The Great Barrier Reef and neutralization

The second chapter of Climate Change: The Facts 2017 is “Ocean Acidification: Not Yet a Catastrophe for the Great Barrier Reef” by Dr John Abbot and Dr Jennifer Marohasy. The first chapter is Peter Ridd’s critique of the mainstream of work on the reef.

The key points

Peer reviewed papers on ocean acidification came from nowhere between 2000 and 2004 to approach a peak near 800 published papers per annum in 2015.

This is a big issue in the press with regular reports that ocean acidification is one of the most alarming consequences of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.

Most of these studies are conducted in laboratories which do not replicate the complexities of the ocean.

The indicator of acidity is number on a pH scale from 0 (pure acid) upwards with 7 the midpoint between the acid part of the scale and the base part of the scale.

The “acidification” that is reported is actually a small shift in the base part of the scale from figures in the order of 8.2 to figures around 7.8 to 7.9.

There is a lot of daily variation and some rock pools range in pH from 9.4 in the day to 7.5 at night. There are also seasonal variations.

Monitoring only started in the 1980s and there has been a very small trend down in that time but proxy estimates suggest that there are long-term cycles, as there are in temperature.

Several issues need to be addressed before claims of impending disaster for the reef can be taken seriously. These are publication bias, relevant timescales and levels of exposure, studies of ecosystems in the wild rather than single organisms in the laboratory, more attention to the variability in CO2, acidity and the different impacts on different organisms.

Stepping back through the key points starting with the dominance of laboratory studies. This is a very convenient way to work as I observed in the (then) Waite Agricultural Research Institute at the University of Adelaide circa 1967. People in wheat breeding and others using field trials could conduct one experiment per annum. For a PhD student that meant about three sets of data with the risk that a bad season seriously reduced their data base (or extend their student career which was no big deal in those more relaxed days). My work involved growing pea seedlings indoors and I could turn over a trial in three or four days. This obviously has massive implications given the imperative nowadays to publish papers to obtain grants and stay employed.

Abbot and Marohasy explain the basic chemistry of the acidity/non-acidity of sea water and the exchange between CO2 in the air and the various forms of Carbon in the water. The key indicator is the pH value that you should have discovered in high school. This is measured on a scale from 0 (pure acid) upwards with 7 the neutral midpoint. Below 7 is defined as “acidic” and above 7 is “basic”.

Looking at the “acidification” that causes so much alarm and comment, it turns out to be a shift that is very small compared with the natural variation recorded daily, seasonally and geographically. It would be more appropriately called neutralization. Daily variations can range from 9.4 to 7.5 and there are seasonal variations which exceed the margins in the order of 0.1 or 0.2 that prompt “alarm”.

Publication bias is an issue, as it is for all climate-related studies in the peer reviewed literature. See the East Anglia emails for insight into the credibility of the peer review system. The authors report that studies predicting disaster may be checked and shown to be wrong but the defective papers continue to be quoted in the media.

Timescales and exposure. Some laboratory studies use pH levels which exceed even worst-case climate change scenarios. They are short-term and make no allowance for acclimation, adaptation or evolution.

Extrapolation from the laboratory. The Free-Ocean CO2 Enrichment (FOCA) experimental approach is being developed to get over the limitations of lab trials. Preliminary results suggest that corals are much more durable and adaptable than you would think from the news.

Impacts depend on the organism. The organisms of concern are “marine calcifiers” that construct their shells or skeletons from calcium carbonate. This includes corals, crabs, clams and conchs (sea snails). According to popular science they are already severely impacted by the pH change but there turns out to be a very important difference between different types of coral with most showing no change in growth rate and considerable variation among the branching corals. This was the gist of Peter Ridd’s work which appears to shred the case for alarm if it is robust.

The authors conclude with some remarks about acidification in context. The issue “contains a grain of truth embedded in a mountain of nonsense.” The ocean has effectively limitless buffering to reduce the impact of CO2 on pH and so talk of acidification is strictly nonsense especially in light of the very small changes observed to date which are dwarfed by the natural variation.

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24 Responses to The Great Barrier Reef and neutralization

  1. One thing that is always ignored is that nature has an amazing capacity to adapt. Always has, always will.

  2. Macbeth

    Nostalgia: The Waite Agricultural Research Institute was known to local kids in the 20’s as “Peter Waites’ Paddock”. We passed it on our way to school each day.

  3. bollux

    It won’t matter. There is enough evidence here for little Mal and his anti Australian sychophants to launch a royal commission, introduce a reef usage tax, and pledge Australia will no longer grow food, as it’s obviously our fault.

  4. egg_

    “Ocean Acidification: Not Yet a Catastrophe for the Great Barrier Reef” by Dr John Abbot and Dr Jennifer Marohasy.

    CAGW Fake Science preceded Fake News.
    Next.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    There’s this amazing thing called natural selection. It apparently works really well for animals which have millions of offspring every year.

    ‘Super Corals’ Are Resilient To Climate Change, Scientists Discover (2017)

    Scientists have discovered a population of “super corals” that appear to have become resistant to extreme environmental conditions — being able to survive and thrive in hot, acidic and low-oxygen waters. And they now plan to search for more climate-adaptable coral populations within the Great Barrier Reef.

    An international team of researchers first found the super corals during an expedition to a remote lagoon in New Caledonia in 2016. Their “surprising results” showed the lagoon had a diverse community of reef-building corals that had adapted to live in extreme these conditions.

    Of course it is really hard to see how far natural selection can take you when you have to fit your results into a 3 year PhD experimental program. Also it is a bummer when your finding that CO2 isn’t a problem means you don’t get a grant next year.

  6. .

    Tutorial for young players:

    What is the increase in [H+ ion] or dissociation if the pH goes from 8.2 to 7.9?

    [The answer is so low, that no one ought to care.]

    That is also the worst case scenario. So what is the actual level of climate change or ocean acidification attributable to a [CO2] increase in a time-series appropriate (that is, a cointegrated or unit-root checked model) that is also a multivariable equation that takes into account other forcings?

    (This does not even scratch the surface of the reliability of ocean pH readings, the dubiousness of some proxy measurements and temperature readings near air conditioner outlets/unshaded bitumen parking lots.)

  7. John Barr

    The GBR has seen many changes in the past 60 odd million years. The length of the Reef can be attributed to Australia moving northward at about 75mm per year.

    Any noise about pollution is negated by the fact that most of the major rivers flowing into the GBR are now Dammed which has stopped the flow of silt & other types of nutrition onto the Reef. Coal in it natural state is inert. Coal dust falls to the bottom onto the sands & does nothing. Or at least It does not smother the Reef as the old Floods used to do. The reef has learnt to cope with these periodic events. No-one has mentioned the Freshwater Springs up & down the Coast between the mainland & the Reef & what effect they would have. None I expect as the Reef has grown up with this phenomena.

    The Crown of Thorns were the big frightener when I was a child in the 50’s. There was not going to be a Reef in 20 years. Well, it’s still there. Parts of the Reef die off naturally while other parts that had died off earlier are regenerating. As has been happening for the past 60 million years. Tropical Corals give way to more Temperate Corals which, in turn give way to Cold Water Corals. A natural process that has been verified many times.

    The Hoo Har generated by some Reef Scientists is designed to keep their Funding going. That’s all.

  8. Genghis

    ‘The “acidification” that is reported is actually a small shift in the base part of the scale from figures in the order of 8.2 to figures around 7.8 to 7.9.’

    When I went to school that shift was called neutralisation but perhaps to fools ‘acidification’ is more alarmist so it appears Progressives do not care for the truth, yet again.

  9. egg_

    “Australia’s Aboriginal Martu people hunt kangaroos and set small grass fires to catch lizards, as they have for at least 2,000 years. A University of Utah researcher found such man-made disruption boosts kangaroo populations – showing how co-evolution helped marsupials and made Aborigines into unintentional conservationists.”

    Oh noes!

  10. cohenite

    One of the best arguments against the alarmist’s lie of ocean acidification is this:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153000181412189&set=gm.369961389838693&type=3&theater

  11. Herodotus

    This does not even scratch the surface of the reliability of ocean pH readings

    Quite so. Patrick Moore covered this and a lot more in the links I put up the other day.

  12. egg_
    #2751593, posted on July 1, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    “Australia’s Aboriginal Martu people hunt kangaroos and set small grass fires to catch lizards, as they have for at least 2,000 years. A University of Utah researcher found such man-made disruption boosts kangaroo populations – showing how co-evolution helped marsupials and made Aborigines into unintentional conservationists.”

    The lionization of Indigenous Australians (IAs) is one of the big cons of our times.
    Far from being conservationists, intended or unintended, the IAs destroyed the original flora and fauna of this continent in a way we couldn’t imagine today.

    The reason Australia has pretty much nothing except fire resistant trees and bushes (the most in the World) is because IAs burned the original bush relentlessly, not just for food but because they didn’t want to wake up each morning and spend the next hour rubbing sticks together to start a fire.
    It was much easier to start big fires and the next day grab some hot coals to start their camp fire.

    This bush burning changed the make up of the flora, which in turn changed the fauna. The giant marsupials didn’t die off because IAs hunted them to extinction. IAs were not capable of such and were too lazy to hunt such large beasts. The giants died off because IAs destroyed their food with permanent fires wherever they migrated.

    The killing off of the trees and vegetation had a further twofold effect. It left mostly the eucalyptus behind. These trees actually disinfect the soil around them which is why Australia has by and large very poor soils (microbes killed off by the eucalypt oil). Only the wetter areas were spared (too hard to burn) which are the only places left with some variety of trees and the soils in these areas are quite rich. Countries such as the USA and others who imported eucalypt trees have realised how bad these trees are for their environment and are cutting them down.
    The other effect was to dry out an already relatively dry continent i.e. desertification.

    So nah, IAs were not conservationists, they were in fact very very destructive. But you’ll never hear any of this from our so called “scientists” coz “muh untouchable, unimpeachable IAs”.

  13. .

    So nah, IAs were not conservationists, they were in fact very very destructive. But you’ll never hear any of this from our so called “scientists” coz “muh untouchable, unimpeachable IAs”.

    It is a great whodunnit.

    There were three waves of migration and there has been settlement in Tasmania since 40,000 years ago.

    Which Indigenous Australians? Another con these days is that you’re not meant to ask this anymore.

    Then there are issues of Tasmania having more varied flora and Australia avoiding some catastrophic meteor strikes/tsunamis and subsequent flooding.

    Then there are the Bradshaw paintings…

  14. stackja

    In the last million years, GBR has never faced such a crisis?

  15. .

    BH

    If you have read Major Mitchell’s diaries (or parts thereof), he reckoned that the interior was quite green and had a lot of water. Settlement post-1788 perhaps affected groundwater limnology in a devastating manner.

  16. egg_

    The killing off of the trees and vegetation had a further twofold effect. It left mostly the eucalyptus behind. These trees actually disinfect the soil around them which is why Australia has by and large very poor soils (microbes killed off by the eucalypt oil). Only the wetter areas were spared (too hard to burn) which are the only places left with some variety of trees and the soils in these areas are quite rich. Countries such as the USA and others who imported eucalypt trees have realised how bad these trees are for their environment and are cutting them down.
    The other effect was to dry out an already relatively dry continent i.e. desertification.

    Yet, the Great Barrier Reef survives.

  17. stackja

    Australian weather cycles over how many years?

  18. Boambee John

    bemused
    #2751552, posted on July 1, 2018 at 2:43 pm
    One thing that is always ignored is that nature has an amazing capacity to adapt. Always has, always will.

    I continue to be amazed at the open contempt that ‘environmentalists’ show for the Theory of Evolution.

    But let someone mention Intelligent Design, and the screams of outrage from the same people can be heard on Mars!

  19. Lutz

    I still don’t understand where the additional CO2 supposedly dissolved in the ocean should come from. The miniscule additional amount of CO2 in the atmosphere that may be added to the sea water going by the laws of partial pressure surely are insignificant compared to the enormous amount of CO2 already dissolved in the ocean. Additionally, if the oceans are warming as is claimed they will set free CO2 to the atrmosphere to balance the pressures. Maybe this is what is causing atmospheric CO2 to increase.

  20. .

    I still don’t understand where the additional CO2 supposedly dissolved in the ocean should come from. The miniscule additional amount of CO2 in the atmosphere that may be added to the sea water going by the laws of partial pressure surely are insignificant compared to the enormous amount of CO2 already dissolved in the ocean.

    That’s my point (partially!).

    Left-wing English literature majors do not understand how pK, pKa and pH/pOH actually works!

    The problem is so insignificant that it is not a problem at all.

  21. Percy Popinjay

    The oceans are acidifying due to the presence of the missing heat*.

    * Statement may contain elements of truthiness.

  22. Craig Sargent

    Calling it ‘Acidification’ is misleading propaganda nonsense. Every study done with government funding which using this term should have the scientists brought up on fraud charges.

  23. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Egg, the positive thinkers, the Can-gurus, jumped away, leaving the other animals to pay the price! We should wipe them all out as an act of justice!

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