See also Update 2 below.
I've written a couple of articles about this latest spate of protests already (here and here), and at the risk of overloading on one topic, I couldn't resist another. Wondering Willis Eschenbach is so full of it.
Today Willis goes berserk. He's written one of the silliest articles I've read in a while at WUWT. He's pretending to be an expert on marine biology. His qualifications? He goes fishing sometimes. Well one thing is for sure, he might be able to catch and kill fish, but he certainly knows nothing about the biology and chemistry of the oceans.
Alkalinity is NOT "harder" on marine fish than acidity, Willis
Willis reckons that alkalinity is much harder on living creatures than acidity. He wrote:
Note that in Hawaii, the surface pH is above 8.05, and in Alaska the surface pH is below 7.7 … and despite that, the marine environment in Alaska is much, much richer in life than the Hawaiian marine environment. This underscores a simple fact—alkalinity is hard on living creatures, much harder than acidity.
Alkalinity is "much harder" on living creatures than acidity? Good grief. For one thing, a pH of 7.7 is alkaline. It's not acidic. Not only that, but if the oceans had a pH of less than 7 (were acid) then any life there would be very, very different.
It's expected that pH will drop more in the Arctic. As I quoted in my earlier article, there is greater buffering capacity in the tropics than near the poles, so the pH drop will be faster and greater up north. From the IPCC WG1 AR5 section 3.8.2 report:
A global mean decrease in surface water pH of 0.08 from 1765 to 1994 was calculated based on the inventory of anthropogenic CO2 (Sabine et al., 2004), with the largest reduction (–0.10) in the northern North Atlantic and the smallest reduction (–0.05) in the subtropical South Pacific. These regional variations in the size of the pH decrease are consistent with the generally lower buffer capacities of the high latitude oceans compared to lower latitudes (Egleston et al., 2010).
Here's a paper on pH in the ocean, this time from Paul Matson et al (2011) about the other end of the earth, the southern Ross Sea off Antarctica. I don't know if high latitudes have always had lower pH than the tropics - does anyone know? Whether or not, the pH will drop faster there as CO2 emissions rise.
Update: I found a recent paper focused particularly on fisheries in Alaskan waters, authored by Jeremy Mathis and colleagues, which may be of interest to Willis (or probably not - it would spoil his yarn). It covers a lot of ground, including the impact of acidification on a number of different fish of interest to commercial fishers. [Added by Sou a short while later.]
Update 2: Willis has been furiously backpedaling on this claim in which he initially linked pH to richness of marine life. First of all, he is talking about abundance of fish (based on his fishing experience) not diversity. Second, he's accepting (to some extent) that factors other than pH contribute to abundance. Though he's not let go of his 'pH reduction isn't harmful' argument - apparently arguing that because some fish can tolerate a wider range of pH, then all fish can tolerate a wide pH range. Also, I have no idea why Willis thinks this response about continental shelves is the answer to this comment about oxygen. I notice, too, that he confuses freshwater mussels with marine mussels (see here and here).
I'll add that if one were to only measure abundance in terms of commercial catch on an annual basis, then the north east Pacific doesn't rank highly on the world-wide scale, but higher than the Pacific eastern central region, where Hawaii is located. (Refer Table 3 in the 2014 FAO report.) The fish in polar regions are most abundant in the summer months, for one thing - and that would be when there is most commercial fishing, I expect. Here's a nice little introduction to the abundance of marine life - around Antarctica - which is probably not dissimilar to that way up north.
I've found a whole heap of other material that's relevant, too much to include here. However, I've added one other reference below, which might be of interest. It's a Nature paper from 2013 about fisheries diversity and diversity hotspots.
Sou 10:30 pm Sunday 4 January 2015
Richer or poorer
Did you notice how Willis reckons that the the seas around Alaska are much "richer in life" than the seas around Hawaii? That will come as a surprise to marine biologists all over.
You can read about biodiversity in the Arctic environment on this page of the Census of Marine Life website. There is also the Alaska Ocean Observing System website. There is an awful lot of marine fauna but let's just talk about fish. From the Census of Marine Life:
Just over 400 fish species are known from Arctic seas and adjacent waters including marine, diadromous (mostly anadromous), and freshwater fish species which enter brackish water. Most of these species are living on or near the bottom. The dominant Arctic fish families are cods, eelpouts, snailfishes, sculpins, and salmonids.
That's 400 fish species over all the Arctic seas and adjacent waters, not off the coast of Alaska. So what about Alaska itself? Well, NOAA Fisheries say they have "have documented over 100 fish species in a variety of nearshore habitats". Remember that number - 100.
The Coral Triangle has the highest marine diversity in the world
What's the "richness of life" like in the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii? Here's a quote from Professor Brian Bowen of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), that'll rot Willis' socks:
“The Coral Triangle in the western Pacific has the highest marine biodiversity in the world in part because it has a halo of islands around it, like Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, and French Polynesia,” Bowen said.
Wikipedia lists 418 fish species of Hawaii, and says the list is incomplete. Compare that with the 100 or so fish species off the coast of Alaska. In fact it's more than have been documented in all the Arctic, not just Alaskan waters.
There's more. A new study of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument of Hawaii, suggests that the deep coral reefs there "may contain the highest percentage of fish species found nowhere else on Earth." No. That's not a typo. What its saying is that there is a higher percentage of fish species that aren't found anywhere else on earth, in that marine park.
Strong acids and alkalis can "disappear" inconvenient corpses
At one point Willis wanders off into irrelevancy, talking about making inconvenient corpses disappear. He wrote:
This underscores a simple fact—alkalinity is hard on living creatures, much harder than acidity. For example, if you want to dissolve the victim of your latest murder spree, you’d use lye (a strong alkali) and not sulfuric acid (a strong acid). [Well, maybe not you, but your neighbor about whom everyone always said “He always seemed like such a nice man …]
Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) is a strong acid, a NaOH (which I'll assume is what Willis is referring to) is a strongly alkaline. Both have been used to dissolve human remains, as this article in Slate describes. The Slate article points out that sulphuric acid can cause third degree burns. But if you spill lye on yourself, you'll just get a skin irritation - that is, as long as you don't mix it with water. Remember, lye is used to make soap. Soap isn't made from sulphuric acid!
According to the Slate article, "Heated to 300 degrees, a lye solution can turn a body into tan liquid with the consistency of mineral oil in just three hours." But it doesn't dissolve everything. According to the Slate article, sulphuric acid is better if you want to get rid of all the evidence. "Acids can dissolve a body more completely than lye—liquefying even the bones and teeth—but it takes longer and can be hazardous." Well, I don't take Slate as an authority on disappearing corpses or chemistry, but it seems that Willis was wrong when he said that you wouldn't use sulphuric acid. Some people have.
Don't swim in the sea. You'll dissolve!
Willis offers other various proofs of his various wrong claims. For example, he tells his readers that fish have protection against
That’s why fish often have a slimy kind of mucus that covers their entire bodies … to keep from slowly dissolving in the slightly alkaline ocean. ...
Is that why some fish are covered in a slimy coating? In researching Willis' claim I came across a 1994 paper on the topic of fish mucus, written by Kerry L. Shephard. Unfortunately I couldn't get beyond the first page. It doesn't seem to be online anywhere except at a cost. So I did the next best thing. It was a much-cited paper so I searched the articles that cited it. And then went on from there. I found papers that discussed:
- the anti-microbial properties of slime, how the slime provides a "first line of defense against invading pathogens"
- how slime helps fish swim more easily and protects them from scrapes - "The mucus secreted by fish causes a reduction in drag as they move through water, and also protects the fish from abrasion, by making the fish slide across objects rather than scrape, and disease, by making the surface of the fish difficult for microscopic organisms to adhere to (Shephard 1994).
- how fish slime has mainly a protective function: "The functions of the skin secretions are primarily protective, as a result of their antimicrobial properties."
- how mucus acts as a sunscreen in many tropical reef fish. How in tropical fish there is a "widespread distribution of both UVA- and UVB-absorbing compounds in the epithelial mucus of these fishes", and how some fish can even alter this effect by changing the composition of the mucus in response to changes in sunlight; although this depends on their diet.
Nowhere did I find a paper or any suggestion that fish slime protects fish from the alkaline ocean, although there was one mention in a paper by Sucre et al (2012) of its role in acid-base regulation, again citing the paper by Kerry Shephard: "Mucus is considered as a highly multifunctional material, primary involved in osmotic, ionic and acid-base regulation, gas exchange, excretion and defense (Shephard, 1994)."
There are probably other functions for fish mucus that are known and yet to be discovered. But it seems to me that protecting fish from "slowly dissolving in the slightly alkaline ocean" isn't something that people write about.
I wonder if Willis avoids swimming in the ocean, for fear he'll start to dissolve?
(I have to say that in contrast to climate-related papers, fish people don't upload their papers to the internet. It was really hard to find anything other than abstracts. Deniers might complain that climate papers are paywalled, but papers about fish are much worse. Not only are they paywalled but it's rare to find pdf versions floating about.)
Acids are better because ... lemons!
In one of the more hilarious parts (if you could pick only one), Willis backs up his point that acid is better for life by writing that we often eat lemon juice:
In line with our bodies’ poor tolerance of alkalinity I just mentioned, we often eat things like lemon juice, which has a pH of around two, which is neutral minus five pH units … whereas the most alkaline foods that we can tolerate have a pH of around eight, which is only one pH unit above neutral.
Well, if forced to choose I admit I'd opt for drinking lemon juice over Drano. Lemon juice is acidic, but what happens when you drink it? It shoots down your oesophagus and lands in your stomach - and gastric juices have a pH about the same - 2 (from pH 1.5 to 3.5).
I wonder if Willis know that the pH of arguably the most important of bodily fluids, blood, is around 7.4? Yep, it's alkaline. (If Willis reads this, he'll probably rush off to see if he can get some mucus with which to line his arteries.)
How about "living organisms don't seem to mind" if they die off
Willis decides he knows better than the scientists. He doesn't believe that shell fish and corals and various reef dwellers will "mind" if pH drops. He writes:
As you can see, it’s nothing for any one of the thousands of different species living offshore from me to go through a large rapid swing in pH. It doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest, they’ve been doing it for millions of years. Not only that, but as you can see from the Hawaii data, the slow drop in alkalinity is gradually moving the ocean towards a more neutral condition, which living organisms don’t seem to mind.
He's wrong. It bothers a lot of species, as described in Wootten et al (2008), as just one example. Willis goes on to say how unimpressed he is by science. What he means is he arrogantly ignores science. Notice how Willis uses pH units per decade, rather than hydrogen ion concentration, to make this most rapid of changes look (to dumb deniers) inconsequential. (I haven't checked his arithmetic.)
All of which is why I say that the gradual neutralization of the ocean from increasing CO2 is meaningless. It’s also why I say that calling the process “acidification” is merely an attempt to increase alarm. What’s happening is gradual neutralization, at a rate of something like 0.018 ± .001 pH units per decade (mean of seven multidecadal pH datasets) … color me unimpressed.
As you can see in the last paragraph, Willis finishes up by reverting to his term "neutralization" when describing ocean acidification. I don't know if he thinks that the ocean will end up at pH = 7. He'd be wrong. Salt water has high buffering capacity, which will stop it from getting that low. Here's a short FAQ on ocean acidification, from the European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA).
From the WUWT comments
Tom in Florida wonders
January 2, 2015 at 2:47 pm
Perhaps the optimum pH for marine life is closer to the numbers you show for the Alaska environment. Perhaps some of the ocean’s waters becoming less alkaline is a good thing.
Bob Tisdale sucks up to Willis, probably miffed that Willis didn't mention him in his earlier self-congratulatory, scientifically illiterate article. (Willis doesn't think much of Bob's magical ENSO's. They compete with Willis' "thunderstorms will stop global warming" hypothesis.)
January 2, 2015 at 2:52 pm
Thomas needs to read up on ocean chemistry.
January 2, 2015 at 6:27 pm
Decreasing pH with increasing depth is the opposite of what one would expect if human-emitted CO2 is the cause. If pH is decreased due to carbonic acid formed from dissolved atmospheric CO2, then one would expect pH to be lower and the ocean-atmopshere interface, i.e. the surface.
From the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution website on ocean acidification (my links):
Upwelling areas are indeed regions of low pH. However, their water chemistry is set primarily by the rise of old deeper water, and not by anthropogenic CO2-driven ocean acidification. Deep water has naturally lower pH due to respiration of organic matter falling from the surface ocean. In some locations, such as off the west coast of North America (Feely et al. Science 2008), water upwelling from mid-depths contains a great deal of CO2 from respiration as well as from anthropogenic CO2, owing to local circulation, so that these locations demonstrate much lower pH and carbonate ion concentrations than are expected from upwelling or atmospheric CO2 invasion alone (Wootton et al. 2008).
Lance Wallace writes about the 2003 Caldiera and Wickett paper from Nature:
January 2, 2015 at 3:22 pm (extract)Lance adds some figures and then talks about the lower pH at depth. I don't think he understands that most marine life is in the top couple of hundred metres of the ocean. Deep ocean species are adapted to a lower pH environment. (See above).
Caldeira and Wickett 2003 link the surface pH directly to atmospheric CO2, predicting a drop of about -0.4 pH units when the atmospheric CO2 hits 700 ppm. Since we should hit 700 ppm by 2110 (RCP6), they are proposing a somewhat faster rate of decline (about 0.3 units per century compared to your estimate of about 0.18 per century). But according to them, effects on marine life of pH at 7.6 will be dire. Their graph is fascinating to see, since if we went to 700 ppm in a mere 10 years, the ocean would follow suit instantaneously (right half of the figure).
Latitude talks about the glassy eyed "they", whoever "they" are.
January 2, 2015 at 6:12 pm
michael…they get glassy eyed when you tell them that organisms that lay down calcium or strontium skeletons….regulate their own CO2 internally…that’s how they do it
Karim D. Ghantous, like many WUWT-ers, is a fan of pseudo-science and can't understand actual science, which is a shame for him and a blessing for Anthony Watts:
January 2, 2015 at 3:26 pm
Firstly, thanks very much for doing this work. Funny how a volunteer such as yourself is producing more useful data than the people paid to do it at the IPCC.
I’m not a physiologist but I suspect that the information you have regarding pH in diet is a little off. For example, lemon juice is healthy not because its acidic, but because it produces an alkaline reaction in vivo. And while the body is fine with acidic foods (as long as the quality is good), it absolutely needs alkaline substances. Processed dairy milk is bad for your bones because a) it has little nutritional value, b) it congests the intestine and c) it is acidic.
Soft drinks of any kind are disastrous because they are acidic, not just because of the sugar (or worse, the synthetic sweeteners). Soft drinks can be pH 2.5 or so while beer is merely 4 or so (and has fewer ingredients, therefore it’s ‘healthier’ than soda).
Which reminds me - don't bother googling pH and food, or acidity and food, or alkalinity and food. I discovered there's a weird food cult that has oodles of websites and probably quite a following. It claims to rank foods in terms of acid and alkaline (lemons are ranked alkaline). There are hundreds of pages of this crap clogging up Google search.
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