Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I’ve spent a good chunk of my life around, on, and under the ocean. I worked seasonally for many years as a commercial fisherman off of the western coast of the US. I’ve frozen off my begonias setting nets in driving sleet up in the Bering Sea. I’m also a blue-water sailor with a Pacific crossing under my belt, and a surfer, and both a sport and a commercial diver.
Plus I’m eternally curious, so I have read about and studied the ocean all my life.
Based on both my experience and my knowledge, I have written a number of posts regarding what I see as the astounding responsiveness and adaptability of the creatures that live in the ocean (links below). I’ve said repeatedly that the minor neutralization of the oceans due to more atmospheric CO2 was meaningless, that the oceanic creatures would not be bothered by such a change.
So I laughed out loud when I saw the latest study in Science magazine, which involves coccolithophores. These are calcifying plants, which form the most delicate and intricate skeletons out of calcium carbonate which they precipitate from the seawater.
Coccolithophore. Image Source
Puts me in mind of the old song, “A wheel in a wheel, way up in the middle of the air”. Beautiful.
The study says that coccolithophore abundance in the North Atlantic has increased by about ten-fold in recent years. In other words, instead of finding coccolithophores in ~ 2% of their plankton trawls, they now find them in about 20% of the trawls. They did a multi-variable analysis, and their conclusion was that increases in CO2 are a main cause of the increase in coccolithophore abundance. The study is entitled “Multidecadal increase in North Atlantic coccolithophores and the potential role of rising CO2”, paywalled here.
This study is important because the state of the ocean is one of the latest targets of the serially failed climate doomcasters. The alarmists’ claim is that the slight neutralization of the ocean will make it harder for calcifying organisms to form their calcium shells, substrates, and skeletons. However, the study shows that for coccolithophores, this is not the case. From the magazine:
Passing an acid test
Calcifying marine organisms will generally find it harder to make and maintain their carbonate skeletons as increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 acidify the oceans. Nevertheless, some types of organisms will be damaged more than others, and some may even benefit from higher CO2 levels. Coccolithophores are a case in point, because their photosynthetic ability is strongly carbon-limited. Rivero-Calle et al. show that the abundance of coccolithophores in the North Atlantic has increased by up to 20% or more in the past 50 years (see the Perspective by Vogt). Thus, this major phytoplankton functional group may be able to adapt to a future with higher CO2 concentrations.
Science, this issue p. 1533; see also p. 1466
As anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions acidify the oceans, calcifiers generally are expected to be negatively affected. However, using data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder, we show that coccolithophore occurrence in the North Atlantic increased from ~2 to more than 20% from 1965 through 2010. We used random forest models to examine more than 20 possible environmental drivers of this change, finding that CO2 and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation were the best predictors, leading us to hypothesize that higher CO2 levels might be encouraging growth. A compilation of 41 independent laboratory studies supports our hypothesis. Our study shows a long-term basin-scale increase in coccolithophores and suggests that increasing CO2 and temperature have accelerated the growth of a phytoplankton group that is important for carbon cycling.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Regarding the ocean I have a rule of thumb;
In the ocean, chemistry doesn’t rule life—instead, life rules chemistry
And this rule of thumb has a corollary:
Life is sneaky and will find a way to grow through stone
This is a perfect example. Life has a habit of making chemical reactions go in unexpected directions and at speeds unseen anywhere outside of living creatures. Despite the chemical reality of increased CO2 making the precipitation of CaCO3 slightly harder, the coccolithophores pay little attention to how steep the energetic hill is. They just keep cranking, and in this case, even speed up.
I find this very important because according to the study, coccolithophores are estimated to be responsible for about half of all precipitation of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the ocean. Half. That’s a lot.
And following that chain of effects to its next logical step, the rate at which CO2 is precipitated from the ocean as CaCO3 has an effect on the amount of neutralization of the ocean due to increased atmospheric CO2.
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, my conclusion is that the rumors of the oceans’ death from increased CO2 are greatly exaggerated.
My best wishes to all of you,
My Usual Request: If you disagree with me or anyone, please quote the exact words you disagree with. I can defend my own words. I cannot defend someone’s interpretation of my words.
My Other Request: If you think that e.g. I’m using the wrong method on the wrong dataset, please educate me and others by demonstrating the proper use of the right method on the right dataset. Simply claiming I’m wrong doesn’t advance the discussion.
Previous Posts On This Topic:
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…