Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
One of the reasons I lived so much of my life in the tropical South Pacific is because of the diving. Coral reefs are one of the most astounding ecosystems on the planet, boiling over with energy, movement, and color. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in the water, both snorkeling and scuba, and most of my time was spent just marveling at the endless variety of the reef creatures large and small.
As a result, I’ve had a long-time interest in the claimed effects that people say increased CO2 will have on the reefs. The addition of CO2 to the air slightly neutralizes the naturally alkaline sea water. [Note that while this is change in pH from increasing CO2 is usually called “acidification” of the ocean, that is just alarmist terminology. Since the additional CO2 is making the ocean more neutral, it cannot be “acidifying” the ocean. At least as the English language is commonly understood, something cannot be both more neutral and more “acid” at the same time.]
For the last five years or so (see the list of my previous posts in the end notes), I’ve been saying that the slight neutralization of the ocean from the ongoing increase in CO2 will make no difference to the coral reefs. In particular, I noted that the pH over coral reefs can change by a full pH point in the course of one tide. I also discussed the fact that coral reefs are often a source of CO2, and thus the reef itself drives down (neutralizes, wrongly known as “acidifies”) the pH of reef water. In my opinion, these facts made it very unlikely that a small neutralization of the ocean would make a significant difference to coral reefs.
Since I’ve been pounding this drum for five years, I was happy today to see an article on Phys.org entitled Increase in acidity may not be harmful to coral reefs after all. It discusses a paywalled paper entitled Shifts in coral reef biogeochemistry and resulting acidification linked to offshore productivity.
The Phys.org article puts it very clearly (emphasis mine):
To better understand what might happen with coral reefs if more carbon dioxide makes its way into the oceans due to an increase of the gas in the atmosphere caused by human emissions, the researchers set up monitoring devices along a coral reef offshore from Bermuda—information from the sensors was monitored for five years (2007 to 2012). The team also had access to data from an ocean chemistry monitoring station approximately 80 kilometers from their study site. The combined data offered a unique perspective on coral activity.
In studying the data, the researchers noticed that spikes of phytoplankton blooms occurred during 2010 and again in 2011—those blooms made their way to the coral reef offering more food than normal for the coral. The coral responded by growing which caused them to pull more alkaline carbonate from the surrounding water, making it more acidic. Eating more also resulted in the corals emitting more carbon dioxide into the water. The result was a big increase in acidity—to levels higher than have been predicted for the future due to human emissions—yet, the coral continued to flourish.
These observations contrast sharply with the prevailing view that an increase in acidity is harmful to coral—leading to death if it goes too far. But the levels seen by the researchers with this new effort suggest that is not the case at all, and therefore muddles theories regarding the impact on the oceans of higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures. Another team with Western Australia noted that the results found by this new team appeared to agree with those of a small study they conducted where they put boxes around some coral and piped in carbon dioxide, to no detrimental effect.
Gosh, actual observation of pH at actual reefs … a novel concept indeed in these days of endless modeled “might”s and “could possibly”s …
All I can say is, once more, WUWT leads the way …
My best wishes to you all,
My Usual Request: If you disagree with someone, please quote the exact words you disagree with. Only in this way can we all be clear on exactly what you are objecting to. I can defend my own words. I cannot defend someone else’s interpretation of my words.
Further Reading: Below, in chronological order, are my previous posts on ocean neutralization.
The Electric Oceanic Acid Test 2010-06-19
I’m a long-time ocean devotee. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life on and under the ocean as a commercial and sport fisherman, a surfer, a blue-water sailor, and a commercial and sport diver. So I’m concerned that the new poster-boy of alarmism these days is sea-water “acidification” from…
The Reef Abides 2011-10-25
I love the coral reefs of the planet. In my childhood on a dusty cattle ranch in the Western US, I decorated my mental imaginarium of the world with images of unbelievably colored reefs below white sand beaches, with impossibly shaped fish and strange, brilliant plants. But when I finally…
The Ocean Is Not Getting Acidified 2011-12-27
There’s an interesting study out on the natural pH changes in the ocean. I discussed some of these pH changes a year ago in my post “The Electric Oceanic Acid Test“. Before getting to the new study, let me say a couple of things about pH. The pH scale measures…
The Reef Abides … Or Not 2014-07-06
I’ve written a few times on the question of one of my favorite hangouts on the planet, underwater tropical coral reefs. Don’t know if you’ve ever been down to one, but they are a fairyland of delights, full of hosts of strange and mysterious creatures. I’ve seen them far from…
pH Sampling Density 2014-12-30
A recent post by Anthony Watts highlighted a curious fact. This is that records of some two and a half million oceanic pH samples existed, but weren’t used in testimony before Congress about ocean pH. The post was accompanied by a graph which purported to show a historical variation in ocean…
A Neutral View of Oceanic pH 2015-01-02
Following up on my previous investigations into the oceanic pH dataset, I’ve taken a deeper look at what the 2.5 million pH data points from the oceanographic data can tell us. Let me start with an overview of oceanic pH (the measure of alkalinity/acidity, with neutral being a pH of…