Shell game

by Rud Istvan

Is ocean acidification the  new global warming?

A recent Climate Etc. post on the 2C target asked what might be next. The IPCC target is increasingly problematic, since lower climate sensitivity (the pause plus) means the world may come close without doing anything. The CAGW/IPCC apparatus will need other raisons d’etre. Extreme weather isn’t cooperating. Sea level rise is too slow. About the only direct CO2 emissions linkage left is ocean acidification. Expect an orchestrated crescendo of the usual stuff from the usual suspects about ‘the lesser known twin of climate change’ (to quote the Seattle Times). Following is a little overture.


Seattle loves oysters. Its most valuable is the Pacific oyster. The Seattle Times followed up earlier alarming oyster stories with 10/18/12 headlines:

Oysters in deep trouble: Is Pacific Ocean’s chemistry killing sea life? Oyster larvae have been dying by the billions. Scientists suspect it’s a sign that carbon dioxide is dramatically affecting the ocean — and if they’re right, it could push Washington into the center of the debate about the future of the seas.

This was the latest in a series of articles about Pacific oyster problems in Washington’s commercial shellfish industry. The reporting is based on peer reviewed research by NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL) and Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NFSC), partly joint with OSU.  These NOAA labs are using federal dollars to broadcast their  alarm:  An Upwelling Crisis: Ocean Acidification.

Of course this was picked up by other MSM, eventually including Yahoo News and NBC News. A ‘quality’ example is Maria Dolan’s 2/18/2013 Slate headline:

ARE OYSTERS DOOMED? Don’t believe in climate change? Talk to a clam digger.

Seattle’s Center for Biological Diversity announced on 7/23/13 that it was suing the EPA for failing to curb CO2 emissions in order to halt Pacific acidification:

Lawsuit Launched Targeting Large-scale Oyster Deaths in Oregon, Washington Driven by Ocean Acidification

The Center may be well intentioned, but has a few things to learn about futility. The EPA may try to affect U.S. CO2 emissions, but it won’t China’s.


There are certainly AGW related ocean facts beyond reasonable scientific doubt. Henry’s law requires that the partial pressures of atmospheric and dissolved ocean CO2 equilibrate. Increasing dissolved CO2 lowers pH by increasing carbonic acid. NOAA PMEL has documented this in the central Pacific off Mauna Loa. Station Aloha surface pH has declined from 8.12 to 8.08 since 1991 as dissolved pCO2 increased from about 325 to 360μatm, while atmospheric CO2 increased from about 350 to 395 ppm. That is Δ0.04 pH in 20 years. Caution is due about simple linear extrapolation. This is just a portion of a PDO cycle, and ocean pH is not a linear system driven only by Henry’s law.

Ocean pH is not uniform. It varies diurnally and seasonally with ecosystem biorhythms. At the deep ocean PMEL site north of tropical Hawaii, seasonal surface variation is only Δ0.1 pH because that ocean is relatively ‘barren’. Southern ocean surface seasonality is Δ0.5 pH. Seasonal variation is as high as Δ1.43 pH depending on where in the Pacific its 8 general ecosystems are evaluated.

How marine organisms do under experimental aquarium conditions of significantly increased CO2  (with food, light, and temperature held constant) depends on species. Crustaceans, temperate urchins, calcifying (coralline) algae, limpets, and mussels do well. Oysters, conch, bay scallops, and some tropical corals do not. Aquariums probably do not reflect the important interplay of other ecosystem factors affecting these creatures. As an example, Florida Bay conchs thrive amidst complex interactions between season and salinity that drive extreme pH swings. The Everglades mangrove fringe has winter pH 5.8, while out toward Key West (the ‘Conch Republic’) pH peaks as high as 9.8 during sunny summer days with elevated (from evaporation) salinity.[i] The extreme alkalinity comes from Thallassia sea grass photosynthesis consuming dissolved CO2, plus high salinity (>50ppt) driven calcium carbonate precipitation above pH 8.3. There is a lot of uncertainty about, and potential resilience in, marine biodiversity. Together with pH buffering mechanisms and other possible CO2 driven processes, the oceans will adapt naturally to some inevitable acidification.

Alarm restated

The Pacific oyster, the Miyagi, is an estuarine species from Japan where it has been cultivated for hundreds of years. It thrives from tidal flats to depths of about 40 meters. It is now grown all over the world since it is fecund, fast growing, and environmentally tolerant of large temperature and salinity swings. One 100g oyster can produce 80 million eggs in a single spawn, and will spawn every year when the water warms sufficiently (over 20°C). (BTW, for the MSM this means anyone eating a dozen oysters destroys at least a billion spawn.) It is the most valuable commercial oyster, introduced to Washington around 1920.

In 2005, the natural Pacific oyster spawn failed at Willapa Bay in Washington. The problem was traced to a bacterial infection (Vibrio tubiashii) that is particularly virulent to Pacific oyster larvae. It failed again in 2006, and 2007, and 2008. The solution was to put out artificially spawned spat from (among others) the Whiskey Creek Hatchery (WCH) on Netarts Bay in northern Oregon. There, brood oysters are cultivated at 18°C. They are induced to spawn by raising water temperature to 22°C, with the ensuing eggs and larvae held at 25°C until the spat sets. In 2008, 80% of the WCH spawn failed to set spat. This was quickly traced to V. tubiashii infection; concentrations were 100 times normal. So WCH installed expensive ultraviolet sanitizing systems on its seawater intakes. But in 2009 a portion of the spawn still failed. WCH noticed those failures were associated with intake of seasonal upwelling seawater. Subsequent experiments showed this lower pH seawater was the new culprit at WCH. NOAA PMEL was quoted in a Seattle Times ocean acidification story on 4/11/12 about the new OSU/PMEL paper concerning near term ocean acidification alarm: “This is the smoking gun for oyster larvae”


This is climate change smoke and mirrors, not an ocean acidification smoking gun. The situation is contrived and the facts are misrepresented. Lets put the foregoing information together again in a way that removes the smoke.

Pacific oysters are estuarine. NOAA’s ocean education website explains why estuary pH is always seasonally variable. In the warmer months, heighted phytoplankton, algal, and sea grass photosynthesis consumes CO2, producing bottom food chain food (e.g. for oysters) and raising pH just like in Florida Bay. The Fraser River estuary north of Seattle at Vancouver BC annual pH variation is 7.3 to 8.3.[ii] The famous Elkhorn Slough on Monterey Bay in northern California variation is 7.4 to 8.4.[iii] Estuarine oysters naturally spawn when pH is elevated during the warm water months when food is plentiful for larvae and spat.

Netarts Bay is not estuarine. Most of its annual pH variation from 7.7 to 8.2 comes from seasonal upwelling rather than biological activity. NOAA provides the simple explanation. Seasonal shoreline winds create Ekman transport currents that cause coastal upwelling, something known since 1902.

rud1 ecinfigeight

Temperature contrasts between normal surface water and upwelling water are large (≈8°C), and monitored by NASA satellites.

rud2 upwelling1

Upwelling water from below the euphotic (light penetrating photosynthetic) zone (100-200 meters depth depending on location and season) is nutrient rich. This causes phytoplankton to bloom, in turn providing a banquet for the entire food chain. NASA satellites can see the chlorophyll increase using natural as well as enhanced imaging. The sea literally becomes greener and more turbid.

rud3 California_SEA_2004265

Seasonal upwelling is crucial for the sardine, salmon, Dungeness crab, and tuna fisheries, which is why it is studied by NFSC and PMEL.

Water below the euphotic zone has naturally lower pH than surface water. Again, the reasons are simple. Henry’s law is temperature dependent; colder water holds more CO2. More important, the ‘rain’ of organic detritus from the euphotic zone begins decomposing, which lowers pH (the Great Dismal Swamp’s seasonal pH 3.5-4.0 is a more extreme terrestrial example). This biological ‘recycling’ enriches the water with nutrients. Upwelling surface pH is lower than ‘normal’ until phytoplankton raise it by photosynthesizing dissolved CO2  and nutrients back into marine food. PMEL’s sampled California/Oregon border pH profile shows natural upwelling changes surface water pH from 8.1 to 7.7.

rud 4 pH-transect-5_0

Coastal fisheries thrive. Pacific oyster larvae at WCH don’t. By now, the reason should be obvious. The hatchery was taking in ‘winter’ pH water, then warming it to ‘summer’ temperatures to induce artificial spawn without also raising it to estuarine summer pH. Of course the spawn failed to set spat even through brood oysters were unaffected. The WCH problem has nothing to do with ocean acidification. Neither does naturally upwelling ΔpH 0.4 compared to possible AGW acidification ΔpH 0.04—despite official NOAA ‘Upwelling crisis: ocean acidification’ PR. Pacific oyster spawning depends on estuarine seasonal pH. WCH must be managed like an estuary where these oysters naturally live.

So what was the real purpose of the highly touted peer-reviewed research that, instead of merely confirming centuries old biology, goes on extensively about alarming implications for near term ocean acidification?


The study authors from Oregon State University and NOAA PMEL and NFSC knew or should have known the WCH problem was just Oysters 101. It has nothing to do with near term ocean acidification, unlike their study title, MSM quotes, and their US government websites.  The Seattle Times could have figured WCH out with an hour of Oysters 101 research, rather than amplifying a misleading message that Feely has been promoting since 2008.

The shell game is an ancient street confidence game. It is portrayed in medieval paintings. It spawned the aphorism “watch the pea”. ‘Shell men’ never worry about which of three shells hides the pea, because they palmed it. Here, the pea is estuarine pH biorhythm.  ‘Shell men’ often use accomplices as shills to goose betting on which shell the pea is under; here the Seattle Times and NOAA shill. The betting here concerns a misled public demanding that PMEL and OSU get more research funding.

The pea was palmed in this climate change version of the shell game.

[i] NOAA/National Park Service Joint Report: NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS CCMA154, same as NPS Special Report 01-02. Page 64.

[ii] Canadian Council of Ministries of the Environment, Marine pH water quality guidelines (1999). Page 1

[iii] Hofmann et. al., High-frequency dynamics of ocean pH: a multi ecosystem comparison, PLoS One 6: e28983 (2011). Table 2

JC note:  This guest post was submitted via email, in response to my request in the comments for something on ocean acidification.  As with all guest posts, please keep your comments relevant and civil.

105 responses to “Shell game

  1. Lotsa politicians in Stockholm gathered together to breathe science.

    • Well, I alternated between this construction and ‘gathered together to breathe life into science’. Now I like the later.

      • Oh, gee. fan, fan, fan, fools are supposed to be amusing; you are boring.

      • not if i can help it

      • If CO2 keeps rising all clams may be on the half shell in just a few years.

      • Speaking of keeping the alarm going:

        Interesting column in NYT’s today on the insignificance of the pause by the “I once was lost but now I’m found,” erstwhile “skeptic,” Richard Muller. My wife, who could care less about all this, happened to read it over breakfast and even she was taken by his self-aggrandizing tone.

        He claims it’s all to be expected, and that he predicted a period of cooling back in 2004. But he admits that they don’t really know what’s going on. In the end, the piece is mostly hand waving and conjecture. My thought is, is this the best they can do?

        The glory days of 2007 must seem a long time ago to these guys.

      • His ‘It wasn’t a prediction’ prediction paragraph was pretty good!
        The thing I’m wondering about is that if it doesn’t match solar and it is probably the oceans then why is PDO showing warm cycle (the biggest one) smack dab in the middle of the little ice age?
        Excuse my ignorance if that’s the case. I just wanna know.

      • Reply to pokerguy^^^

      • As usual we see the continual rush to develop new theories about how Americanism and modernity is destroying the Earth. We see zero concern for the precautionary principle. The only concern is for fabricating new claims whether true or not to keep the government money rolling in: fear is the only product the Climatists are selling and that is what the government is buying. All the egregious problems we see with the new theories and claims — no matter how well documented — are simply denied, ignored and suppressed. Nothing is slowing the duplicity, hypocrisy and insanity of Western academia’s mad scientists and the more vacuous their claims, the more propaganda there is to help spread the latest global warming lies.

      • Interesting that Muller talks about the pacific oscillations but did not apply them in his BEST summary of findings.

        If one applies these temperature fluctuations ala Kosaka&Xie, and Rahmstorf&Foster, then the volcanic disturbances just jump out at you. Unbelievably cool in a weather-geek sense.

        The only years that look quirky are the WWII era and from 1905 to 1915.

        These climate scientists are outstanding and Muller is right in that the land temperatures are the key to understanding changing climate.

    • Think you may have had it the first time. Breathing science arresting metaphor.

  2. This study concludes that the Pacific oyster is resistant to changes in pH.

  3. Of course ocena acidification is the new global warming! Global Warming fear mongering has always been about producing scary future scenarios that the average person cannot verify. It’s never about roasting to death in my back yard, which I can easily verify. It’s always been about arctic sea ice, Himalayan glaciers, average global temperatures, miniscule sea level rise: all things that virtually nobody on the planet can verify for themselves so we all rely on a handfull of scientist to study these things, write papers, and geneerate lots of funding for themselves. But over time even these studis become falsified and therefore they need to look for other scary scenarios that can’t be verified by the average person. In comes ocean acidification, a topic that even scientists can’t measure properly at the current time.

  4. Is Rud misrepresenting again?

    Yes. A repeat offender.

    What is the ‘misleading’ title of the paper?
    “The Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, shows negative correlation to naturally elevated carbon dioxide levels: Implications for near-term ocean acidification impacts”

    Someone is playing the shell game…

    • Michael, You claim Rud is playing a shell game. I dont know enough about oyster fisheries for me to know who is correct; you or Rud. What I do know is that I find what Rud has written to be very convincing; but then I am biased. But if you want to convince me that you are correct, which i doubt, you need to include as much detail as Rud has given. Your broad statement I find to be unconvincing. This is what our hostess means when xhe notes tnat this sort of discussion is technical.

      • Jim,

        The problems with Rud’s post are multiple.

        Let’ start with the overall premise, set by the use of the term “shell game” – ie. deliberate deception. Not an error, not competing explanations,but deliberate, pre-meditated dishonesty is what Rud is claiming.

        That’s an allegation that needs some convincing evidence, don’t you think?

        And the evidence – there isn’t any. There’s a lot of words, but evidence?

        First we get a few links to news items that Rud appears to have a problem with. Exactly what the problem is, is a little vague. He highlights the one quote from Richard Feely – “This is the smoking gun for oyster larvae”. Is it this statement that’s the problem,or the quality of the journalism (our hostess can tell you about lenghty conversations with journalists and subsequent stories where you get quoted with alarming brevity)?? It’s not all that clear to me.

        What follows is an ‘analysis’ which I presume is meant to show the problems with the ‘alarm’ that Rud keeps referring to. What it is, is a brief summary of what we know about ocean chemistry and ecology focusing on pH and CO2; summarised from the work of scientists like Richard Freely, one of the authors. While denigrating NOAA as a ‘shill’, Rud relies on much of their work in his analysis, even reproducing graphs of Feely’s (sans attribution, of course) on ocean pH at different depths. Always amusing to see a blog post using a scientists own work to tell them they don’t understand their area.

        His conclusion – that is was all “oysters 101” – ignoring the fact the problem was finally confirmed by the Hales et al study,

        “It has nothing to do with near term ocean acidification, unlike their study title, MSM quotes, and their US government websites. ….amplifying a misleading message” says Rud.

        So what was the title?
        “The Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, shows negative correlation to naturally elevated carbon dioxide levels: Implications for near-term ocean acidification impacts”.

        So their finding that the oyster die off was primarily due to natural upwelling, was misleading how exactly?

        The second part, that Feely referred to in his quote (“smoking gun”) is in relation to the second part the title and is discussed in suitably careful terminology in the paper (ie “we acknowledge the correlative and suggestive nature of this study…”).
        This makes me wonder if, yet again, Rud has failed to read the article (like his 2 previous posts where he only read the abstracts leading to significant errors in his ‘analysis’). Rud’s “pea” comment also points tothis direction,suggesting the authors don’t get,or know about, estuarine pH – but Hales et al go into much more detail on this than Rud manages in his brief ‘analysis’.

        Rud has great faith in adaptability;
        “Together with pH buffering mechanisms and other possible CO2 driven processes, the oceans will adapt naturally to some inevitable acidification”

        With zero evidence to support this claim, which is especially brave given he accepts that the relatively small pH change caused the massive oyster larvae die offs.

        Perhaps it’s based on this error (let’s be generous and says it’s an error, not part of some ‘shell game’);
        “Neither does naturally upwelling ΔpH 0.4 compared to possible AGW acidification ΔpH 0.04”

        Projected AGW pH change is in fact 0.4, not 0.04.

        So, really how convincing is Rud’s suggestion of deliberate deception?

      • Now you’re talking, Michael.

        Crickets in 5, 4, 3, 2, …

      • Thank you, Michael. Now I need to do some more reading.

      • Willard,

        The reason you hear crickets is because Micheals critique was woeful. They paused foe a moment, say it made nary a ripple, and went back to chirping.

        Simple truth. You can’t differentiate CO2 from off shore currents and that from anthropogenic atmospheric CO2.

        Fact, not every problem with NW oysters is tied to pH. Even though media reporters and some scientists are quick on the ocean acidification card.

        Fact, NW producers are shipping their larvae to Hawaii for the first couple if weeks in their development, after which they do fine when replanted in NW waters.

        If anthropogenic CO2 is the primary driver of pH change, why aren’t we seeing the same sort of change in Hawaiian waters?

        Seriously, this is something most of the students I work with can reach a reasonable conclusion on.

      • Dear Tim,

        While all this is very interesting, and I do wish you to continue, it is also irrelevant to what Michael just said.

        It is so irrelevant that your students may wonder if you really read Michael’s comment.

        You wouldn’t want your students question your reading skills, now would you?


        For once, Michael took the time to substantiate his beef. The least you could do would be to pay due diligence to it.

      • Willard, would you be so good as to examine the references I have cited, and linked, down thread.
        Let us suppose that we are worried about, the effect of human health, a temperature trend of 3 degrees per century and so as an experiment, could I place you in a temperature that is 6.5×3 degrees above the Texas average to get an idea of what problems we may face in the near future?

      • > Willard, would you be so good as to examine the references I have cited, and linked, down thread.

        Would you also like me to bring you a cup of coffee and today’s newspapers, Doc?

      • The original research on the conditions required to successfully raise oysters was good stuff. But the authors couldn’t resist adding spurious and completely gratuitous commentary about the effects of ocean acidification on oysters which the media obediently spins into screaming headlines about oysters being some sort of smokling gun.

        Rud quite rightly criticises this media commentary as unwarranted and does an excellent job of explaining why this is so. But he also adds unwarranted spin of his own with his comments about shell games and deliberate deception.

        Now Michael steps up to the plate. He criticises Rud for ignoring the valid work done by the researchers and focussing only the unmeritted link they made to ocean acidification which was widely reported in the media. In doing so he ignores the valid criticisms made by Rud and focuses only on the unmeritted comments about shell games and deception.

        Irony anyone?

        (Next Ian H steps up to the plate … )

      • Tim,

        Thankyou for your concerns.

        “The reason you hear crickets is because Micheals critique was woeful. They paused foe a moment, say it made nary a ripple, and went back to chirping.
        Simple truth. You can’t differentiate CO2 from off shore currents and that from anthropogenic atmospheric CO2.
        Fact, not every problem with NW oysters is tied to pH. Even though media reporters and some scientists are quick on the ocean acidification card…
        If anthropogenic CO2 is the primary driver of pH change, why aren’t we seeing the same sort of change in Hawaiian waters?” – Tim

        I’ve no major problem with anything you’ve stated there..except that it’s all beside the point.

        I gave the full title of the Hales et al paper for a very good reason. I’d imagine that this is something most of the students you work with could reach a reasonable conclusion on.

      • Willard,

        I’ll grant you the point about not providing a detailed rebuttal to Michael’s post. In part it is due to my doing much of this on the phone. I will see if I can provide one

        Now please explain why you don’t bother with addressing the points I raised, rather than brushing by them and changing the point?

        Have you decided to emulate fan’s practice of dishonest discussion?

    • Provocative, but unexplained and undefended it’s merely a drive-by sneer. Is that the best you’ve got?

    • Michael,

      I live in the NW, have exchanged emails with Richard Feely on the topic and can attest he is not playing any sort of shell game.

      Ask yourself this, If WA oyster larvae can be shipped to Hawaii to reach the stage where they are immune to changes in pH, why would one not conclude that the primary cause of lowering pH is upwelling currents?

      Is Hawaii some magical place where ocean acidification does not take place?

      • [Michael] Someone is playing the shell game… [Sir Rud].

        [Tim] I live in the NW, have exchanged emails with Richard Feely on the topic and can attest he is not playing any sort of shell game.

  5. So all they have to do is pretreat the water by bubbling air through it, simulatneously warming it and stripping out excess CO2.

  6. wilbert robichaud

    And after all that ?… 7pH is still neutral.

    • That may be true, the pH of neutral water is temperature dependent.

      Acidification refers to adding acid or lowering the pH, the pH of 7 being neutral is irrelevant.

      Calcium carbonate is more soluble at lower pH and that is the problem.

      It isn’t a new issue either, it’s been proposed as a problem at least since the 80s.

      • The Free dictionary disagrees

        Acdidfy ‘To make or become acid.’

        Adding acid doesn’t cut the mustard as a definition of ‘acidify’. You have to make it acidic. And there are no know plausible mechanisms where the huge volume of alkaline seawater pH ~8 is going to be shifted a whole pH point to pH<7 by the pretty weak carbonic acid.

        The correct term for the effect is 'ocean neutralisation'. You start with an alkaline seawater solution and end up with a very slightly less alkaline seawater solution – nearer in properties to pure water. 'Acidity' does not enter into it.

        FWIW, at pH8.0 , the seawater contains 100 times as many alkaline (OH-) ions as acidic (H+) ions. The chemistry is dominated by OH-. Only at 7.0 (neutral) do the alkaline and acidic occur in equal numbers. We are not going to get to 7.0

        I am sorely tempted to believe that the only reason 'acidification' was misleadingly and incorrectly chosen .to be the common descriptor is because the general public associate 'acid' with very bad things (acid burns, murders, taste). 'Neutralisation' (though correct) would not unlock the required funding to keep the scare ticking over.

        And then people wonder why I am cynical where anything to do with climate is concerned……..

      • Agreed Lati,

        I always go to the Free Dictionary for my chemistry tips.

      • How about going to a Chemistry text book for your chemistry tips, but a dictionary for the definition of words?

        Radical, but most people do it that way.

      • @michael

        Fine, choose another source for a definition of ‘acidification’. Since the term is now in common (not just ‘inside climatology’) use, better make sure that its a widely accepted one, lest you fall foul of my cynicism.

        OED? Chambers? The Alarmists Guide to Misleading the Public?

        Your choice. I await with great interest.

      • @michael

        And if you want to read up a bit more on pH, I seem to remember that W.J Moore covers it as no doubt, does Peter W Atkins.

      • Latimer, someone wants their chemistry degrees back.

        Use a definition from a chemistry source


        “A substance that produces H+(aq) ions in aqueous solution. Strong acids ionize completely or almost completely in dilute aqueous solution. Weak acids ionize only slightly.”

        Water is an acid no matter what the pH.

      • @bob droege

        I don’t think you understand the meaning of ‘an aqueous solution’. The solvent is (by definition) water. So dissolving water in water gives H+ ions. Yep. And in pure water it also gives exactly the same number of hydroxyl ions

        H20 H+ + OH –

        The two cancel each other out and that is why pure water is considered to be neutral. pH=7 and [H+] = [OH-].

        But oceans are reliably and substantially alkaline [H+] << [OH-]

        As to the terminology, when the expression is in common usage (eg in general newspapers) then the scientists have a responsibility to use terms in such a way as to not mislead the layman.Or to point out the obvious difference between the layman's interpretation and their technical jargon.

        To use an example from my current field…to 'boot a computer' meant different things to my late father than it might to my children. The unvarnished technical term is not appropriate for the layman.

        STM to that the insistence on arguable technical definitons shos that the important thing the 'scientists' wish to establish in people's minds is the erroneous idea of acidity. The term 'neutralisation' is both technically accurate and does not convey the 'badness' of 'acidity'. It has been available since long before I studied physical chemistry many years ago

        I wonder why they 'scientists' are so reluctant to address this obvious problem with their terminology?

      • But then again Latimer,
        Alkaline is just another way to say lye, so less alkaline would be less lye, which would be good, cause we know lye is bad, just like we know acidic is bad, which is all kind of juvenile.

        loss of aragonite super-saturation doesn’t sound all that menacing does, and that’s the real issue, not whether or not people like you get scared of the term acidification,

        If some scientist published a paper on the decreasing alkalinity of seawater and it affect on juvenile oysters, other scientists would say “what a pussy”

      • A decrease in alkalinity would be correct. Neutralization implies the pH has been moved to 7. Acidification isn’t correct, since that implies a pH < 7.

      • @bob droege

        I do not get ‘scared of the term acidification’. But I recognise and call out the use of a scary term by people who claim to be ‘scientists’ and who really should know better.

        That they haven’t changed it – but continue to pathetically defend it on spurious technical grounds suggests to me that their motivations in continuing to use it are not solely for the advancement of objective truth.

        And I really don’t think that ‘other scientists would call them a pussy’ is much of a reason to sacrifice their ‘integrity’.

        If, as rumoured, the IPCC are going to major on ‘OA’ this time around, I will need to order a supersize bag of popcorn to watch (and I hope contribute to) the carnage of its already shaky reputation. Both OA and ‘deep ocean heat’ are wonderful handwaving theories..lacking only any decent amount of observational data to support them. Blood on the carpet…..

      • Lati,

        acidification; increasing [H+](aq)

  7. As pH is one of the least studied of the climate-changy-changy parameters, of course it will be the latest scare tactic. I had noticed the same thing Rud.

  8. “Henry’s law requires that the partial pressures of atmospheric and dissolved ocean CO2 equilibrate”

    Overall there are only two things, thermodynamic and kinetics.
    Henry’s law applies to the partition of a gasses between two reservoirs, one liquid and one gas.
    On planet Earth there is never an equilibrium between the atmosphere and the ocean.
    Firstly, the daily change in the interface temperature is always changing. This not only changes the partition coefficient of CO2, between the two media, but changes the buffering capacity of inorganic carbon as temperature and salinity directly effect the pKa of proton buffers and divalent cation binding constants of carbonate and bicarbonate.
    Secondly, the oceans are alive and during the day time photosynthetic organism actively denude the surface of CO2 and of inorganic carbon. During the daily cycle there are mass transfers of inorganic carbon into organic carbon at the surface, the downward movement of organic carbon and the upward movement of CO2/DIC from below; as well as the movement of atmospheric CO2 from the atmosphere.
    Thirdly, Henry’s Law is based on only on global equilibrium between a gas in the two phases, but on local equilibrium in the two phases. The oceans are stratified with respect to CO2, due to biological processes, which means that the aquatic system is never in local equilibrium with respect to pH and DIC. This ignores the seasonal variations that occur over the Earths oceans.
    The take away is that one cannot apply equilibrium thermodynamics, which a prior demand that the system studied is kinetically ‘dead, to a oscillating steady state system. The ocean/atmosphere is as removed from equilibrium and a human/atmosphere is.

  9. Most informative. But I have to disagree with your statement:

    “The Seattle Times could have figured WCH out with an hour of Oysters 101 research,”

    Even with some of the best of journalists, “figuring out” is not part of their job. They merely report (or spin) what they are told.

    • Phil,

      A good reporter digs for facts.

      • TimG56 – In theory, yes. But sadly not any longer.

        It seems that with research getting easier due to the internet, real research has become harder to find.

    • Ordinarily I would agree with you. But the reporter, Craig Welch, has been writing articles on ocean acidification for four years. With partial funding from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting he has searched, and the Seattle Times just published, a major feature on ocean acidification called SeaChange. Website, videos, complete full court press. He interviewed Feely, went to OSU, visited WCH. Given that this wasn’t just a report in a PR about a paper, he owed his readership more diligence. But then he wouldn’t have this example to use. The damage being done is illustrated by the EPA lawsuit.

      • Rid,.

        I agree. Last year I contacted him with questions about some of the statements and conclusions in his article. The best he could do was refer me to Dr Feely. No curiosity. No background research. Simply write down what he was told by his interviewees.

        In other words, ignoring the principles of good journalism.

      • I appreciate the back story. I guess “journalists” live in a world of their own.

  10. It seems PH measurement technology isn’t very good. An X-prize is being offered for better measurement devices.

  11. Willis Eschenbach

    Nice analysis, Rud. Well researched, well cited. Did you send a copy to the Seattle paper in question?

    All the best,


    • Willis this post was stripped out of a much longer essay draft that takes on a newish Seattle Times major feature article, Sea Change, which also includes the Papau new Guinea corals studied by the Australians (and where the reef damage documented came from volcanic hydrogen sulfide not volcanic CO2). The Seatlle Times thinks this article on ocean acidification is so important that they have put up a website with videos, reporter interviews, all the bells and whistles. Oysters was the second of four examples. So far I found the peas in corals and oysters. Got fish hearing and some antartic krillish stuff yet to research. Was going to send the finished complete exposé to the reporter, Craig Welch. You motivate me to send what I have, with the rest to follow.

      • Willis, just polished up for the reporter and sent the longer half completed draft off. Now we wil see…
        Thanks again for the suggestion to do this ASAP.

  12. Willis Eschenbach

    Rud, regarding the Hawaii Station Aloha game, there’s a good analysis here you might enjoy.


    • Thanks for the link. Nice and clear. My Zeebe link was far too technical a buffering discussion.

  13. Again, a thank you to Rud Istvan and a starting point for another personal
    study, some of which may lead to a disagreement with the aforementioned.

    For me two general conclusions are becoming more and more crystallized.

    1) beyond laboratory conditions, equilibrium never exits; all systems are forever moving toward it. However, varying perturbation is a constant and therefore so is negative feedback. A lack of a frame of thought regarding this constant state of change leads to short sighted and alarmist tendencies.

    2. Regardless of the topic, one can expect the same response from the same people on this blog. It would seem some just change a few words,
    copy and paste. I may be a slow learner, but in the end the best solution sometimes, is to never read or engage wh Accomplishes nothing!

  14. sea life will respond to pH changes the same way that bacteria respond to antibiotics, or the way that insects respond to pesticides. sensitive individuals
    will be killed off and the resistant survivors will repopulate. over time the new population will be adapted to the new pH, and if the pH was to return to per-industrial levels, we would see a die off in the reverse direction.

    it is surprising that scientists have such a limited view of the ability of organisms to adapt via natural selection.

    • ferdberple, you are absolutely right. But the warmists, all of whom are probably Darwinian evolutionists in good standing, will offer that the pH change is too abrupt for adaptation. Not a valid premise, given an infinitesimal change.

      • But the Darwinian evolutionsists in good standing love to drag out story of the moth color change due to the soot created during the industrial revolution. That was a rapid change in which the species was able to rapidly adapt.

  15. Rud, Your shell game analogy is “spot on”. Now what kind of peer review and MSM treatment will your insightful interpretation of the data bring forth?

  16. Increased atmospheric CO2 is causing an increase in worldwide violence. It is only logical: CO2 is a poison, right?

  17. Tomorrow the IPCC report comes out but time for a little levity

  18. Thanks Rud! When I read this in the Seattle Times I had exactly the same response as you. Shuck and jive! You really have to follow the pea of causation, which is obviously deliberately made difficult. At one point the article even points out that the slightly neutralized, upwelling sea water absorbed the CO2 decades ago and held it at depth. But that annoying little fact did not seem to put a damper on the breathless references to “climate change!”

  19. Willis Eschenbach

    bob droege | September 26, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Acidification refers to adding acid or lowering the pH, the pH of 7 being neutral is irrelevant.

    Gosh … then what is “neutralization”?

    From titration in chemistry class, I clearly remember neutralizing a solution by adding acid to it.

    Of course I could also acidify that same solution, by adding too much acid and driving it past the neutral point, pH 7.

    So the process currently at play, which will never drive the ocean past the neutral point, is properly called “neutralization”.

    Of course, “acidification” is perfect for alarmist and people wishing to instill fear. It causes kids (and likely some adults) to wonder if it will burn the flesh, or become more corrosive.

    What is happening is that the sea is becoming slightly less corrosive to life.

    The alkalinity of the sea water is more problematic to life than an equivalent acidity would be. Living things are much more tolerant of acids, we contain strong stomach acid, for example, without a problem … but we put lye, which is strongly alkaline, on bodies to destroy them.

    So “acidification” is wrong both on scientific and alarmism grounds. It is an unscientific and needlessly alarmist term for a slight neutralization of the oceanic alkalinity.


  20. William Lenihan

    I am a lawyer, not a scientist. However, among my clients are commercial oyster growers in estuarine waters. One truism regarding oysters is that favorable water temperature is critical to survival. Moreover, ocean upwelling in the vicinity of ocean hatcheries bring colder than normal water temperatures to those sites. These facts support My Istvan’s conclusion that CO2 has nothing to do with the spawn failures.

    The following quote indicates that the coastal hatcheries induced their spawn failures.

    “Coastal fisheries thrive. Pacific oyster larvae at WCH don’t. By now, the reason should be obvious. The hatchery was taking in ‘winter’ pH water, then warming it to ‘summer’ temperatures to induce artificial spawn without also raising it to estuarine summer pH. Of course the spawn failed to set spat even through brood oysters were unaffected. The WCH problem has nothing to do with ocean acidification. Neither does naturally upwelling ΔpH 0.4 compared to possible AGW acidification ΔpH 0.04—despite official NOAA ‘Upwelling crisis: ocean acidification’ PR. Pacific oyster spawning depends on estuarine seasonal pH. WCH must be managed like an estuary where these oysters naturally live.”

  21. The whole scam will be gone in a decade or so but in the meantime, and with one eye nervously on the exit door, the scammers are now putting their best efforts into a blow off phase. Listen carefully around you now, and for the next few years, and you’ll hear the inch wise retractions which somehow don’t count as full-blooded recantations.


    • Yes, inchwise retractions – a good term.

      This revisionist retractionism is like how all the people said that real estate never falls in value, and then once the bubble burst, they fall all over each other saying things like “Well, everybody knew it was a bubble” when at the time they knew no such thing.

      Of course, with this subject, it’s so much more complex, and people have so much more of their ideology at stake, such that the revising and retracting will take much longer, and there will be much more retrenching and dissembling, and distracting, and ing ing ing to the ing’th degree.

    • After Climategate, I pictured the warmists as seated on the outer part of a tree branch which was being steadily sawn through at the trunk with a saw wielded by ‘Nature’. Do they:

      a/ Trust that the sawing will stop?
      b/ Try to find a way of getting past the saw (which, by the way, is a chain-saw, very difficult to negotiate without serious injury) to the safety of the trunk? I think they may find that ‘inch-wise’ doesn’t cut it.

      I hoped that Josh might pick it up and cartoon it – perhaps it’s time has come?

  22. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Rud Istvan, here is a clear explanation of the basic physics-and-physiology relating to ocean acidification:

    Ocean acidification killing oysters
    by inhibiting shell formation

    From the time eggs are fertilized, Pacific oyster larvae will precipitate roughly 90 percent of their body weight as a calcium carbonate shell within 48 hours. The young oysters rely solely on the energy they derive from the egg because they have not yet developed feeding organs.

    Under exposure to increasing carbon dioxide in acidified water, however, it becomes more energetically expensive for organisms to build shell. Adult oysters and other bivalves may grow slower when exposed to rising CO2 levels, other studies have shown. But larvae in the first two days of life do not have the luxury of delayed growth.

    They must build their first shell quickly on a limited amount of energy – and along with the shell comes the organ to capture external food more effectively. It becomes a death race of sorts. Can the oyster build its shell quickly enough to allow its feeding mechanisms to develop before it runs out of energy from the egg?

    Some hatcheries have begun “buffering” water for larvae – essentially adding antacid to the incoming water – including the Whiskey Creek Hatchery and the Taylor Shellfish Farm in Washington. The OSU-led study provides a scientific foundation for the target level of buffering.

    The PhysOrg account is far more clear, and far better-referenced, than your own writings Rud Istvan.

    That is why, when oyster hatcheries apply these scientific lessons, they work.

    Take a lesson in clear scientific communication Rud Istvan! Professional oysterfolks do!

    \scriptstyle\rule[2.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}\,\boldsymbol{\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}\,\heartsuit\,{\displaystyle\text{\bfseries!!!}}\,\heartsuit\,\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}}\ \rule[-0.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}

    • Oh God, you again Fan of more Trolling? Do you ever shut up? First you can’t calculate that 40 is 1/8th of 320, coming up with a 400 foot imaginary ice keel calculation when you should have come up with 280 feet, and now this? By the way, we’re all still waiting for pics of your shrine to Hansen. And your scrapbook. Don’t forget to show us the candles and incense, and hopefully you kneeling and praying too.


      Oysters have thrived for millions and millions of years in oceans with CO2 levels that have fluctuated both in average terms, and also seasonally as Rud shows. The changes observed recently are tiny in comparison. In the long term, which is what you repeatedly say is important, Oysters and all other life will not only survive increased CO2 levels, but will thrive.

      Also, strong science has long established that nothing is “acidified” until it’s ph is below 7, and that is a scientific fact, whatever the title of your link is. Your links are without fail misleading or outdated and rarely support the claims you make.

      All of life on earth has thrived with great variations in CO2 levels. This is fact that is self-evident common sense.

      Another self-evident observation: you are a troll who has never added one bit of useful information or analysis to a single thread I have read.

      That’s strong climate science and strong blog analysis – isn’t it FOMTrolling!

      Glad to have increased your knowledge for you!

      • Before you knitpick, I know that oysters under discussion don’t live in deep oceans, but in estuaries.

      • I love the pencil story. I’m not sure about the test part. At any rate, there used to be a really fun show called Connections in the US. Too bad it isn’t around.

    • It is behind a paywall. I would be very interested in the levels of CO2 used to observe the biological effect.

      In this earlier study they used (pH = 8.1, pCO2 38 Pa) and elevated pCO2 ( pH = 7.7, pCO2 128 Pa)

      Dr. Suspicious isn’t impressed by biological effects in CO2 of 3.4-fold.

    • Oh my, you are tiresome. Of course low pH is why the spat failed to set. The eggs hatch but the larvae cannot form the initial shell. It’s all in the Feely paper. What you ignore, Fan, is that these oysters don’t spawn at all in nature until the water is warm in the summer, at which time it also has the appropriate higher pH for spat to set. Which the post explained not once, but twice in to different ways. Nice try, but no banana.

    • Matthew R Marler

      fan of *MORE* discourse, that post is a good complement to Rud Istvan’s post. Notice that the “problem” was not an increase in general ocean CO2 concentration, but an increase in CO2 caused by the upwelling in a particular “non-estuarine” oyster farm, where “non-estuarine” was emphasized by Rud Istvan. The problem was unrelated to anthropogenic CO2.

      • So the anthropogenic increase in pH is somehow magical and can’t affect anything? but upwelling changes in pH can?

        how does that work?

      • Matthew R Marler

        lolwot: how does that work?

        The ocean has considerable variability in pH, and influxes of low pH water can have a large effect in a particular region, especially the non-estuarine region at issue here. Changes in pH due to anthropogenic CO2 are hypothesized to be smaller compared to the ocean variation. Also read Rud istvan’s comment on the timing of the warmth and pH necessary for growing.

  23. I believe it is more likely that acid rain from coal combustion is causing the lowering of pH than from CO2. It would be hard to prove since the sulfate ion concentration is high enough that the equivalent change in Hydrogen ion necessary to show a change in pH from say 8.2 to 8.0 would be lost in determining the change in sulfate ion.

  24. And only last week I saw a Warmist asserting that one of the AGW-induced positive feedbacks was that the warming oceans released dissolved CO2, which I seem to recollect was actually part of the Warmists’ catechism only a few years ago.

    How times change…

  25. This is
    “Effects of increased seawater pCO2 on early development of the oyster Crassostrea gigas)
    Haruko Kurihara, Shoji Kato & Atsushi Ishimatsu


    “This study demonstrated that the increased partial pressure of CO
    2 (pCO2) in seawater and the attendant acidification that are projected to occur by the year 2300 will severely impact the early development of the oyster Crassostrea gigas. Eggs of the oyster were artificially fertilized and
    incubated for 48 h in seawater acidified to pH 7.4 by equilibrating it with CO2-enriched air (CO2 group), and the larval morphology and degree of shell mineralization were compared with the control treatment (air-equilibrated seawater). Only 5% of the CO2 group developed into normal ‘D-shaped’ veliger larvae as compared with 68% in the control group, although no difference was observed between the groups up to the trochophore stage. Thus, during embryogenesis, the calcification process appears to be particularly affected by low pH and/or the low CaCO3 saturation state of high-CO2 seawater. ”

    May I draw your attention to Table 2.,

    Control 348 μatm
    CO2 treated group 2268 μatm

    Control 10.4 μmol kg–1
    CO2 treated group 67 μmol kg–1

    So instead of working out what the impact of, say, 2x[CO2] would be on the grow of Crassostrea gigas, they super-saturated seawater with CO2, until they raised the pH to 7.4, arrive at a CO2 concentration elevated 6-fold to current levels, and then observed the biological changes. They then stated as this is what CO2/pH changes do to larval development it is possible when CO2 rises, we are going to see more of the same.

    120 citations in five years

    • Doc, it’s more of the acidification meme. Am estuary in summer will not have that low a pH ever, even if the open ocean were to get to that number. And, it already does in winter when the oysters survive fine but don’t spawn Not only is the experiment extreme conditions, it is completely artificial conditions. That’s what got WCH in trouble.

    • Matthew R Marler

      Doc Martyn: the attendant acidification that are projected to occur by the year 2300

      That’s how many generations of these fast breeders? Looks to me like they are safe from a small pH change.

  26. I manged to get a copy of
    “Effects of sea-water acidification on fertilization and larval development of the oyster Crassostrea gigas”
    P. Barros et al., Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 440 (2013) 200–206
    Table 1.
    Control pH 8.09 pCO2 580±11(μatm)
    CO2(1) pH 7.76 pCO2 1386±32(μatm)
    CO2(2) pH 7.37 pCO2 3573±151(μatm)

    “The results obtained in this study demonstrate that fertilization, hatching and larval development (survival and growth) of C. gigas were negatively influenced by CO2 driven acidification, as projected to occur in the surface ocean by the year 2100 and beyond”

    That manage to change the hatching rate from about 93% to 78% by increasing CO2 by 6-fold.
    Are we likely to get 6x[CO2] any time soon?

  27. Reminds me of the grasshopper experiment:
    Loud noise near a grasshopper. Grasshopper jumps.
    Remove grasshopper’s legs, repeat experiment, grasshopper doesn’t jump.
    This proves that grasshoppers hear with their legs.

  28. I don’t see why anyone really cares if the pH is killing the oysters. These oysters are not indigenous to the area. Bring in some from the Yellow Sea that have already adapted to large changes in pH and raise those instead.

  29. Berényi Péter

    There is about 38,000 Pg C in the ocean in the form of dissolved inorganic carbon. Any additional CO₂ that goes there increases this quantity. Atmospheric CO₂ content has increased by ~250 Pg C since preindustrial times, while about half of anthropogenic CO₂ emissions are absorbed in the ocean. That means dissolved inorganic carbon has increased from 38,000 Pg C to 38,250 Pg C, by some 0.7%. That’s nothing, absolutely unnoticeable in ocean chemistry. The ocean is a huge carbon buffer.

    Of course it is not so, if deep vertical mixing in oceans is inefficient or slow. In that case most of the added CO₂ remains in the uppermost layers for a long time, with a considerable potential local impact there.

    However, we were told just recently, that although the climate system is still in imbalance and is accumulating heat at an undiminished rate, this heat does not show up as atmospheric warming during the last one and a half decade because it is sequestered at depth in the ocean, where it can’t be measured properly.

    Unfortunately it can only work this way if deep turbulent mixing is much more vigorous in the ocean than previously thought.

    Now, turbulent mixing can never differentiate between heat content of seawater and its dissolved constituents. If one is mixed down at a high enough rate to stop atmospheric warming, everything else, including CO₂ goes down with it. In that case CO₂ added recently does not even have a chance to accumulate in surface layers.

    Either — or.

    Either there is no imbalance and no heat is hiding in the abyss or there is no ocean acidification issue. One can’t have it both ways.

    I’d be happy to see consensus guys to make up their minds.

    • “That means dissolved inorganic carbon has increased…”
      I don’t think anyone sees DIC increase as the problem. It is carbonate reduction, because that affects CaCO3 solubility. And [CO3–] only about 10% of DIC, and in the end each CO2 reacts with 1 CO3–. So it’s 7%, not 0.7%.

      As far as deep mixing goes, yes, it may be more effective than we thought. There may be more heat going down than expected (which was very little). But that’s a long way short of saying it’s well-mixed, which is what your calc implies. So it’s not 7% either, but a lot more.

      • Berényi Péter

        Uh, you think we live in an anti-goldilocks world, which is tuned just so to make it worse than we thought in every conceivable respect, do you?

  30. Rud Istvan

    Thanks for a very interesting and well-documented post.

    It has always seemed highly doubtful to me that ocean life would be adversely affected by the infinitesimal pH changes that human CO2 could cause, in view of the much faster and greater seasonal (and other) changes, which occur naturally.

    You have now documented this.

    But, of course, this will not keep the doom-sayers from continuing their “shell game”.


    • Thanks. I enjoy your comments here. My posts are just efforts to bring the bigger science picture to light. Have gotten annoyed that it has not been in the MSM, on either climate or the closely related subject of energy. Energy actually concerns me more.

    • + 1

      Very informative. And it’s a nice complement to your post a few days ago.

      Actually, these oysters must be pretty hardy critters, as the environment they are grown in is substantially different from their native territory. Rather than hand-wringing about the occasional seasonal failure, my reaction is that they are doing pretty well to grow them commercially at all in this location.

  31. I nice summary, Rud. +1

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  34. As always, the “by 2100” “acidification” meme assumes a linear effect. However, Rud’s analysis shows that there are organisms which use the dissolved CO2 for photosynthesis. There’s your negative feedback straight away. Presumably these species thrive when CO2 is at greater concentration.

    The notion that *any* of the world’s complex systems are governed by positive feedback and are therefore subject to runaway anything flies in the face of the evident biostasis of these systems over millennia.