questionable. However, this creates a Catch 22 situation where any claims made about recent changes in measured quantities cannot then be validated by historical measurements!

It was formerly a truism that CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere and a single monitoring station at Mauna Loa was adequate to understand what was happening. However, recent OCO-2 satellite observations have shown that belief to be false. [See below] Incidentally, photosynthesis is essentially shut down in the northern hemisphere during Fall and, therefore, CO2 is not being scrubbed from the atmosphere by land plants. Yet, one doesn’t see much effect of fossil fuel burning (except possibly in China) of the magnitude assumed to be active. Notice too, that the CO2 is high around southern Greenland, yet the water pH is high!


Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Even taking the different color schemes into account, here is very little resemblance between the measured surface CO2 and the estimated pH of the surface seawater. That is, in part, because the effects of atmospheric CO2 are overwhelmed by photosynthetic activity, which consumes dissolved CO2, and upwelling from deep, cold, oxygen-depleted waters enriched in CO2 from the decomposition of organic matter. See the graphic immediately below and compare with the above. Note also that the Scientific American graphic gives no acknowledgment to the alkalinity of the seawater despite the pH range shown being entirely in the region of basic solutions!


Without a dense, random or uniform sampling grid, modern CO2 data (Mauna Loa post-1958, pre-OCO-2) are no better than the historical ocean pH data, or for that matter, quantitatively no better than historical temperature data! Clearly, when and where one samples will determine the observed pH. Because the question at hand is to what extent anthropogenic CO2 is influencing surface water pH, regions of coastal upwelling should be excluded from calculating averages and trends because it is not anthropogenic CO2 that creates low pH in upwelling along coastal areas. However, none of the stated values indicate whether this is done; presumably, upwelling is included in calculated ‘averages.’

We have more detailed spatial sampling, and more precision in pH measurements today; however, it doesn’t seem that there are any fundamental changes in our understanding. Concerns about instrumental precision are misplaced when there is disagreement about whether the average surface pH is 8.2 or 8.07, however. It is well known that the pH of seawater varies with dissolved CO2; CO2 decreases with increasing temperature, thus increasing pH. The pH also increases with salinity, which increases with increased evaporation rates (which in turn increases with increasing temperature), relative humidity, and windiness. Thus, there are observed diurnal, seasonal, and weather-related variations that perhaps weren’t fully appreciated 50 years ago. However, Sverdrup et al. (1963) remark that it is only under exceptional conditions, such as in hydrogen sulfide-rich ‘dead zones,’ that ocean water will even reach a pH of 7. Thus, current researchers are talking about ‘acidifying’ when seawater is unlikely to ever actually become acidic. In any event, considering that seawater is highly buffered, and it isn’t trivial to calculate carbonate precipitation and outgassing in such a highly buffered complex solution with several environmental variables, the forecast of an average pH of 7.8 – 7.9 in 85 years ( should probably be taken with a grain of salt [Please pardon the pun.].

Historical pH data are rejected by government agencies, thus depriving us of any measured benchmarks. The claim that the surface-water of the oceans has declined in pH from 8.2 to 8.1, since the industrial revolution, is based on sparse, contradictory evidence, at least some of which is problematic computer modeling. Some areas of the oceans, not subject to algal blooms or upwelling, may be experiencing slightly lower pH values than were common before the industrial revolution. However, forecasts for ‘average’ future pH values are likely exaggerated and of debatable consequences. The effects of alkaline buffering and stabilizing biological feedback loops seem to be underappreciated by those who carelessly throw around the inaccurate term “ocean acidification.” Claims should be examined carefully for unstated assumptions.



Anon [Ed], (2005), Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide; The Royal Society, UK, 59 pp.:

Caldeira, Ken and Wickett, Michael E., (2003), Oceanography: anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH; Nature, Vol. 425 Issue 6956, p. 365:

Doney, Scott C., (2006), The dangers of ocean acidification; Scientific American, p. 58-65.

Feely, Richard A., Sabine, Christopher L., and Fabry, Victoria J., (2006), Science Brief: Carbon dioxide and our ocean legacy; Ocean Legacy:

Gattuso, J-P, and Hansen, L., [ed.], (2011), Ocean acidification; Oxford Univ. Press, NY, p. 2.

Krauskopf, Konrad B., (1967), Introduction to geochemistry; McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 721 pp.

NOAA, (2015):

Sarquis, Mickey and Sarquis, Jerry L., (2015), Modern chemistry; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, NY, p. 475.

Sverdrup, H. U., Johnson, Martin W., and Fleming, Richard H., (1942, 1963), The oceans their physics, chemistry, and general biology; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1060 pp.

Telford, Richard, (2015), Musings on quantitative palaeoecology: Not pHraud but pHoolishness:

UNESCO, (2004), Symposium on the ocean in a high-CO2 world; Paris, France, 10-12 May 2004

Wallace, Michael, (2015),

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September 15, 2015 3:32 am

“The important point, which is usually overlooked in discussions of the chemistry of seawater, when talking about the hydrogen ion concentration, is that it is the ratio of hydrogen ions to hydroxyl ions that determines the chemical behavior.”
No, it doesn’t determine the chemical behavior. It has been known since at least G.N.Lewis in 1823 that acid-base behavior is far more general that the chemistry of H+/OH-, and is much better represented in terms of sharing electron pairs. In a buffered solution like sea water, there are far more abundant acids and bases than hydrogen/hydroxyl, and they are what determines acid/base activity. And in a solution of CO3–/HCO3- buffer, pH 7 is of no special consequence at all.
The reaction sequence that really matters is this. CO2 dissolves and reacts with CO3– to form HCO3-. This may involve intermediates such as water and H+, but they do not determine the extent of the reaction. CO3– has an electron pair to donate, and CO2 can receive it. Then the solubility equilibrium of CaCO3 shifts, and more (after some transport and diffusion) goes into solution. pH 7 has no significance here.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 4:53 am

CO2 dissolves and reacts with CO3– to form HCO3-.
gibberish. you have transmuted carbon dioxide into hydrogen.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 15, 2015 5:22 am

Nick: I’m disappointed. You take a statement of fact. “when talking about the hydrogen ion concentration” and move from pH : pOH ratios to Lewis bases. You could have brought up Bronstad too. Doesn’t change the fact that for dilute solutions, like sea water, pH + pOH = 14. Neither Lewis nor Bronstad disputed this. I come across this all the time in debates about climate. An assertion is made and the response is not to that assertion, but rather to something close, but irrelevant to the assertion. Then the response goes on to accuse the person making the assertion of being uninformed. I think the logic majors call that a straw man.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 15, 2015 1:09 pm

“move from pH : pOH ratios to Lewis bases”
Yes. The more general viewpoint is that there are many equilibria going on in a system like sea water, and H+/OH- is only one of them. You can use it as a descriptor, just as you can add litmus, and use the colorful state of that equilibrium as a descriptor. But the litmus isn’t determining what is happening, and neither is H+/OH-. The majority process is between the Lewis base CO3– and the Lewis acid CO2.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 15, 2015 5:46 pm

You are being too kind. Stokes is doing absolute gibberish. Down the page he throws in Lewis acid base theory and comes up with anything that isn’t pure water and strong acids and bases is really, really complex. Maybe he should throw in Bronsted-Lowry and Linnette structures. Besides, ferd, when you convert CO2 to Hydrogen, you get a whale of a lot of energy. Maybe that’s Nick’s whole explanation for global warming.
When I read the expert climate chemist’s explanations of horribly acidic pH 8.1 I have to go back and check to see if things have changed in the last half century. Nope, the same 4 elements and phlogiston is still the same.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 15, 2015 10:59 pm

“anything that isn’t pure water and strong acids and bases is really, really complex.”
Well, I’m sorry, but sea water is complex. It has multiple species with acid-base capacity, and for each combination there is an equilibrium expression that has to be satisfied. That isn’t controversial.
The good news is that there is overall, allowing for conservation rules as well, only a small number of degrees of freedom, and for the carbonate story, only two that matter. To answer ferd’s distraction, the hydrogen comes not from transmutation, but the more mundane hydration:
CO2 + CO3– + H2O ⇔ 2HCO3-
The other good news is that Lewis theory simplifies it all. CO2 enters the sea, and is looking for an electron pair (acid). CO3– has them (base). How they sort that out is detail.
For seawater carbonate, there is a gadget here that will let you play with the relations.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 16, 2015 11:58 am

Nick: When you say: “Yes. The more general viewpoint is that there are many equilibria going on in a system like sea water, and H+/OH- is only one of them.” You are doubling down on your misdirection. The author wasn’t talking about other equilibria. The author was talking about hydrogen ion concentration. You even quoted it. The fact that there are other equilibria is irrelevant to his (correct) point.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 16, 2015 12:13 pm

The statement that I took issue with, and quoted, was
“is that it is the ratio of hydrogen ions to hydroxyl ions that determines the chemical behavior”
It doesn’t determine anything. It is an indicator. Those species are present in very small concentration.
But that isn’t just that. The issue being beaten up is the supposed centrality of pH 7. I don’t care much about the language aspect, but that is a serious chemical misconception. pH 7 is the central point of just one “buffer”, H/OH. There are real buffers there with much more abundant species, and that is what determines the acid/base activity.
It was noted elsewhere that blood is at pH 7.4, and if you drop below 7.35 you are very ill, with acidosis. That last term recognises the buffer that really matters there, which is again the bicarbonate system. 7.35 is toward the acid end of its range, which is what counts. Saying “but I’m alkaline” won’t save you. You are talking about the wrong buffer.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 5:28 am

It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that CO2 bubbling up on the floor of the ocean in various locations is deleterious to the organisms normally found there.

Mmmmmm! Is this an iron clad rule?

5 June 2015
A new study led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that the coral reefs there seem to be defying the odds, showing none of the predicted responses to low pH except for an increase in bioerosion — the physical breakdown of coral skeletons by boring organisms such as mollusks and worms. The paper is to be published June 5 in the journal Science Advances……
‘Surprisingly, in Palau where the pH is lowest, we see a coral community that hosts more species, and has greater coral cover than in the sites where pH is normal,’ says Anne Cohen, a co-author on the study and Barkley’s advisor at WHOI. ‘That’s not to say the coral community is thriving because of it, rather it is thriving despite the low pH, and we need to understand how.’…..
December 1, 2009
In CO2-rich Environment, Some Ocean Dwellers Increase Shell Production
In a striking finding that raises new questions about carbon dioxide’s (CO2) 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)…..
But in a study published in the Dec. 1 issue of Geology, a team led by former WHOI postdoctoral researcher Justin B. Ries found that seven of the 18 shelled species they observed actually built more shell when exposed to varying levels of increased acidification…..

Reply to  Jimbo
September 15, 2015 6:08 am

Papua New Guinea corals and bubbles of co2.
Coral Reef at Dobu Island, Milne Bay, PNG, with carbon dioxide bubbling through it (photo: Bob Halstead) image

The other Casper
Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 6:08 am

Where we’re talking about an aqueous solution like seawater — where we have a little bit of other stuff dissolved in a whole lot of water — then usually it is reasonable to say that acid/base chemical behavior is all about the concentrations of H+ and OH-, or the ratio of the two . That’s because a Lewis Acid of any significant strength is quickly going to take OH- from one of the many H2O molecules surrounding it, to free up an H+ . And similarly, a Lewis Base of any significant strength is quickly going to take H+ from one of the many water molecules surrounding it.
CO2 is a Lewis Acid, and most of its acid/base chemistry in water stems from the fact that some of it reacts with water thus:
CO2 + H2O -> H+ + HCO3-
The H+ can subsequently react with anything else in the solution, but the reaction above typically happens first, because there so much water around each bit of CO2..

Reply to  The other Casper
September 15, 2015 12:26 pm

H+ is an indicator of what is happening. And an intermediate, so as you say, H+ may be formed and go off to react with something else. But it doesn’t drive anything. It is at all stages present in very small amount. And pH 7 has no critical role in that intermediate function.
“the reaction above typically happens first”
When you start looking into intermediate stages, it’s pretty hard to decide what happened first. Here, for example, is a recent paper emphasising that the first stage is hydration of CO2, and you can probably split that into stages if you want. But the merit of the Lewis viewpoint is that you can follow the electron pair – see where it starts wnd where it ends.

Reply to  The other Casper
September 20, 2015 11:33 am

In water, and especially in less-than-highly-concentrated aqueous solution, the dominant acid/base pair is H+ to OH-. Those are the strongest acid and base that can exist in water (under normal circumstances). Any acid stronger than water creates H+ (H3O+) and any base stronger than water creates OH-. Therefore, the acidity/alkalinity of an aqueous solution is best described in terms of H+ (H3O+) concentration or pH. This is rudimentary first semester chemistry.
Lewis acidity/basicity strictly becomes Bronsted-Lowry acidity/basicity in water. Look at ammonia, a Lewis base. Dissolve it in water and it reacts to make (NH4)+ and OH-. Conversely, many metal ions that are Lewis acids will complex with water molecules and hydrolyze, making H+ ions.
In water determining acidity and basicity is entirely dominated by H+ and OH-, period.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 8:04 am

Nick Stokes says:
pH 7 has no significance here.
The significance is reflected in the title:
Are the Oceans Becoming More Acidic?
The proper answer: No, the oceans are becoming more neutral.
But “acidic” is a more alarming term, so of course climate alarmists prefer it.

Reply to  dbstealey
September 15, 2015 9:12 am

Exactly, right on the mark.

george e. smith
Reply to  dbstealey
September 15, 2015 12:01 pm

Anybody know of a case where the peak to peak range of the averages of a raw data stream can ever exceed the peak to peak range of the raw data stream itself. ??
Seems intuitive that averaging any set of data must reduce the p-p range.
So if that OCO-2 map of average CO2 covers a 15.5 ppm range, then the raw CO2 range must be greater than 15.5 ppm.
That would amount to something like 10-15 years of increase in Mauna Loa CO2.
Doesn’t sound to me, like CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere; or anything like well mixed.

Reply to  dbstealey
September 17, 2015 3:27 pm

Are the Oceans Becoming More Acidic?
One could say the ocean is becoming less caustic, which would be as accurate as saying acidifying but with the opposite pejorative.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 1:50 pm

“G.N.Lewis in 1823”
Sorry – typo. 1923.

September 15, 2015 3:44 am

OA is the new global warming. BS all the way down.

Reply to  Alex
September 15, 2015 6:37 am

If everyone stopped inflating numbers, using relative factors and reporting without context, not only the Global Warming but the Health Promotion industry would also collapse overnight into a steaming pile of BS!

Reply to  Goldrider
September 15, 2015 8:03 am

Spot On! Too bad that can’t be on interstate hwy billboards.

September 15, 2015 3:46 am

“It was formerly a truism that CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere and a single monitoring station at Mauna Loa was adequate to understand what was happening.”
It was never so. There has been for many years a global network of monitoring stations, which give concordant results. And the notion of variability did not come in with OCO2. Here is a movie of CO2 in 2004, from the CarbonTracker program that goes back to at least 2007:

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 5:01 am

“Here is a movie of CO2 in 2004…..that goes back to 2007…”
Now there is some fancy footwork!

Reply to  gaelansclark
September 15, 2015 5:39 am

Monitoring stations and cherry picks? An interesting read with insights.

December 23, 2014
Touchy Feely Science – one chart suggests there’s a ‘pHraud’ in omitting Ocean Acidification data in Congressional testimony
….Mike Wallace is a hydrologist with nearly 30 years’ experience, who is now working on his Ph.D. in nanogeosciences at the University of New Mexico. In the course of his studies, he uncovered a startling data omission that he told me: “eclipses even the so-called climategate event.” Feely’s work is based on computer models that don’t line up with real-world data—which Feely acknowledged in email communications with Wallace (which I have read). And, as Wallace determined, there is real world data. Feely, and his coauthor Dr. Christopher L. Sabine, PMEL Director, omitted 80 years of data, which incorporate more than 2 million records of ocean pH levels…..

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 5:54 am

Nick: Funny. I was under the impression that Mauna Loa was adequate to understand what was happening. If the global network of monitoring stations give concordant results, then that impression is correct. Mauna Loa IS adequate to understand what was happening. It is only in the case that: the global network is discordant with Mauna Loa; that it is not sufficient to understand what was happening. Or are you agreeing with the author that the CO2 trend from Mauna Loa that is so often cited (I bet you can find it in seconds at SkS) is a poor representation of the level of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Reply to  John Eggert
September 15, 2015 1:01 pm

Mauna Loa is a good representation of what is happening in the atmosphere. They find that out after tracking all the other sites that they do. And yes, there is a much studied level of fluctuation, in time and space, superimposed on the general rise of CO2. But the author here is saying that it was a “truism” that CO2 was well mixed, and that OCO2 showed that to be false. That is nonsense.
Here is an AIRS map of CO2 variation that WUWT was discussing back in 2008

Reply to  Nick Stokes
September 15, 2015 8:07 am

Nick Stokes,
There is no trend in ocean pH as measured in the intake pipe for the Monterey Bay aquarium located a half mile offshore:comment image
If there’s a change in pH it must be measurable to falsify the Null Hypothesis. Otherwise, it just doesn’t matter.

Reply to  dbstealey
September 16, 2015 8:23 pm

The aquarium inlet is in an upwelling zone of the Pacific and its pH highly depends of the amount of upwelling from the deep, that is not representative for the bulk of the ocean surface.
As I am travelling in de US, I have no access to my references, but there are several stations where ocean pH was monitored over longer time. Bermuda and Hawaii have the longest series and show a small decline.

September 15, 2015 3:49 am

Thank you for the Chemistry lesson. Much appreciated.

Reply to  rockyspears
September 15, 2015 4:28 am

Yes, a great summary…well worth the time to work through. Good to have some reliable scientific ammunition for discussions on this topic. This is exactly what makes WUWT so valuable. Many thanks to you and Anthony for all your efforts over the years/decades.

Reply to  rockyspears
September 15, 2015 5:00 am

Yes, nice article. In particular the idea that if it is -15C outside one day, how would describe the next day being -10C ? The block of ice becoming more liquid is another good illustration.

Reply to  Mike
September 15, 2015 5:57 am

Those are the things I look for; simple, easily demonstrated to others. I am not a scientist so this sort of stuff helps a lot.

Reply to  Mike
September 15, 2015 6:56 am

The analogy I like, because it doesn’t involve a phase change, is how absurd it would be to say of a man whose weight fell from 310 to 300 pounds, that he was “becoming skinnier.”

Reply to  Mike
September 15, 2015 1:41 pm

rogerknights – I refer to this as “weight anorexification”.

Reply to  Mike
September 15, 2015 8:32 pm

I have always come from the other direction where water temperature declining from 45 degrees to 42 degrees is becoming more frozen.

Reply to  rockyspears
September 15, 2015 6:15 am

Here is another lesson.

Abstract – December 19, 2011
Gretchen E. Hofmann et al
High-Frequency Dynamics of Ocean pH: A Multi-Ecosystem Comparison
………. These observations reveal a continuum of month-long pH variability with standard deviations from 0.004 to 0.277 and ranges spanning 0.024 to 1.430 pH units. The nature of the observed variability was also highly site-dependent, with characteristic diel, semi-diurnal, and stochastic patterns of varying amplitudes. These biome-specific pH signatures disclose current levels of exposure to both high and low dissolved CO2, often demonstrating that resident organisms are already experiencing pH regimes that are not predicted until 2100……..
…..and (2) in some cases, seawater in these sites reaches extremes in pH, sometimes daily, that are often considered to only occur in open ocean systems well into the future [46]. …..
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028983
Abstract – 2011
Will ocean acidification affect marine microbes?
……….Useful comparisons can be made with microbes in other aquatic environments that readily accommodate very large and rapid pH change. For example, in many freshwater lakes, pH changes that are orders of magnitude greater than those projected for the twenty second century oceans can occur over periods of hours. Marine and freshwater assemblages have always experienced variable pH conditions. Therefore, an appropriate null hypothesis may be, until evidence is obtained to the contrary, that major biogeochemical processes in the oceans other than calcification will not be fundamentally different under future higher CO2/lower pH conditions.

David A
Reply to  Jimbo
September 16, 2015 2:31 am

Jimbo, thank you for all your highly informative posts!

September 15, 2015 3:54 am

Clyde, excellent article, I agree totally with you that “ocean acidification” is an emotive, unscientific term. I am currently in Marbella, Spain where to the advantage of geeks such as myself, they have sensors in the sea. Temperature 20 Celsius, pH 8.4, which I would say is a healthy alkaline with no detriment to creatures who rely on calcium carbonate.

Reply to  andrewmharding
September 15, 2015 3:56 am

Should have said that the sea is the Mediterranean for those who are not familiar with Spain

Gerry, England
Reply to  andrewmharding
September 15, 2015 5:42 am

Of course the warmists use ‘ocean acidification’ as it is part of their propaganda to try to scare the people to demand action – although the UN survey had climate change bottom of the class for world problems. I complained about the use of the term in a Daily Mail article and their weak response was to say that the term was used in the report. I should have then taken them to task for inept journalism in not pointing out it was misuse of the term by the warmist Royal Society.

Reply to  Gerry, England
September 15, 2015 6:40 am

The most pathetic part is they have MOST useful idiots actually believing that human “action” would have an effect on climate. Or ocean “acidification.”

Reply to  andrewmharding
September 15, 2015 7:19 am

Where’s the outrage over the use of the terms “metabolic acidosis” and “acidemia” when referring to a drop in blood pH below normal levels, but still above 7? Debate the semantics all you want, it doesn’t change the actual process.

Reply to  pd2413
September 15, 2015 9:07 am

Your point is valid, but trivial; it is as one little proton in a sea of carbonate.
It serves to show the weakness of linguistic preoccupation with analogies like ‘warming’ but it doesn’t begin to address the fact that ‘acid’ is an emotive term for the average Joe and is deliberately used because of that.

Reply to  pd2413
September 16, 2015 4:42 am

No Mebbe, you’re wrong, the use of ‘acid’ in ‘acidify’, ‘acidosis’ is scientific use to indicate addition or excess production of H+. Your reference to “one little proton in a sea of carbonate” is nonsense, in your blood normal pH is ~7.4, if it drops below 7.35 (acidemia) and is untreated you die!

Reply to  pd2413
September 16, 2015 9:26 am

I’m disappointed that you didn’t appreciate my attempt at humour.
I thought the proton in the carbonate sea was sufficiently silly that no-one could take it literally.
I will attempt to paraphrase for the impatient, literalist reader;
The observation that acidosis occurs well above pH 7 scores a point against those offering linguistic examples as convincing proof on the other side of the argument, but it doesn’t go far in the discussion of whether ‘acidification’ is a politically contrived term in media articles about oceans.
Thus, my opening words; ‘Your point is valid…’
Your reply to me is an illustration of just how easy it is to get the wrong end of the language stick.
Personally, I don’t care much about attempting to reform journalistic terminology on this or any topic, since it would be an endless whack-a-mole. (figure of speech!)

September 15, 2015 4:04 am

The subtitle misquotes William James and does not make sense as worded. This version is often seen; “There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough”. I don’t have the original reference.

Reply to  Hamish Griffiths
September 15, 2015 5:03 am

Thanks, I also noted that there was some careless, ill-constructed grammar in the supposed citation.

Reply to  Hamish Griffiths
September 15, 2015 5:15 am


September 15, 2015 4:12 am

You got them sussed. Alarmists know full well they’re corrupting the language by asserting the oceans are becoming ‘more acidic’. It’s done intentionally with one purpose in mind – to mislead.
I also believe ‘ocean acidification’ is right up there with ‘extreme weather’, ‘global energy imbalance’ and ‘rotten ice’ as a deliberate attempt to expand hysteria beyond the single indicator of global temperatures, hence it’s just an insurance policy designed to prop up AGW theory when warming goes missing.

Reply to  cheshirered
September 15, 2015 4:37 am

When I read “Global Energy Imbalance” I would like to see some empirical proof, not some computer model(s) that the chaotic system that is Earth was ever in “balance”. If life on Earth ever depended upon some sort of fragile balance, it would never have emerged from the Primordial Soup.

george e. smith
Reply to  Aussiebear
September 15, 2015 12:09 pm

Well Aussiebear, you of all critters ought to know that we are just drifting around in the ” Goldilocks Zone ” trying to get comfortable.
Speaking of comfortable; do you really use Charmin; or do they pay you to say that ??

Paul Coppin
September 15, 2015 4:16 am

I know we beat this to death the other day, but, STOP IT! The oceans CANNOT become more acidic, until they become acidic in the first place! For now, they can become less basic, until they are neutral. THEN they can become acidic and moreso. This is gettig beyond stupid. Its like saying that red is becoming less red until it becomes blue, with purple being being neutral, or the number 10 is becoming more negative if you subtract 1 to get 9. All that is happening here is that with each global warming/climate change pronouncement, the left is becoming more stupid….

Reply to  Paul Coppin
September 15, 2015 4:36 am

Paul: It’s one of the reasons I recently left WUWT, and stopped generally replying (this is only my second reply since, and on the same subject). I only read WUWT now, rather than contributing. It was bad enough when we had to put up with some contributors who aren’t the full ticket, but when a post is actually authored by someone who cannot get even the terminology correct, then I’m out. ‘Pause’ is wrong. ‘Acidification’ is wrong. I almost left last year when Monkcton criticised the US nuclear bombing of Japan (and yes, I’m English, not American). It was/is pathetic to look at the bombing with hindsight eyes. We were at war, and it WAS necessary and justified. Monkcton simply showed how foolish he is at times. And I’m not going to actually state the reason why I left (because it will start off a whole debate!). I sincerely wish WUWT (and Anthony) well, but there has to be better editing and control of authored posts. In my opinion (for what it’s worth) it has dumbed down. As you say, we seem to have entered an Alice In Wonderland with people like ‘Kip’ where words can mean whatever we want them to mean. Have fun, all.

Reply to  cockneybloke
September 15, 2015 4:49 am

No one is perfect, but this site fills a need. I agree with you about most of what you wrote, including that particular author, but your input is valuable. If you don’t comment, others will speak in your place.
I always enjoyed our discussions, ‘cockneybloke’. Where else will you comment, if not here? Maybe you have other reasons to go away as you indicated, but I hope you reconsider. Everything is being ‘dumbed down’ in our modern, Orwellian society. But here at least we can push back a little.

Reply to  cockneybloke
September 15, 2015 5:18 am

Did any of you 2 actually READ the article? Because the author is making the same point.

Reply to  cockneybloke
September 15, 2015 6:25 am

Many thanks. Yes, I enjoyed our discussions, and I also enjoyed Willis’ posts – always so informative. I have stopped commenting anywhere now – too many odd people! I have started my own blog, but even that remains unfinished. Good health to you.
Yes, I was fully aware of that, it’s why I didn’t criticise Clyde’s actual post here, which is very good, and I hope he posts more. I was merely echoing Paul’s comment. I especially liked Clyde’s dig at the Royal Society, a special dislike of mine.

richard verney
Reply to  cockneybloke
September 15, 2015 7:21 am

As regards the bombing of Japan it is not a question of looking at it with hindsight, but rather was it, at the time in 1945, irresponsible and/or reckless to release such a nuclear radioactive burst knowing the dangers behind radiation. At the time, scientists were well aware that radiation was a killer (heck it was thought that Madam Currie died as a result of being exposed to radiation) and that radiation has a lengthy half life. There had been no airbourne testing of nuclear bombs, and ground testing gave little insight.
So leaving aside the power of the bomb (in comparison to tons of TNT), the issue is was it irresponsible/reckless to release such a radioactive burst not knowing what the effects of exposure to that radiation would cause in the short, medium, and long term on all life (I include plant, insect, animal and human life) in the area, and whether the ground would become contaminated with radioactivity with knock on effect on water (surface run off/contamination of water table/aquifers), causing yet more detriment.
We now know that the short and medium term effect was bad, but the long term effect (whilst still being felt today) is relatively small. However, it could have been a lot lot worse; we just did not know, and we are lucky that it was not worse.
Further, whilst there is usually no good way of dying in a war, it should not be forgotten that many of the victims died a slow and horrible death. Much akin to torture, with no drugs to ease the pain/passing. Those that died instantly were the lucky ones. The manner of death is also a consideration, and that is why the world abhors the use of chemical weapons, which may well kill far less than a large bomb (look at the outrage of the allegations of the usage of chemical weapons in the Middle East where the number of victims, in relative terms, is small, compared to the general death toll in the region through the various on going hostilities). What consideration was given to the way in which civilians were going to die as a consequence of the bomb? I suspect that little thought was given to that (but I may be wrong; perhaps they knew that there would be a slow and protracted painful death for tens of thousands of civilians, but could not give a damn, or thought that that was a price worth paying – it being mere collateral damage in the theatre of war).
I fully accept that there is a strong argument that the bombs shortened the war, and saved lives, but that does not meant that the action was not irresponsible or reckless or cavalier.
I would suggest that it is only with the benefit of hindsight that the use of the bombs can be justified; namely it has kept world peace these past 70 years. But for the bombing of Japan, I doubt that that would have happened so it is not a question that it shortened WW2 and saved lives in WW2 (which undoubtedly it did achieve), it has also to date prevented WW3 (or at any rate postponed it). It is for that, which the present generations should be thankful and should be grateful for the suffering of the Japanese civilian population, and the present generations should strive to ensure that that suffering was not in vein and that there never comes a day when WW3 starts.

Reply to  richard verney
September 15, 2015 8:07 am

This is wildly off topic, all further comments related to bombing will go to the bit bucket.

Reply to  cockneybloke
September 15, 2015 9:12 am

cockneybloke September 15, 2015 at 4:36 am
What you appear to deem a cameo is more aptly named a flounce.
Mind the door!

Leonard Weinstein
Reply to  Paul Coppin
September 15, 2015 5:16 am

Paul, did you bother to read the post before you replied? The post makes the same point you make and you act like it made the opposite point. I think you are just replying to the title.

Reply to  Leonard Weinstein
September 15, 2015 5:19 am


Paul Coppin
Reply to  Leonard Weinstein
September 15, 2015 2:02 pm

Yes. I understand his post, the chemistry, and what he was trying to say. My comment could have been more clear. What I’m taking exception to is the title. In the short news cycle/short attention span/meme-driven world of today, all the title does is reinforce the dominant meme: “the oceans are becoming more acidic”. All the title does for the skimmer or the echo chambre is create a validation of the meme. There are umpteen articles from the sciencey press that state that the oceans are becoming “more acidic”. Another article that reframes the same question with the same language only enhances the meme – the casual semi-disengaged reader probably won’t even read it. +1 for the acid ocean contingent.
Why are we afraid to state what what we are really challenging – the question of whether or not the oceans are becoming less, or varying in their alkalinity, or their basic nature? If you want to get people to read the article AND come to terms with the real issue -introduce the real issue! Are the oceans becoming less alkaline? Are the oceans becoming less basic? Challenge the reader to want to inquire as what the article is all about. The oceans aren’t acidic now, so why re-inforce the concept that they are? Take the opposite tack – the valid tack, and pull people to an understanding of the truth.

Steve Case
Reply to  Paul Coppin
September 15, 2015 5:58 am

“Ten becoming more negative if you subtract one to get nine.”
Ha ha ha ha!
Probably the best analogy of the lot.

September 15, 2015 4:20 am

Excellent chemical background information, which 99% of the people who talk about ocean acidification lack. Thus, so much nonsense is spread! The comparison of regional ocean pH-data and atmospheric CO2-data is also very nice. Satellite results for atmospheric CO2-data should be shown more often to demonstrate the real sources of CO2. Those data are hardly published because they are so inconvenient.

Reply to  Otto Weinzierl
September 16, 2015 8:38 pm

Sorry to disappoint you, but while I appreciate the first chapter, the CO2 analogy is nonsense, Over the seasons abut 20% of all CO2 in the atmosphere is taken away by biosphere and oceans and put back within the same year, The OCO-2 sattelite only shows 6 weeks of data, but even so, the difference is only 2% of full scale, I call that well mixed…
All (over 70) stations show worldwide the same trends for yearly averages, with a small delay between ground level and height and between the NH and SH. Which shows that the source of extra CO2 is in the NH…

September 15, 2015 4:24 am

I still have to ask. How the worlds oceans seem to selectively pick and choose to absorb the 4% of the 0.04% of the worlds atmospheric CO2 to then become “acidic”. Is the other 96% standing in some sort of queue saying “You go first”?

Reply to  Aussiebear
September 15, 2015 4:40 am

You don’t understand these things because you are not an outstanding scientist – like Al Gore or Tim Flannery.

Reply to  Aussiebear
September 15, 2015 9:48 am

Some of the CO2 is absorbed physically in solution, like air. but this a very limited. The rest is governed by an equilibrium between CO2, carbonic acid (H2CO3), bicarbonate (HCO3-), carbonate (CO3=) and hydrogen ions, H+. That is why most of the CO2 will not be absorbed by the oceans.

Reply to  Aussiebear
September 15, 2015 6:15 pm

A bit of chemistry borrowed from Wikipedia……
When carbon dioxide dissolves in water it exists in chemical equilibrium producing carbonic acid:
CO2 + H2O is in equilibrium with H2CO3
The hydration equilibrium constant at 25 °C is called Kh, which in the case of carbonic acid is [H2CO3]/[CO2] ≈ 1.7×10−3 in pure water and ≈ 1.2×10−3 in seawater. Hence, the majority of the carbon dioxide is not converted into carbonic acid, remaining as CO2 molecules. In the absence of a catalyst, the equilibrium is reached quite slowly.
So the C02 is not in a queue….it’s splashing around in the ocean as C02 molecules having little effect on carbonic acid or pH

Reply to  GregK
September 16, 2015 7:16 am

Sorry GregK but you’re totally wrong. CO2 dissolves in water forming carbonic acid which immediately is converted reversibly into bicarbonate ions and protons which can then be converted reversibly into carbonate ions and protons. The equilibrium position is that most of the CO2 absorbed is in the form of bicarbonate ions, carbonic acid is a transitional form between the two stable forms, CO2 and HCO3-. Increase the CO2 in the atmosphere and the equilibrium position changes so as to lower pH.

Reply to  Aussiebear
September 16, 2015 8:46 pm

The problem is that the 96% is simply recycling back and forth over the seasons, while the 4% is one-way additional. For the current ocean temperature, the CO2 level would be around 295 ppmv. We are at 400 ppmv, that means that more CO2 is entering the oceans from the atmosphere than reverse.
The ocean don´t make a differentiation between the origin of the CO2, onlly react on the total CO2, which is higher than can be expected from the natural dynamic equilibrium, per Henry´s law. In this case, mainly from the human contribution…

September 15, 2015 4:42 am

Ocean Acidification is a Political Correct term, not a scientifically correct term. Similar to Global Warming and Climate Change, its purpose is to convery a belief system, not an observational system.

September 15, 2015 4:53 am

“This is often termed “ocean acidification” because it describes the
process of decreasing pH. Current projections of ocean acidification
suggest that
the pH of surface ocean waters will continue to decline. However, the
term can also lead to confusion
when it is wrongly assumed that the oceans will become acidic, when in
reality, ocean pH is never expected to fall below 7.0; i.e., the
oceans are becoming
less basic, but not acidic. Such a phenomenon could
only occur in the unlikely event that CO2 emissions
reach more than 10,000 Pg C (Caldeira and Wickett,

September 15, 2015 5:11 am

Excellent article. This lib arts guy has a great appreciation for the subtleties made possible by the English language, especially when one practices to deceive.

September 15, 2015 5:11 am

Excellent exposition. Thank you very much.
I was already satisfied that the ‘ acidification ‘ numbers were largely unsupported by observation, but was especially intrigued by your comparison of the OCO-2 map with the Ocean pH map. Of course, we have to note that the OCO-2 result is just a snapshot, and a seasonal one at that (and we are all waiting with considerable interest for the longer-term results from the satellite) so we’ll be cautious about inference. But I do note that there some of the areas with the lowest pH – notably the Arabian Sea and wide stretches of the Indian Ocean and the coast of Central America- not only do not show a correlation with high atmospheric CO2, but also are not particularly short of carbonate reef-building organisms! We may find that the species makeup of coral assemblages changes with pH, but it would astonishing if gross destruction of coral occurred at the kind of ‘acidification’ levels we are speculating about.
By the way, am I spelling acidification okay? The spellchecker keeps on cutting in! Haven’t they heard it’s all happening?

Antti Naali
September 15, 2015 5:29 am

What should the atmospheric CO2 concentration be to get 0,5 or 1 unit lower pH of (surface) seawater, everything else being equal?

Owen in GA
Reply to  Antti Naali
September 15, 2015 10:08 am

That is not as easy a calculation as you may think. The atmospheric levels are modified by the uptake capacity of the ocean and the pH is modified by the amount of buffering chemicals in the Ocean. The temperature of the ocean surface controls the uptake rate. The whole thing is dependent on how much CO2 is bound up in limestone precipitates and how much is free to form carbonic acid verses the mass of water overall. Loads of variables that have to reach equilibrium (which never happens in the real climate where the only constant is change.)
Rather than the atmospheric concentration, maybe we can calculate how much CO2 would have to be absorbed by the oceans to make that change in buffered pH and work backwards to resultant atmospheric levels. It is still more work than I want to do, but my back of envelop estimate is “more CO2 than we have fossil fuels to burn…”

Geoff Sherrington
September 15, 2015 5:40 am

More formally, pH is defined as the negative log of the hydrogen ion ACTIVITY, not concentration. In other than dilute solutions, one should properly calculate the activity coefficient. That can be done, though it requires a measure of all other ionic species in the sample.
Geoff (chemist)

Dave in Delaware
September 15, 2015 5:59 am

You can’t be too careful with your analytic protocols.
During my industrial manufacturing days, we made an aqueous product to a specification range pH = 8.0 to 8.3. A valued customer would occasionally reject a truckload shipment stating the pH as received was below specification (less than the required 8.0 minimum). On return of the truck, we would re-sample the product and recheck both the retained sample from before shipment and the re-sample, and would always find them to be within the specification. Needless to say, this was creating an issue between supplier and customer.
We brought in a respected and independent Analytical Chemist, who met with both supplier and customer, and reviewed the protocols at both sites. He found that both sites were using proper sampling and testing protocols, and that the analytical standardization and tests were being run to protocol. He even accompanied a truckload to observe at both ends, and did indeed see a different analytical result between the sites.
The answer was …. the pH meters themselves. Both sites were using high quality pH meters from two different nationally recognized brands. The pH meters determine the reading relative to an internal electronic reference standard voltage. It turns out the reference was just enough different between brands to cause an offset of roughly 0.15 in the pH reading. So if we shipped product at 8.0 or 8.1, they would measure it as below the required 8.0 minimum. The issue was resolved by using BOTH brands of pH meter at the supplier, to ensure that all shipments to this customer would be correct according the the customers standard.
So when I read statements about historical pH shifts of 0.1 around the 8 to 8.3 range, I know that even using a different meter could cause that kind of change.

Reply to  Dave in Delaware
September 15, 2015 10:46 am

I am a process chemist. To me, that means I understand the processes I am responsible for as well as anyone possibly can. I get into the weeds in only a few things. This particular subject is one I start digging into the roots of the weeds on, I love it.
I see the same thing in “on-line” pH instruments (and my handheld/portables). The difference can simply be the age of the probe, age of the meter, the environment in which the instruments reside (hot/cold, sunlight/dark – on open water or sides of the instruments), combination probe vs separate reference sensor, grounding of the instrument/stray currents or EMF, and other factors I’m not remembering.
Am example in this facility’s demineralized water plant: two pH meters, identical “transmitter”/displays but one sensing element is a “combo” probe where the KCl reference, pH sensor, temperature sensor, and solution ground are all in a single barrel of plastic. The other is a bundle where the reference, sensors, and solution ground are all individual and replacable probes inserted into a sample flow through cup. I can calibrate both to within 1% of a 100%/53mV per decade slope with the exact same buffers (demineralized water, 0.057 uS/cm conductance, rinses) and after returning them to the process sample, the variance can be as much as pH 0.2, so as others have mentioned…..
The idea that a pH change of 0.1 units is alarming?! Hillarious and scoffable at best – alarming that the general populous paid so little attention in physical science at worst.

Reply to  PRD
September 16, 2015 2:43 pm

A change in pH of 0.1 in your blood is enough to kill you, it’s not the magnitude of the difference that counts but where it is, 7.35 to 7.25 in human blood is potentially fatal, 7.45 to 7.35 possibly ok.

Reply to  PRD
September 16, 2015 8:57 pm

That is the reason that glass electrode measurements were abandoned for ocean pH measurements, too insccurate… Nowadays they use colorometric methods accurate to 0.001 pH unit and-or calculate the pH from other oceanic properties (alkalinity. dissolved inorganic carbon, salt content,…).
Good for fish that they don´t swim in blood. Most fish has no problems with one pH unit difference within a day, neither does corals…

September 15, 2015 6:19 am

Unless all measurements are standardized by using the same electrode and brought to 25 deg C, the observed variations in Ocean water pH could be duo solely to temperature variations according to the Nernst Equation (Sorry, you will have to look it up).
Neutral pH at 0 deg C is 7,47, neutral pHat 25 deg C is 7.00.

September 15, 2015 6:25 am

Excellent (Extremely good; outstanding.)! Thank you Clyde Spencer for your uncommon sense!

Alexander Carpenter
September 15, 2015 6:38 am

Have I missed something in this article? In particular, any mention of decreased solubility of CO2 in warmer water? This adds a whole ‘nother variable to the dynamic chemistry of carbonic acid, for when sea water warms its CO2 concentration goes down. This can skew and undermine a conversation in much the same way that failure to mention that availability of water is as much a limiting factor in the size of tree rings as is temperature — thereby undermining the value of tree-ring proxies for temperature. This is just another example of the chaos not encompassed by conventional science about a complex non-linear system that tends to stabilize itself within a locally variable range in response to local changes in its components — that then get diluted out and (almost) disappear in the whole. Note that I am not using the word “chaos” in its political sense, but in its modern complexity-science sense.

Reply to  Alexander Carpenter
September 15, 2015 7:30 am

Yes, interpreting an event by randomly isolating a single factor involved in that event is the stuff of politics and pulp novels. It is not science.
It is applicable in certain situations, such as poisoning. The death of a complex system like a living body can be determined to have died by the direct effect of a poison.
CO2 is treated like a poison to the climate but contrary to poisoning where the changes in chemistry, specific systems affected, how they are affected and in what order causing the organism to shutdown has not been close to being determined in climate science. The proof of anthropogenic CO2 being the singular cause of climate change is about as proven as witches being the singular cause of climate change.

Reply to  Alexander Carpenter
September 15, 2015 10:50 am

How dare you question the carbon dioxide gods!! Ye shall not speak of this ever again, lest ye be visited by the Algorian demons!
Yeah, you mention this to a warmer and they immediately turn into a Krispy Kreme. Their eyes become glazed and the chocolate colored glaze begins to spew from their mouths.

Reply to  Alexander Carpenter
September 16, 2015 9:06 pm

The decrease in solubility by higher seawater temperatures equilibrates with about 16 ppmv more CO2 in the atmosphere per Henry´s law, The current increase is over 100 ppmv above equilibrium for the current temperature, Thus CO2 is pressed into the ocean surface. That is measured as an increase in total inorganic carbon (DIC) in the oceans.
That will be redistributed within the total oceans, but that will take time,,,

September 15, 2015 6:45 am

Spencer says:

The current use of “more acidic” for a decreasing pH of alkaline water is like saying that a block of ice that has increased in temperature slightly (say from -10° to -5° C) has become ‘more liquid’ while it is still obviously solid!

Exactly. But then, it’s all about “communicating to the public”, and the resulting word-smithing. Straight out of techniques of communication/psychology/media majors, aka, the current post-modern propagandists.

September 15, 2015 7:24 am

Over at the OCO2 website they are enthusing about it being the first anniversary of data flow from the satellite, but there is still no sign of a more recent CO2 distribution map than that shown in the essay. Nor is there on the Caltech site. I am looking in the right places?

Reply to  Old'un
September 15, 2015 9:51 am

No kidding – I would’ve expected monthly images by now. Is there raw data somewhere we can process ourselves?

Reply to  krischel
September 17, 2015 5:00 pm

Oh no, they haven’t figured out how to adjust the data to fit the models yet, that’s when the pretty pictures will flow.

September 15, 2015 7:25 am

Clyde Spencer offers us almost none of the actual science that has been done on this topic.
There has been more than a decade of careful research done to determine what the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations will have on the oceans waters, particularly to the value of pH. There is no controversy over the basic chemistry — increasing atmospheric CO2 will lower the pH of the ocean — starting with the surface waters where mixing/absorption begins. Battling against this is just plain silly in the same way that claiming increasing atmospheric CO2 (or other “GHGs”) won’t tend to warm the planet is silly — one can’t change physics or chemistry by disagreeing with them.
As with global warming, the BIG question is not “will it?” but “how much?” and “over what time period?” and “will it make a discernible, significant difference?”.
As with global warming, it is necessary to realize that the one simple causative factor does not take place in isolation — GHGs are not the only factor that creates Climate, CO2atmos is not the only factor that affects Ocean pH.
In order to make any sense of the subject, it is necessary to separate the Climate Wars propaganda from the Science. Personally, I hate the Climate Wars — both sides — once one slips over the line into the Climate Wars battle, reason and critical thinking go out the window never to return. Spencer raises many valid Climate Wars points, all of which have been said before and all of which are obvious even to the most casual educated observer — and all of which are typical of the Climate Wars in general: the bad guys are hyping the science, the name of the subject itself is propagandistic, the MSM shout hysterical exaggerations, the historical figures are undependable, the times series is too short, they [mis]use calculation and models. These things we already know — everyone reading here is hyper-aware of them.
This essay does not give us more, or better, Science but gives us just another rhetorical salvo in the Climate Wars — thus not informing us but just adding to the confusion — waving yet another sign-on-a-stick mostly saying “Hooray for our side!”.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
September 15, 2015 8:06 am

Reply to Kip Hansen September 15, 2015 at 7:25 am:
Oh come on! Your words above are a pathetic attempt at anything. Carefully reread the post above and rather than muddy the worlds waters with your own gutless attempt at face saving, own your mistake and the damage it does in this “Climate War” you are so very keen to proclaim.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
September 15, 2015 8:17 am

Kip –
It’s not completely fair to claim that articles like this are ‘battling against the science’. For example, it might be true – from the basic physics – to say that ‘increasing atmosphere CO2 ..[will].. TEND to warm the planet – but that’s not to say that it WILL do so. We are dealing with a dynamic equilibrium here with controlling negative feedbacks and the net effect may be small or zero. I wouldn’t say the raw science can yet adequately describe this situation, as is shown by the dismal failure of the models, and observations will continue to inform us of our errors of oversimplification.
As others in this thread have noted, the relationship of CO2 and pH may also be much more complex than the basic chemistry indicates, with local factors dominant. There have been some excellent comments here.

Reply to  mothcatcher
September 15, 2015 9:49 am

Reply to mothcatcher ==> While you are right in that this particular article isn’t so much “battling against the science” — not as badly as some others — but it offers almost no science in support of its premise — generally in Part 1 a Propter Nomen Climate Wars attack on the name of the field of research and in Part 2 simply an attempt at obfuscation, rather than clarification, of the basic science.
It is a trivial effort to read the OA section of the latest IPCC report (the science basis) which is so plain-jane and non-alarmist that it is boring….”Observations: Ocean“, pages 293-294 (page 39-40 of the .pdf)
….with the caveat that the overall situation is given at the high-end of the effect scale rather than the well-understood mean or low-end (0.1 reduction in pH over the last 100 years is the high-end estimate for the most sensitive portions of well-mixed surface waters and is not a mean of pH reduction of all ocean surface waters). It is the IPCC after all.
Like another author here, I am a licensed sea captain, and like all good captains, I keep my eye on the weather, present and future, and try not to be distracted by the “wind and the waves” which seem to be the salient part, but aren’t. A captain who is distracted by the local wind and waves, and fails to track the greater weather situation, gets himself into real trouble. The Climate Wars are the wind and the waves — the Science is what we need to keep out eyes on.
There are those who’s mission in life is fighting the Climate Wars — but I am not among them.

Reply to  mothcatcher
September 15, 2015 9:51 am

typo — ….keep our eyes on…

Reply to  mothcatcher
September 15, 2015 1:08 pm

Just on the IPCC WG1 AR5 Chpt3 and the use of the term “ocean acidification”, I see they use the term liberally, but only offer two references for its source.
The first “A dramatic Atlantic dissolution event at the onset of the last glaciation” (2001) just mentions it in passing in the abstract, no definition. The second “Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH” (2003) also cited by the post author, simply has it as a strap line in the heading (no doubt the product of a Nature subeditor rather than the authors).
So it doesn’t seem like a scientific term, more journalistic common parlance.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
September 15, 2015 8:31 am

As a Journalist, your raison d’etre, the reason for your being at all, is in the neutral documentation of events. But I know of no mainstream journalist today that is not a mouth piece for authority. Get used to it Kip, you are not my friend because the roll you have chosen is antithetical to my very existence.

Reply to  Scott Wilmot Bennett
September 15, 2015 10:01 am

Reply to SWB ==> Well said, thank you.

Reply to  Scott Wilmot Bennett
September 15, 2015 11:02 am

Reply Kip Hansen ==> A Pathetic response given the context. You know you made a big mistake promoting the rigours of the unscientific.

Reply to  Scott Wilmot Bennett
September 15, 2015 11:14 am

How does a cheap shot like you just got from my badly worded comment, change anything really? What do you think in your quiet moments about the points I and other raise?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
September 15, 2015 9:26 am

What a chuckle, Kip,
Didn’t you just present us with a post about the poor quality of experiments in this field?
Less vitriol from you would make basic facts clearer.

Reply to  mebbe
September 15, 2015 10:00 am

Reply to mebbe ==> No, I presented two essays on the efforts of Cornwall and Hurd to help get/set the science of Ocean Acidification right.
Many fields of scientific research are beginning to take a real good look at themselves — and are not pleased with what they find.
The point of my two essays was that some OA researchers are trying to set it right….so is NOAA see “Quality of pH Measurements in the NODC Data Archives“.

Reply to  mebbe
September 15, 2015 10:06 am

You don’t need to set it right if it’s not wrong.

Reply to  mebbe
September 15, 2015 10:25 am

Reply to mebbe ==> Oversimplification is a tool of propagandists.
If all things were as simple as back-and-white, right-and-wrong, GoodScience-and-BadScience — we’d all be relieved of the necessity of thinking and understanding.
Trying to improve a field of research is a positive thing. Realizing that one’s field of research could use improving is a positive, and rare, thing. You don’t throw out the basic science because some of the early research was based on poor techniques.
Evaluating the exiting state of a field of research to see if it needs improvement is nearly unknown in any Climate related field. Admitting that the field’s techniques need improvement is something I doubt I will live to see in the greater Climate Science field – they are too stuck in their viewpoints and invested in their rhetoric.

Jaakko Kateenkorva
Reply to  Kip Hansen
September 15, 2015 11:57 am

If laboratory results could be extrapolated up to planetary scale without hesitation, we could study our planet with a microscope. Unfortunately reality works differently.

Richard Ilfeld
September 15, 2015 7:30 am

The Ocean in my back yard changes quite a lot, season to season, or after a heavy rain, or in a dry period. Twice in 35 years we had to shovel up dead fish; after a nearby chemical spill, and after the coldest winter in years. But the fishies are fine, again, and we have even seen scallops recently which suggests long term clean-up policies are useful. It is interesting to read about the chemistry. It’s good to know the acid won’t burn the skin off my bones if I splash while Kayaking. Having seen huge local cycles followed by recovery makes one wonder what the alarmists are looking at. My savings account, it seems, which seems much more susceptible to man’s influence that the oceans.

September 15, 2015 7:34 am

“Becoming more acidic” does sound more dire than “becoming neutral”.
And a person who has lost weight says I have become thinner, even if after reducing weight they are still obese.
Ocean acidification is propaganda. Another bogey-man was needed to pump up the cause and apparently there are plenty of shallow scientists to oblige.

Reply to  Alx
September 16, 2015 7:22 am

That’s perhaps why physicians refer to the disease as ‘acidosis’ rather than ‘neutralisis’, because if your blood pH drops below about 7.35 you die (without treatment), no need to reach neutrality you’d be dead long before then.

Ron Clutz
September 15, 2015 7:47 am

Thanks for this article. I have added linked it in my post which goes into some of the IPCC statements on this subject.

September 15, 2015 8:00 am

“It is appropriate to use “more” or “increasing” when referring to an open-ended scale like temperature. However, if the temperature were to change from -10° to -5° C, people would look at you as if you were daft if you said that it was becoming hotter.”
It’s all about perspective. If you want to go for a jog, it does sound a little absurd to declare it to have warmed if the temperature rises from -10 to -5 C (though technically correct), and you definitely wouldn’t declare there to be a heat wave except in jest. However, if you’re a researcher with highly sensitive samples in the deep freezer and one of your colleagues rushes in to say that the freezer is warming, and it has already risen from -80 to -75 deg C, you will take him seriously even though the freezer is still pretty cold. Likewise, if the level of acidic components of seawater increases, even if the pH stays on the alkaline side of the scale, it’s technically correct to declare the acidity to have increased, especially in light of the fact that chemistry is biased in its terminology towards acid-based terms (for example, we use the hydrogen ion as the measure of acidity when we routinely cite pH numbers, and nobody questions this even though it would be equally appropriate to cite pOH numbers). However, if you don’t think that it’s significant, the term “acidified” will sound absurd, whereas if the increase in acidic components concerns you, than “acidification” is obvious choice for a descriptive word. Note that there’s no need to invoke an intent to mislead by either side, just a difference in view about what the change represents.
“The current use of “more acidic” for a decreasing pH of alkaline water is like saying that a block of ice that has increased in temperature slightly (say from -10° to -5° C) has become ‘more liquid’ while it is still obviously solid!”
Nonsense. As I think you were trying to point out solid/liquid is a binary distinction. Water is either bound in a crystal lattice that causes it to retain a rigid shape, or it has enough kinetic energy to partially escape the intermolecular forces therefore flow and take the shape of its container. pH is a continuous scale. A solution can have a low level of acidic components (high pH) or a high level (low pH) or anywhere in between. To try to equate the binary distinction with a an continuous one is a false analogy.
“Assume that you are observing a beam of cyan (blue-green) light (for purposes of analogy, let’s call it alkaline). You then add increasing amounts of red light (acid) to it.”
I think this is a wonderful analogy that does a great job of illustrating the overarching problem here. Let’s take the exact situation you described (add a small amount of red light to a lot of cyan light), then get the input of two people people on what happened. Person #1 (let’s call him Carl) is a random person off the street. Carl sees the decrease in saturation with his eyes and states that the light got less blue-green. Person #2 (Dr Smith) is a physicist. He uses a spectrometer to analyze the light, and he finds that the amount of light around 500 nm (approximate cyan wavelength) has not changed, but that there is an increase in light around 700 nm (approximate red wavelength). Dr Smith will conclude that the light beam got more red. Does this mean that Carl is wrong? No, because he represents a casual perception of a technical change. So then is Dr Smith wrong? No, and in fact if he tried to publish his findings in a physics journal, he would be rejected if he tried to say the light, which was still equally intense at 500 nm, had less blue-green nature. Let’s take this one step further to even better equate it to pH/pOH, and use an equal overall light intensity for the two light beams, where the increase in light at 700 nm is accompanied by decrease in light at 500 nm (this may have been your original intent, I wasn’t sure). Carl’s conclusion would be the same. Dr Smith’s would be almost the same, although it would probably be something like “there was a shift in light energy from the cyan wavelengths to the red wavelengths, thereby making the light redder.” Dr Smith isn’t wrong. He isn’t trying to mislead Carl. He’s just trying to describe, to the best of his ability, what is going on (and for that matter, so is Carl). So now envision Dr Smith publishes his findings, and his university sends out the press release headlined as “Light Beam Redder, Scientist Says” and with text which highlights some of the concerns about what would happen if the light beam got even redder, and Dr Smith believes the light will get redder. A lay expert (Rob) disagrees with the idea that the light beam will continue to shift to 700 nm, and thinks that even if it does continue to shift slightly, there would not be detrimental effects. He has logical support for both of his conclusions, so he publicly states his opposition to Dr Smith’s conclusions. How will he be most effective in his criticisms? If he puts his effort into trying to nitpick the accuracy of Dr Smith’s description even though Dr Smith is, technically speaking, correct, it will detract and distract from Rob’s very reasonable explanation as to why there should be no concern. And this, I believe, is the key problem with people trying to focus to much on whether the term “acidification” is appropriate. If the decrease in pH is either not real or not a concern, THAT should be the focus of arguments.

Reply to  Jimmy
September 17, 2015 9:45 pm

Jimmy September 15, 2015 at 8:00 am said:

Let’s take the exact situation you described (add a small amount of red light to a lot of cyan light), then get the input of two people people on what happened. Person #1 (let’s call him Carl) is a random person off the street. Carl sees the decrease in saturation with his eyes and states that the light got less blue-green. Person #2 (Dr Smith) is a physicist. He uses a spectrometer to analyze the light, and he finds that the amount of light around 500 nm (approximate cyan wavelength) has not changed, but that there is an increase in light around 700 nm (approximate red wavelength). Dr Smith will conclude that the light beam got more red.

No Jimmy! You make a very common mistake. And for that reason have just perfectly illustrated the opposite argument.
The confusion comes from the difference between the two forms of colour synthesis, Additive Synthesis and Subtractive synthesis. Light is mixed (Or “colours” objects) by illumination (Additive Synthesis), while the “colour” of an object or its pigment is mixed reflectively (Subtractive synthesis). Pigment colours added together go to black (Reflect no light). Coloured light mixed together go to white (All light).
Red light is a primary colour and cyan a secondary colour in the additive system of light.
Cyan is composed of two of the primaries of light, blue and green. Adding red, the third primary, produces white light.
Mixing red light with cyan in various ratios will only ever produce tints, either pinks (White reds) or pale blues (White blues)!
I’ll state this again, adding cyan to red can not be described as making it more blue or red because in any ratio it becomes a lighter version of each colour until it is pure white.
The colour synthesis system is a very good analogy for the pH scale but only if it is the additive system that is being referred to and not the subtractive system of pigment.

Reply to  Scott Wilmot Bennett
September 17, 2015 11:27 pm

The additive synthesis colour system is a useful analogy for the pH scale because there a three primaries; it is not a binary system. It isn’t a dichotomy, making it harder to polarise politicly! The pH scale comprehended in triadic terms and therefore as a synthesis would, if understood correctly, short circuit any imagined polarity. That is to say, red is equally close to both blue and green on the colour wheel of light. However, it is furtherest away from cyan (Its complimentary and opposite.) which is composed of blue and green light! 😉

September 15, 2015 8:35 am

Here are some older comments of relevance:
From an earlier thread, I [RK] quoted an alarmist:

Acidification is the act of adding an acid to a solution, it has nothing to do with whether the solution is acidic or basic (i.e., basic, neutral, and acidic solutions can all be acidified by adding an acid to them). CO2 in water forms carbonic acid, so adding CO2 to the ocean is, well, ocean acidification.

To which I responded:
That’s its denotation, but its connotation is that it’s turning into lemon juice. I suggest putting the word inside quotation marks, as a signal that it mustn’t be taken as meaning “becoming sour (acid).” Or, better, how about “ocean neutralization”? The denotation isn’t as precise, but the connotation isn’t misleading. The trade-off is worth it.

It’s not alarmist, it’s simply grammar.

Grammar and usage have many subsurface booby-traps (exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions), counter-intuitive rules, and nuances. It can get quite tricky.

Louise says: November 1, 2010 at 6:04 am
You guys aren’t quite so dumb as to think that ‘ocean acidification’ means that anyone thinks the oceans will turn to acid are you?

No, we realize that the denotation of the word is “moving in the direction of acidity.” But the connotation is “turning to vinegar.” So it’s a loaded, alarmist term.
Here’s a compromise solution (that will be rejected by both sides): Use quotes around the word, to indicate that it is being used in a specific or peculiar sense, thus: Ocean “acidification”

Paul Jackson October 2, 2014 at 7:46 pm
If you make the alkaline seawater less basic, are you debasing the seawater?
James says: June 4, 2014 at 5:08 am
pH of fresh water is 7. pH of ocean water is about 8. Maybe we should start referring to ocean acidification as ocean “freshening?”
Via the Hockey Schtick:
A paper published Friday in Climate of the Past reconstructs water pH and temperature from a lake in central Japan over the past 280,000 years and clearly shows that pH increases [becomes more basic or alkaline] due to warmer temperatures, and vice-versa, becomes more acidic [or “acidified” if you prefer] due to cooling temperatures. This finding is the opposite of the false assumptions behind the “ocean acidification” scare, but is compatible with the basic chemistry of Henry’s Law and outgassing of CO2 from the oceans with warming.
Thus, if global warming resumes after the “pause,” ocean temperatures will rise along with CO2 outgassing, which will make the oceans more basic, not acidic. You simply cannot have it both ways:
. . . . . . . .
In addition, the paper shows that pH of the lake varied over a wide range from ~7.5 to 8.8 simply depending on the temperature of each month of the year. As the “acidification” alarmists like to say, a variation of 1.3 pH units is equivalent to a 1995% change in hydrogen ions due to the logarithmic pH scale, just over a single year!
Andrew N says: June 4, 2014 at 1:10 am
pH is a logarithmic scale, so to say that it is 25% more acidic because it has moved by 0.1 pH units is utter bs. It would be 25% more acidic if it moved by 3.5 pH units. True, there are 25% more hydrogen ions, but there are 25% more hydrogen ions for any 0.1 movement in pH. If we used another set of pHs for example, that water at a pH of 7.0 (that is, completely neutral) is 25% more acidic than water at pH 7.1 (barely alkaline) shows you the meaninglessness of their statement.
Mike Somerville says: June 4, 2014 at 1:41 pm
After 4 years of studying Chemistry in university I have never seen a change in pH expressed as a percent change in “acidity”. That is, until we heard from the “ocean acidification” industry. You just don’t see it anywhere else because it is meaningless.
While it is correct to say that it reflects a ~25% increase in hydronium ions, it is grossly misleading and absurd to say it is 25% more acidic. The change is barely detectable on instruments and is widely eclipsed by the natural variations in ocean pH.
Try an experiment with your friends… have them taste test 2 beverages: Brand A at a pH of 7.0 and Brand B at 7.1 and see if they can tell the difference. Then tell them Brand A is 25% more acidic than Brand B and they should not buy Brand A.
Jquip says: October 2, 2013 at 6:10 pm
Lexington Green — ” I am more than a little skeptical. Anyone else have comments on this aspect of the story?”
The key consideration isn’t acidification as such. Which Chad Wozniak has the right of, and every aquarium hobbiest can attest to. The issue is that for a given region there will be a buffer of mollusk shell detritus. And it will be dissolved to offset any acidification from CO2. To hit a threshhold condition in which you have naked mollusks, the constant introduction of *new* CO2 giving rise to acidic conditions must be sufficient to strip off the same depth of substrate over the entire area in question at a greater or equal rate at which each mollusk produces their shell.
Robert W Turner says: September 25, 2013 at 11:21 am
Freshwater ecosystems do not contain an iota of buffering capacity that the oceans have but the cult has seemingly forgot to include them in their fantasies of doom. If the ocean’s pH has dropped by 0.1 and is already “having a profound effect on shellfish” then freshwater shellfish should have been dead yesterday, Whoops!
peter laux says: July 22, 2013 at 3:01 am
CO2 makes water acidic in a sterile Laboratory but in nature it makes it alkaline.
It feeds vegetable plankton and weed !

Reply to  rogerknights
September 15, 2015 9:25 am

Well, in the very biggest of official documents, the EPOCA guide to “best practices for Ocean Acidification (I want gag at this point) research and data recording”, the term is italicised and the text explains that “OA” is an expression specifically restricted to the anthropogenic portion of atmospheric CO2. But you are missing the point. There is no such thing as Ocean Acidification. It is an absurdity, that can’t happen in theory in models or in reality. It hasn’t been measured, it can’t be measured and in terms of real measurement it is a fantom.

Stephen Richards
September 15, 2015 8:38 am

Where is the CO² satelite data? What’s wrong with? Why has it not been published.

Climate Heretic
Reply to  Stephen Richards
September 15, 2015 2:45 pm

Is this sufficient? Satellite Data In One Place
Climate Heretic

September 15, 2015 9:13 am

The pH will change when the oceans run out of buffer….and not one second sooner
…and since CO2 makes the buffer

September 15, 2015 9:33 am

When can we expect new results from the OCO-2 satellite observations? The first picture published here shows large deviations from the models made by NASA (as usual). Do the alarmists hold back new results since they do not comply with the propaganda?

son of mulder
September 15, 2015 9:37 am

Ocean acidification is too debasing for me.

September 15, 2015 9:41 am

However, if the temperature were to change from -10° to -5° C, people would look at you as if you were daft if you said that it was becoming hotter.

Unless you and your buddies are at Vail, Sun Valley, Killington, Stratton, Sugarloaf (Ski Areas). When you, and all your friends are used to -30°, getting hot to -5°, is reason for a picnick lunch. Once again, the argument revolves around the Pros vs. the Tourists. In chemistry, like the ski area, the language is a bit different, and things need to be interpreted.
Consider the languages, American and Australian. They are both “English”, but nobody would mistake them for speaking the same language.
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” – Really, English?
The Pros can be amused or irritated when lectured on the use of language by the Tourists.

Berényi Péter
September 15, 2015 10:44 am

Low ocean pH is not inconsistent with marine life. Quite the contrary.

September 15, 2015 11:56 am

“What is at issue here really is why some scientists would adopt a term that is a poor choice for communication.”
Simple. They’re not scientists.

Richard of NZ
Reply to  John
September 15, 2015 3:09 pm

I do not think that such a sweeping statement can be justified. The problem is that the terms acidification, acid or acidity have a number of different meanings. As noted above, if blood pH is less than 7.35 then it is referred to as an acidosis even though it is obviously still alkaline. similarly NaHCO3 is called an acid salt, even though when dissolved in water it produces an alkaline solution, because it can still donate a proton to an acid/base (neutralisation) reaction. Similarly Na(CO3)2 is a neutral salt even though when dissolved it produces a very alkaline solution.
It is difficult, from a chemical perspective, to argue with the terminology being used even though it gives an entirely false impression to the layman.

Tom J
September 15, 2015 8:03 pm

‘Carbonation is a term that has been suggested as an alternative to ocean acidification. I could support this because it isn’t a pejorative word…’
In all due respect; give the activists enough time (about 15 minutes) and they’ll successfully turn it into a pejorative word.

September 15, 2015 9:07 pm

The pH graphic says vinegar has a pH around 3. In actuality, vinegar usually has a pH around 2.4-2.5. Water with acetic acid present to the extent of 60.05 grams per liter of solution has a pH of 2.38. If the concentration is different, then add to 2.38 the log of the square root of (60.05 / grams_per_liter) to get the pH.

September 15, 2015 10:04 pm

Great article and I enjoyed the many useful metaphors on the absurdity of the “acidification” term. I would also like to reinforce that the NOAA and the Telford citations refer to the epic data omissions only after the omissions were exposed in 2014. Typically scientists prefer that disclosures of all data omissions accompany the original paper(s).

September 16, 2015 2:00 am

More bad news from the British Bias Corporation.

BBC – 16 September 2015
Marine population halved since 1970 – report
Populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 49% since 1970, a report says.
The study says some species people rely on for food are faring even worse, noting a 74% drop in the populations of tuna and mackerel.
In addition to human activity such as overfishing, the report also says climate change is having an impact.
The document was prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London……
Climate change has also played a role in the overall decline of marine populations.
The report says carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the oceans, making them more acidic, damaging a number of species……

September 16, 2015 1:42 pm

For those without a lot of chemistry background and who want a better understanding of water chemistry, I recommend taking the National Swimming Pool Foundation’s (NSPF) pool operator certification course (CPO). Much like Clyde’s EXCELLENT primer above, the NSPF CPO course makes it simple and clear with regards to pH, alkalinity, buffering, complex chemistry interactions of introduced materials, and more. The big advantage of this course is that if you have access to a swimming pool, you can practice your gained knowledge. I took the course to make sure that our pool contractors were not screwing us over per our homeowner association’s pool. I quickly determined there are some pretty bad pool contractors out there. With my science background the course was easy, but I was amazed at how well non-scientific types also learned and performed on the test.
The NSPF CPO courses are typically offered through pool maintenance companies (which are usually the same company(s) that you want managing your pool). If I remember, the course is 3 day and about $200. If you don’t have the bucks, do a little sales job and get whoever owns the pool to pony it up.

Reply to  aGrimm
September 16, 2015 2:10 pm

PS: note the course is offered internationally. Sorry UK, but lots of other countries are on the list.

September 16, 2015 2:22 pm

The key to ocean pH lies in the rocks and sediments. As Prof Ian Plimer expressed it, “The oceans can only become acidic if the earth runs out of rocks.”
We all remember our high school chemistry. The test for CO2 gas was to bubble it through lime water [Ca(OH)2]. It would go milky. CO2 + Ca(OH)2 = CaCO3 (insoluble) + H2O. All fine and dandy. If however you continued to bubble the CO2 in, then the milkiness disappeared: CO2 + H2O + Ca(CO3) = Ca(HCO3)2 – Calcium bicarbonate which is soluble and alkaline. As there is always CaCO3 around in the sediments, rocks and dead shells and corals in the oceans, extra CO2 will dissolve it creating an alkaline solution. This is known in chemistry as a buffer solution. The oceans are permanently buffered.

Curious George
September 16, 2015 2:50 pm

Regarding your chosen motto, a quote from Dr. Joseph Goebbels would have been more appropriate.

Gunga Din
September 16, 2015 3:32 pm

The language of science needs to be precise or nothing precise is communicated. The language of sales only needs to precise enough so as not to be sued for false advertising. The language of politics only needs to precise enough to leave the desired impression.
If the big bad molecule we need to control was Oxygen then we’d be hearing all about “oxidation” of this or that even though Oxygen isn’t the only thing that oxidizes….but it sounds like it must have something to do with it.
“Alkaline”, “alkalinity”, “neutralization”, “acidification”?
The use of “Climate Change” (as in the IPCC) and “Global Warming”?
Are the terms being used to be precise or to sell an idea for political purposes?

September 16, 2015 10:43 pm

If one is willing to distort facts to promote an ideology, then it really doesn’t matter how expert one is.

That’s the money quote. And that explains why so many are not buying into this whole sham; the ideology just leaps, like the smell of rancid meat, out of almost every new “authoritative, settled science paper” that is published.

Consequently, I’m asking for clarity in scientific writing so that people actually understand and not go away with the mistaken impression that the oceans are acidic.

Yeah, like that will happen. How will the left be able to reach into our wallets and tell us how to live our lives if they go back to correctly and clearly using English language? Purposeful misuse and redefinition of words is the crux/foundation of modern liberalism (and ironically, you all know what I mean by “liberalism” even though that word was also transmogrified by the left).

Clyde Spencer
September 18, 2015 12:11 pm

I want to thank all of you for your comments, and particularly those kind endorsements of my writing. As to the person who thought I was a liberal arts major, nothing could be farther from the truth, although I would have had a minor in Humanities had I taken another semester. I didn’t set out to write a book and was actually surprised when Anthony didn’t break my essay into two pieces. So, keep in mind that sometimes some subtleties, such as the difference between “hydrogen ion concentration” and “hydronium ion activity” have to be glossed over to not get side-tracked into extraneous points. Lastly, for the person who provided the thought experiment about the spectrometric analysis of the light beam, the imaginary scientist would have been wrong in his conclusion. While the 700nm component was increasing, the redness, which is a perceived color, would not have been increasing.

Lars Tuff
September 20, 2015 5:43 pm

Chicken sour of the seas rides again.
The oceans can not become acidic from CO2 emissions to air. be these natural or human. Only massive volcanic eruptions or comets / meteors can have such an effect on oceanic pH. End of story. Oceans by volume, contain 50 times the amount of CO2 that we find in air. If 1000 molecules of CO2 dissolve in sea-water, 10 will remain CO2 (g), 980 will become HCO3-, and 10 will form CO3–. The oceans are filled with buffers against airal CO2 pH change. Ca++ and CO3–, along with an array of other kat- and anions resist pH lowering from airial CO2 dissolving in sea-water. Oceans have a LIMITLESS buffering capacity to take care of dissolving CO2.
The oceans are by mass wastly heavier than all of our athmosphere. 1 liter of air weighs about 1g, 1 liter of sea-water about 1000g. Can an increase of airial CO2 from 0,038% to 0,041% in the air make the oceans of the world acidic?
To believe in in airial CO2 making oceans acidic, is not only to believe in Santa Claus, but to believe he will come down Your chimney and deliver a present every minute of every day, all year long. This is not only childish, it is delutional.
So to all of You CO2 scare mongerers out there, dream on.

carbon bigfoot
September 20, 2015 5:48 pm

Has everyone forgot Tom Segalstad’s 2009 NIPCC rehash of his 2008 NIPCC #1 presentation?

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