Acidifying the oceans

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:38 PM GMT on March 03, 2006

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It is well known that CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from about 275 ppm (.0275%) to 375 ppm (.0375%) since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1800s. This extra CO2, added to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, has contributed to the observed rise in global temperatures of 0.6 degrees C via the greenhouse effect. What is less well known, and is discussed in detail in a March 2006 article in Scientific American called "The Dangers of Ocean Acidification", is that a tremendous amount of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuel burning winds up in the oceans. The oceans have absorbed 48% of all the CO2 emitted since 1800, according to a study published by Sabine et al. in 2004 in Science. Without the action of the oceans to absorb so much of our waste gases we've pumped into the atmosphere, Earth would be a seriously toasty planet right now.

The price paid
The oceans are paying a price for this service, though. When CO2 dissolves into the ocean, it creates carbonic acid--the same acid found in soda pop. The oceans have dissolved so much CO2 during the past 150 years that the acidity of the oceans' surface waters has substantially increased. The pH, which decreases as acidity increases, used to range from 8.0 to 8.3 for the oceans' surface waters before the Industrial Revolution. This has now dropped a full 0.1 units to the 7.9 to 8.2 range. Unless significant cuts in CO2 emissions are realized in the next few decades, the pH will fall another 0.3 units by the year 2100 as the oceans continue to acidify. A 2005 report by the Royal Society of the UK projects the decrease by 2100 will be 0.5 pH units, and notes that it will take more than 10,000 years for the ocean to return to its pre-1800s acidity level.

Losers
Higher acidity in the ocean creates problems for a number of organisms. Corals and other creatures that build shells out of calcium carbonate are particularly vulnerable, since they cannot form their shells if the acidity passes a critical level--their shells will dissolve. Several shell-building planktonic organisms, such as coccolithophorids, pteropods, and foraminifera, form an important basis of the food chain in the cold waters surrounding Antarctica. The effect of ocean acidification is more pronounced at colder temperatures, and it is believed that these important micro-organisms will die out or be forced to move to warmer waters in order to survive in the coming decades. What this will mean to the birds, fish, marine mammals, and humans that depend on the oceans for their livelihood is unknown. Major die-offs of many species are quite possible, which would have serious impacts for nations such as Chile, where marine-related activities provide more jobs than any other sector of the economy. The effects on the Atlantic are expected to be delayed several decades compared to the Southern Hemisphere oceans, but are still expected to be significant by the end of the century.

Corals in tropical and subtropical waters will not dissolve in the more acidic waters, but the increased acidity will cause them to grow more slowly. When this added stress is added to the already significant impacts of coral bleaching from global warming, pollution, and destruction due to dynamiting of reefs to harvest fish, the outlook for coral reefs this century is exceedingly bleak. About one-third of the world's coral reefs have already been damaged or destroyed in the past century, with another one-third at serious risk of destruction by 2030.

The effect of higher oceanic acidity and CO2 levels on higher organisms such as fish, birds, and sea mammals is largely unknown. These effects are unlikely to be beneficial to fish, though--high levels of CO2 are sometimes used by researchers to euthanize fish.

Winners
Higher dissolved CO2 in the oceans will benefit a number of species. For example, many higher plants such as sea grasses use dissolved CO2 directly to help them grow, and should prosper from higher CO2 levels in the ocean, just as many plants on land are expected to benefit from higher atmospheric CO2 levels. Some types of phytoplankton will probably benefit as well, although laboratory studies on this are not conclusive. Other species of phytoplankton will likely be unaffected. The Royal Society of the UK report concluded, "the increase of CO2 in the surface oceans expected by 2100 is unlikely to have any significant direct effect on photosynthesis or growth of most micro-organisms in the oceans."

What the future holds
Ocean life can adapt to higher acidity. One study (Spivack et al., 1993) found that pH levels in the ocean 7.5 million years ago were about 7.4, well below today's pH. The big concern with the current increase in acidity and drop of ocean pH levels is that it is being compressed into such a short period of time. Past changes in oceanic acidity have presumably occurred over tens of thousands of years, giving time for life to adapt. The current change may occur so fast that a partial collapse of the food chain in some regions may occur. One note of optimism: similar concerns were voiced when the Antarctic ozone hole opened up, exposing phytoplankton in the Southern Hemisphere oceans to a rapid and unprecedented increase in levels of damaging ultraviolet radiation. It was widely feared that this increase in UV light would destroy enough phytoplankton to trigger a collapse of the food chain in the waters off of Antarctica. This has not happened. One study (Smith et. al., 1992) found a 6-12% decrease in phytoplankton during the time the ozone hole opens up, typically about 10-12 weeks of the year. So, at least in this one case, the marine ecosystem was able to adapt to a rapid, unprecedented change and not collapse.

As is the case with many aspects of human-caused climate change, the dangers are enormous, but poorly understood. In the words of the Dr. Doney's Scientific American article, "dramatic alterations in the marine environment appear to be inevitable." The Royal Society's article cautions, "research into the impacts of high concentrations of CO2 in the oceans is in its infancy and needs to be developed rapidly." The report goes on to state, "Ocean acidification is a powerful reason, in addition to that of climate change, for reducing global CO2 emissions. Action needs to be taken now to avoid the risk of irreversible damage to the oceans. We recommend that all possible approaches be considered of prevent CO2 reaching the atmosphere. No option that can make a significant contribution should be dismissed."

Jeff Masters

References

Sabine et al., "The Oceanic Sink for Anthropogenic CO2", Science, 305, 367-371, 16 July 2004.

Smith, R., B. Prezelin, K. Baker, R. Bidigare, N. Boucher, T. Coley, D. Karentz, S. MacIntyre, H. Matlick, D. Menzies, M. Ondrusek, Z. Wan, and K. Waters, "Ozone depletion: Ultraviolet radiation and phytoplankton biology in Antarctic waters", Science, 255, 952, 1992.

Spivack, A.J., You, C., and H.J. Smith, "Foraminiferal boron isotope ratios as a proxy for surface ocean pH over the past 21 Myr", Nature, 363, 149-151, 13 May 1993, doi:10.1038/363149a0.

coral garden (Urchin)
My attempt at being artistic
coral garden
Isla Farallon, Coral de Fuego (2006561)
View shooted 18 m f. deepth
Isla Farallon, Coral de Fuego

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140. jeffB
7:03 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
cyclonebuster wrote:

How about this one? A giant solar collector at the L1 lagrange point that that can focus a 5 mile wide radius beam of light in the eye of the storm and boil the surface water which expands and raises the central pressure of the storm????

Except that the smallest possible "beam" you could produce from an assembly at L1 would be around 9000 miles across, substantially wider than our planet, when it hit the ground. Or, turning things around, if you're about to suggest blocking the sun with a big umbrella at L1, it would need to be at least 9000 miles across.

Even big-picture guys have to be aware of some details. If you don't understand the basic physics and geometry, the engineering isn't ever going to work out.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 42
139. oriondarkwood
6:10 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
globalize,

That why we have to drill them tunnels, so we not caught with a tunnel gap. Of course that would wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

(forgive me Kubrick for misquoting lines)

Its kinda funny along with the UPwelling tunnel idea

(I know I being a dirty birdie today - bounus points for knowing where dirty birdie pharse came from)
Member Since: July 5, 2004 Posts: 51 Comments: 42
138. globalize
5:13 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
oriondarkwood..Strangelove is my favorite!! George C., Sellers in three roles..magnificent!! The crippled, mad scientist with the slide rule who couldn't keep down the Nazi salute! George C. in his tirade against various weapons gaps.. "Mr. President, we must not alloowwww..."

And bomber pilot Slim, country boy smarter than all of 'em, sneakin' right under that Russkie radar. But they shouldn't have pulled him off the farm.

You know, the movie didn't show that part, but he did a half gainer off that nuke and dove straight into a lake. Swam underwater 31 miles, and made his way north across Russia where Finnish resistors picked him up. He died on his Texas ranch just a few years back.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
137. ForecasterColby
3:56 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
Never mind, I got the data myself. I just finished the graph, take a look (click for larger image, then click on the larger one for a full size one)

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
136. oriondarkwood
3:39 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
cyclone,

Good idea but I like things that go BOOM. Besides you could have the ulitmate (admittly one time only) thrill ride of riding a nuclear weapom Slim Pickens style (ie Dr Strangelove) into the eye of a Cat 5

YEEHAWW!!!
Member Since: July 5, 2004 Posts: 51 Comments: 42
135. ForecasterColby
3:16 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
Also - anyone got the ENSO (thats El Nino/La Nina) data for 1999-2005? I just need to know whether it was El Nino, La Nina, or neutral.
134. ForecasterColby
2:44 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
*rolls eyes massively at cyclone*
131. oriondarkwood
2:00 PM GMT on March 06, 2006
I just thought of a awesome sciencefic way to defeat hurricanes (snicker)

First we dumps billions of tons of soap into the oceans to break up the surface tension so hurricanes have problems getting moisture.

Then we tow icebergs from the poles into the path of the hurricanes (even better have unmanned ships tow it into the eye of the hurricane)

Finally we blow up the iceberg with a nuclear weapon..

Between those 3 steps we have no hurricanes and can warm the climate all we want

If anyone seriously believes this I go a sure fire get rich quick scheme by paying me $300 a month I will give you 1,000 acres of land per payment on "M" classed planet in the Zeta Quardant.
Member Since: July 5, 2004 Posts: 51 Comments: 42
130. Inyo
9:36 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
oh man i cant believe someone brought up the tunnels again. and now cyclonebuster has taken to cackling like a mad scientist!

and according to theory any probe sent into a black hole would be crushed long before it entered.. still definitely a worthwhile mission if we could pull it off but once its beyond the 'event horizon' radio waves, etc, can't escape the black hole anyway, so even if the probe survived, we'd never know
Member Since: September 3, 2002 Posts: 42 Comments: 873
129. Fshhead
8:33 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
BTW... I also said & still say when the black hole that roams our galaxy reaches it's closest point to our planet.
We should send a probe right down the throat of it!!!!!
All things said about black holes are just theory.
Hmmmmm Can you imagine the data that would come from that flight??? You never know maybe we would have contact with the probe "on the other side"!!!!!!!!!
Member Since: November 19, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 9960
128. Fshhead
8:28 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Hey Colby if u like the hubble shots, I got a few links.
http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/archive/releases/1998/14/

http://hubblesite.org/

http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/archive/releases/2004/32/image/c

The last link is of the Helix Nebula. It is also referred to as "the eye of God" I love the horizontal view!!
Had that as wallpaper for months!!!!

I said it in my blog... the Hubble telescope is THE greatest achievment by NASA hands down!!!!!!
Member Since: November 19, 2005 Posts: 9 Comments: 9960
125. Skyepony (Mod)
5:53 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Did't realize that was measured so high up, so, unlike the eye temp on a recon?

Extremely High Horizon Refraction forecasts have been verifying pretty well~ their update~

Early spring temperature projection.

After about 15 observations, not a lot, but significant enough to see a trend, spring 2006 will be warmer than 2005. Supremely expanded sun disks were measured, on top of a large portion of them exceeding any similar observations taken at the same time between 2002-2005. No sign of significant cooling was perceived. Stand by, and wait until early April Summer 2006 NH temperature forecast, to be done after more than 100 observations or so...

WD February 22 2006

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38332
123. ForecasterColby
5:45 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Ummm...just a note here, that's high in the atmosphere. -90C cloud tops are reasonably common.

Cyclone, you've been proven wrong time and time again. Just shut up, please.

I'll be posting that graph tomorrow morning, should be very interesting.
122. Skyepony (Mod)
5:19 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
That could be throwing the intensity off a little bit...
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38332
121. HurricaneMyles
4:58 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Thats pretty funny Skyepony! The tropical storm in the W Pac has a -66.8C eye temp! Wonder how they come up with those numbers?
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
119. HurricaneMyles
4:56 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Ahhh...what the hell are you talking about? Read my post again and ask yourself if you make any sense.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
117. HurricaneMyles
4:49 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Yes, itís proven that lower SST will most likely cause a weakening in hurricanes. What isnít proven is that your tunnels provide upwelling. So go ahead and try and persuade to everyone that your idea will work. I think it will only prove my original point.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
116. Skyepony (Mod)
4:47 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
*eye temp*
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38332
114. Skyepony (Mod)
4:42 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Sorry, that Max Mayfield ~Prepare Now~ Link didn't take back there try ~ HERE

Colby~ lookin forward to the graph~ & Frances & Jeanne's rain had nothing on that Tropical wave that hit (was a TD in gulf) back in '99~ 15 inch in less than 12 hours. Brevard had as much rain from Wilma as the other 2 canes around 8 inches (Jeanne it think was closer to 6). With Wilma it was more noticable, out of the canes, cause most of it fell in 4 hours. Frances & Jeanne it was over 2 1/2 - 3 days. Now the latter doesn't sound so bad except ya give the ground a good soaking over days & still have hurricane winds & alot of pine trees start uprooting.

Ya'll notice the eye wall temp on the Tropical Storm 16S link? -73.4C? lol~ it's like that movie...
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38332
113. HurricaneMyles
4:38 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Thats not proof, thats one piece of evidence that really doesnt tell anyone something they dont already know. EVERYONE knows that lower SST will lower hurricane strength. Its everything else about your idea that is in question.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
111. HurricaneMyles
4:32 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
People, not just your wife. Since no one is listening to you, it's obvious that you aren't pursuading many people.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
109. HurricaneMyles
4:27 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Because you lack the ability to pursuade people.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
107. HurricaneMyles
4:23 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
It's only your fault, buster. Be pissed off at yourself.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
102. tornadoty
3:41 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Also remember that the highest T-number by any Dvorak system for Wilma was 6.5.
101. HurricaneMyles
3:40 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
The reason for the wrong intensity is that the ratings that are being applied are by a computer program and not a real human.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
98. ForecasterColby
2:12 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
Okay, maybe the backup list isn't so rumorish. WMO has something that implys it on their site: Link

Scroll down till you see an IR on the far right.
97. KatrinaRitaWilmaZeta
1:17 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
i have mpore photo of stoplights if any one like to take a look go to your right in my blog and drop me a post why you are there too
96. KatrinaRitaWilmaZeta
1:15 AM GMT on March 06, 2006
atmosweather i have not yet got your e mail
95. ForecasterColby
10:58 PM GMT on March 05, 2006
Thanks a lot, Rl3ao. I'll be posting a graph later this evening that shows the numbers of named storms on three lines - one for El Nino, one for La Nina, and one for neutral seasons.
94. ForecasterColby
10:54 PM GMT on March 05, 2006
The AMO switched from the inactive to the active cycle in the 94/95 offseason. Every active cycle has started with a spike - it's the midcycle spike of '05 that's unprecidented.

What everyone should remember is that we really don't know about longer-term cycles. Hurricane data has only been semi-reliable for maybe a century, and solid for 30 years (since the advent of weather satellites). Good luck finding a cycle in that.
93. RL3AO
10:47 PM GMT on March 05, 2006
yep, I forgot about the 1997 El Nino
91. louastu
10:23 PM GMT on March 05, 2006
Forget the rise since 1995. Look at the rise since 2004.
90. RL3AO
10:19 PM GMT on March 05, 2006
1950: 13
1951: 10
1952: 7
1953: 14
1954: 11
1955: 12 or 13 (depends if you include Alice)
1956: 8
1957: 8
1958: 10
1959: 11
1960: 7
1961: 11
1962: 5
1963: 9
1964: 12
1965: 6
1966: 11
1967: 8
1968: 8
1969: 18
1970: 10
1971: 13
1972: 7
1973: 8
1974: 11
1975: 9
1976: 10
1977: 6
1978: 12
1979: 9
1980: 11
1981: 12
1982: 6
1983: 4
1984: 13
1985: 11
1986: 6
1987: 7
1988: 12
1989: 11
1990: 14
1991: 8
1992: 7
1993: 8
1994: 7
1995: 19
1996: 13
1997: 8
1998: 14
1999: 12
2000: 14
2001: 15
2002: 12
2003: 16
2004: 15
2005: 27

you can definatly see a rise in storms since 1995, only one season with less than 10 storms

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.