New climate disinformer fad: Ocean acidification denial

As oceanic CO2 rises, pH falls.

The burning of billions of tons of fossil fuels every year is altering our planet “” not only by making our atmosphere trap more heat, but also by changing the chemistry of the ocean.  For background, see 2010 Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.

Since ocean acidification is one of the most dangerous and best-documented impacts we face on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, the anti-science disinformers naturally have trained their Tobacco-industry tactics on it, as Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson explains in this cross-post.

Much of the carbon dioxide pollution put into the air is absorbed by the world’s oceans. Dissolved as carbonic acid, the pollution increases the acidity of the oceans, which is disrupting the marine food chain, especially by making it more difficult for plankton, corals, mollusks, and crustaceans to form their calciferous shells. In 2009, the Interacademy Science Panel, a network of 70 national science academies, warned that fossil fuel pollution must be rapidly reduced to “avoid substantial damage to ocean ecosystems”:

Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. To avoid substantial damage to ocean ecosystems, deep and rapid reductions of global CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050, and much more thereafter are needed.

Thus, carbon dioxide poses a double threat to our oceans, by increasing both their temperature and their acidity. The global population of phytoplankton appears to have dropped by 40 percent in recent decades. About a quarter of the world’s reefs have already died, including 80 percent in the Caribbean.

Of course, in the mirror-image world of fossil-fueled climate denial organized by Christopher Monckton’s Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), ocean acidification is just another mainstream scientific conspiracy:

  • In 2009, Australian geologist and mining executive Ian Plimer argued in his book “Heaven and Earth” that ocean acidification wasn’t happening, and even if it were, it would be beneficial for ocean life.
  • Coal company scientist and SPPI global warming denial advisor Craig Idso, a geographer, wrote in January that “the rising ‘ocean acidification’ scare is just more piffle.”
  • Citing Idso, Australian computer scientist Johannes Floris “J Floor” Anthoni believes “the scare for acidic oceans is entirely unjustified,” because “acidic seas are a good thing.”
  • Citing Idso, SPPI’s Dennis Ambler claimed in February there is “no evidence of any effects of lowered pH” and that even if pH has declined, “the ocean remains alkaline,” and it “is dishonest to present to a lay audience that any perceived reduction in alkalinity means the oceans are turning to acid.”
  • Ocean Acidification is a Misnomer,” wrote Lawrence Livermore National Labs materials engineer Jack Dini last Friday on a conservative Hawaiian blog, citing Plimer and Ambler. Dini claims that a scientific paper by Elisabetta Erba “contradicts the assumption that ocean acidification leads to species die-offs,” even though her paper found it took 160,000 years for plankton to recover from an acidification event 120 million years ago.

It’s notable that ocean acidification denial is coming out of Australia and Hawaii “” island states with coral reefs and ocean ecosystems of incalculable ecological, economic, societal, and cultural value now being destroyed by fossil fuel pollution. The bleatings of these fringe deniers have not yet been promoted by the “mainstream” right, but considering how well entrenched denial of climate science has become among conservatives, ocean acidification denial may just become the next great right-wing fad.

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45 Responses to New climate disinformer fad: Ocean acidification denial

  1. Doug Bostrom says:

    Amazing how these folks want us to change our lexicon and semantics so as to preserve their psychological comfort.

    Alkalinization=increasing pH, acidification=dropping pH. There’s no split in use of the words as they relate to absolute pH.

  2. Jim Prall says:

    Right, Doug, and that hair-splitting semantic quibbling shows just how desperate their spin doctors are. They can’t think of a single serious response that addresses the actual science.
    To get a sense of what actual scientists think about the issue, see the Monaco Declaration on Ocean Acidification (note they don’t shrink from using the term!), signed by 155 leading oceanographers. Here’s the website they set up to set out the supporting documentation:

  3. catman306 says:

    The ocean is getting less alkaline. Liars, deniers. Pants on fire.

    Ocean acidification is the name given to the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by their uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[1] Between 1751 and 1994 surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.179 to 8.104, a change of −0.075 on the logarithmic pH scale which corresponds to an increase of 18.9% in H+ (acid) concentration.[2][3] By the first decade of the 21st century however, the net change in ocean pH levels relative pre-industrial level was about -0.11, representing an increase of some 30% in “acidity” (ion concentration) in the world’s oceans.[4][5][6][7]

  4. GFW says:

    The chart shows a clear change of 0.035 pH in 30 years. Is there a clear consensus on how much change is too much? Some work I was reading implied there’d be massive die-offs at a change of 0.2. Is that about right? How bad is 0.1? That’s only another 60 years off, assuming trends stay the same.

  5. Sasparilla says:

    I guess its surprising it took this long before we started seeing this kind of blather.

    Can’t wait till they start saying the “science isn’t clear on this…”.

  6. OK it is time to interject the Dead Parrot sketch.

    What are we arguing about?

  7. Abe says:

    Is there a pool on how long before TVMoB shows up on the floor of the house talking about this?

  8. No, its not.

    Yes it is…. not an argument, it’s a contradiction.

    Acid or base? No it’s not. Your PH test paper is faulty. No its not. What color is it? That’s not red, its orange.

  9. mike roddy says:

    This is an example of why it’s senseless to try to engage these lunatics in a “debate” on issues such as this one. Here’s their dream:

    Acidification denier: “We see no evidence that acidification is extreme or will harm wildlife. Claims to the contrary are just more nonsense from the global warming alarmists.”

    Oceanographer: “Actually, sir, we have solid data on this, and can relate it to paleoclimate events, including mass ocean species extinctions”.

    Denier: “Paleo models are unreliable. What’s really at stake is your obtaining more research grants and gaining points in the scientist warmist tribe”.

    The bought and paid for denial machine needs to be comprehensively shown to be paid habitual liars, with more fact sheets, pay sources, and bios. Since the corporate media continues to humor them, and fan the “controversy”, these efforts need to be spearheaded by blogs and magazines such as Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. Engaging them on any level other than humiliating and dismissing them plays into their hands.

  10. Michael Tucker says:

    I am no expert but many of the scientists who actually study this problem say that we do not want to reach a pH of 8.

    Actually much research has already been done but the anti-science crowd seems to be a little late in responding. Naturally they do not have ANY scientific papers that say that a more acidic ocean will be beneficial.

    See Scientific American from August, 2010 for the article “How Acidification Threatens Oceans from the Inside Out”

    This paper from 2/22/10 titled “Oceans Turn More Acidic Than Last 800,000 Years” seems to be fully viewable online at:

  11. Perry van Dijk says:

    It’s off topic, but i don’t know where to put it. This is the quote: “Climate change is undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today … the research presented [in the book] together answers a fundamental question that we often overlook: not if we should do something about global warming, but rather how best to go about it. The starting point for every chapter is that global warming is a challenge that humanity must confront.” Introduction to Smart Solutions to Climate Change, 2010.
    Off course nothing new, but interesting enough the author is Bjorn Lomborg.
    Read the Guardian: and
    A quote from the article: in a new book to be published next month, Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. “Investing $100bn annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century,” the book concludes.

  12. paulm says:

    It’s amazing how people can ignore common sense and data for so long…

    Bjørn Lomborg: $100bn a year needed to fight climate change
    Exclusive ‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ and critic of climate scientists to declare global warming a chief concern facing world
    ut he said the crucial turning point in his argument was the Copenhagen Consensus project, in which a group of economists were asked to consider how best to spend $50bn. The first results, in 2004, put global warming near the bottom of the list, arguing instead for policies such as fighting malaria and HIV/Aids. But a repeat analysis in 2008 included new ideas for reducing the temperature rise, some of which emerged about halfway up the ranking. Lomborg said he then decided to consider a much wider variety of policies to reduce global warming, “so it wouldn’t end up at the bottom”.

  13. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Ah but you see that increasing acidification does not mean the same to a scientist as it does to a layman. To a layman that would imply not just that the pH is reducing but that is already less than 7.

    Unfortunately reduced alkalinity does not sound bad, there is little understanding that the marine ecosystem needs a fairy alkaline ocean.

    Basic marine chemistry is about to be rewritten. You will need to start explaining that the pH scale is logarithmic, that little fact will be forgotten by the deniers. As too will many other aspects of marine chemistry. Remind me again what aragonite is.

  14. Mike says:

    Ocean temperature and salinity are not uniform. Is pH? How uniform is ocean acidification? Are there “hot spots”?

  15. From Peru says:

    Mike, there ARE hotspots:

    The Polar Oceans, the Arctic and Antarctic.

    In the Arctic, the sea is ALREADY corrosive to aragonite calcifiers, as shown in this Science article:

    “Aragonite Undersaturation in the Arctic Ocean: Effects of Ocean Acidification and Sea Ice Melt”

    The abstract says:

    “The increase in anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and attendant increase in ocean acidification and sea ice melt act together to decrease the saturation state of calcium carbonate in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean. In 2008, surface waters were undersaturated with respect to aragonite, a relatively soluble form of calcium carbonate found in plankton and invertebrates. Undersaturation was found to be a direct consequence of the recent extensive melting of sea ice in the Canada Basin. In addition, the retreat of the ice edge well past the shelf-break has produced conditions favorable to enhanced upwelling of subsurface, aragonite-undersaturated water onto the Arctic continental shelf. Undersaturation will affect both planktonic and benthic calcifying biota and therefore the composition of the Arctic ecosystem”

  16. adelady says:

    This one’s been on the backburner. If this year’s Arctic melt turns out a result consistent with how it’s gone so far, the amateur denialati will need a new mantra. Acidic v. alkaline in the oceans is waiting in the queue.

    Of course if any of them are gardeners, who fully understand pH in soil, the response may be muted by a small drop-off in numbers.

  17. catman306 says:

    Climate Change Calamity of the Day:

    Millions of Dead Fish Poison Bolivian Drinking Water

    Now, as winter wears on in the Southern Hemisphere, Bolivia is reeling from uncharacteristically cold weather that is clearing entire watersheds of life.

    Bolivian rivers that normally run around 59 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year have dropped below 39 degrees Fahrenheit. This 20 degree drop has been enough to kill an astonishing number of fish and other wildlife.

  18. Wit'sEnd says:

    After a few moments of shocked paralysis I sent the following letter to the editor of Hawaii Reporter last week:

    Dear Editor:

    I am writing about this article published August 20:

    https://boss dot hawaiireporter dot com/ocean-acidification-is-a-misnomer/

    You should alert your readers to the fact that the article references – and is largely a regurgitation of – a vitriolic (accusing university professors of dishonesty??) publication by the “Science and Public Policy Institute”

    which can be seen here:

    http://scienceandpublicpolicy dot org/images/stories/papers/originals/acid_seas dot pdf

    The “Science and Public Policy Institute” has close ties – in other words, they are a front – for huge fuel industries, see this analysis of their personnel and funding:

    http://www dot powerbas. dot info/index dot php/Science_and_Public_Policy_Institute

    For your newspaper to have any credibility at all you owe your readers this information.


    Gail Zawacki
    Oldwick, NJ

  19. Tim says:

    Amazing. Now they’re denying basic physical chemistry? CO₂ partial pressure rises and the amount of dissolved CO₂ rises – it’s called Henry’s Law. To deny that is so patheic that it puts these guys into the booby hatch with young-earth creationists and flat-earthers.

  20. Lobo says:

    It’s with great reluctance that I will no longer be checking this blog — for the second time in a little over a week, I’ve seen an ad from the fossil fuel industry (BP and now shale oil, the most carbon-intensive energy source out there I believe). I realize some here are of the view that if these ads do not affect content, it’s ok to accept them. For me, it appears as at least a tacit endorsement. I don’t want to see dirty ads on climate blogs defending and promoting sound science, policy and integrity from the very same sources that disinform and pollute our planet.

    [JR: Uhh, you don’t actually check this blog much, do you. I have already thoroughly explained what happened with BP. I haven’t seen the other ad nor has anybody pointed it out to me (but you), and in any case, it is absurd to say any ad is a tacit endorsement. I assume you don’t watch television or read newspapers or magazines.]

  21. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Lobo…don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. In other words, you should keep reading the blog for information. And I find it amusing that these ads are targeting an audience which is primed with information to see them as the greenwash they really are.

  22. Greg says:

    Just a few points:
    Adding or subtracting CO2 from seawater decreases or increases pH, but has zero effect on total seawater alkalinity. Nevertheless, because of the inverse relation between CO2 and CO3– ion, carbonate alkalinty and hence carbonate saturation state declines with increasing CO2. This is what poses a major problem for most corals and shellfish that make CaCO3 shells. Plus there are a host of other physiological and chemical effect that are sensitive to CO2 and pH. But this seems pretty far afield of “Climate” Progress, unless Joe is broadening the theme to “CO2” Progress. Anyway, it’s about time that the CO2 problem be viewed as more than just a climate problem, policywise.

  23. John Hollenberg says:


    The BP ad was one that slipped through while Joe was on vacation. I imagine he will put a stop to the shale oil one as well. If you would give up the blog for these small slips, you must not be very serious about getting the best info on the planet about climate change.

  24. PermeliaH says:

    I’m just a laywoman who tries to notice what’s happening around me each and every day. I’m also a gardener. I know a little bit about soil ph (hi, adelady). My blueberries love the acid, herbs, not so much. I try to please my plants for my own benefit. I’m selfish.

  25. John Mason says:

    Ocean chemistry may appear to be subtle, but given e.g. the stability field of aragonite, over-reduction of pH can have very unsubtle consequences. Food chains tend to start with the little critters – if they go into short supply so does everything else, all the way to the top.

    I saw that Lomborg piece in the Guardian. Haven’t digested it yet, but I note that it’s got some of the resident rednecks a bit agitated!

    Cheers – John

  26. Vaibhav says:

    The continuous rise in the percentage of CO2 due to growing use of fossil fuel is resulting in the acidification of the oceans. Since CO2 poses a double threat to our oceans, by increasing both their temperature and their acidity, we must control the emission of CO2 by reducing the use of fossil fuels and substituting the same with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy.

    I think it is high time we started taking nature and our planet earth seriously and do our bit about environment, sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, clean energy, green living and so on. One great place to start would be Elpis is an online community focused on responsible living and sustainable growth. You can measure, reduce and offset your carbon footprint; set up petitions, volunteering and fundraising projects for your favourite causes; help create action plans for sustainable communities; buy a range of eco friendly products and services; and network with other people who share a common interest in a low carbon, responsible lifestyle.

  27. nextags says:

    Undersaturation was found to be a direct consequence of the recent extensive melting of sea ice in the Canada Basin. In addition, the retreat of the ice edge well past the shelf-break has produced conditions favorable to enhanced upwelling of subsurface.

  28. Dan R says:

    “The bleatings of these fringe deniers have not yet been promoted by the “mainstream” right”

    I disagree. Plimer was given acres of space in Murdoch’s mainstream publications in Australia. Acres and acres, in the form of opinion columns trumpeting his book and theories. His denial was music to the ears for the editors of these publications, and the fact he worked at a university was all the credibility they required. I understand the UK also received a large dose of Plimer and his theories, thanks again to Murdoch.

  29. Dan R says:

    I might also add that Australia’s political leader of the right, Tony Abbot, who refers to AGW as “crap”, has not bothered to read the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (according to an ABC TV interview), but has read Plimer’s book, thanks in part to the incredible coverage it received in Murdoch’s papers.

  30. John Mason says:

    A large dose of Plimer – sounds like an 19th Century treatment for severe constipation!

    Cheers – John

  31. Chris Winter says:

    Regarding the article in the Hawaii Reporter, that was written by Jack Dini, a resident of Livermore, CA, and it came in under the category of “Guest Commentary,” sub-category “Fox Energy and Environment News.”

    So that’s an indication of which side of the road this newspaper prefers, but I’m not sure how close to that side it stays. It may be a setup like the SF Examiner, which allows freelance commentators of all stripes (like Tom Fuller, frex.)

    They apparently allow comments, but I didn’t see any for this article.

  32. Leland Palmer says:

    I wonder myself if the pH “hot spots” in the oceans are indications of methane hydrate dissociation.

    At this stage, it seems possible that the methane is simply being released into the oceans in plumes, which do not generally make it all the way to the surface. Methane gets oxidized into CO2 by bacteria, and the CO2 decreases the pH.

    I suppose the hot spots in the Arctic could also simply follow temperature increases, don’t know.

    If methane plumes are becoming more prevalent, it might be possible to harvest them for energy, produce electricity, and then deep inject the resulting CO2 using CCS.

  33. Anne van der Bom says:

    Wrt to the supposed Lomborg u-turn, he was still happy to feed the deniers very recently with half truths and misinformation about sea level rise (like hiding the fact that the AR4 prediction for sea level rise is now known to be a huge understatement).

    The message: “Relax, no need to do anything now. The consequences are manageable”.

    Written 13th of august 2010, when he had already finished writing this latest book of him.

  34. Philip Finck says:

    So as I understand from above, there has been a -o.11 decrease in pH in the world oceans. Also, some folks are afraid of massive die-offs with a decrease of -o.2.

    A question. Seasonal pH varies far more than that at any one location. Also ph varies by 1ph from equatorial regions to northern oceans. That is 500% of the -o.2 pH units the poster is concerned about.


  35. Doug Bostrom says:


    The Willis Eschenbach spin, regurgitated. Random blogger’s opinion carries more weight than various researchers’ findings. Uh-huh.

  36. Philip Finck says:

    Random blogger. Hardly.

    Actually a real scientist in a real office with real geologists where even the young ones now shake their head at the science being published. I also specialize in the last 100,000 years, sea-level rise, on and on.

    Gone are the days when a good scientific paper offered 2 even 4 possible answers, discussed the merits of each, and usually chose one or two possibles.

    Scientists now are lazy. No matter what the research topic is, put a climate change spin on it, and look for more funding.

    And what is really funny? My work is funded with Climate Change money!

  37. Prokaryotes says:

    Philip Finck, for starters read about coral bleeching.

  38. Philip Finck says:

    Prokaryotes and Bostrom

    I asked a very reasonable question. I was in no way impolite. I also do not know the answer. Certainly recently published work found that carbonate shells for the most part didn’t show deterioration until very high dissolved levels of CO2.

    Neither of you attempted to answer the question. Bostrom’s reply was a snide, rude put down. I wasn’t raised that way.

    I have found in the course of my career that when a student asks me to explain something is when I learn the most. ‘Why’ is the worlds hardest question.

    As I just surfed across this site this PM, I asked a question. One would presume that this site welcomes new readers and ones with a question. If not it certainly begs the question of what its purpose is.

    And, yes, I have read about coral bleaching. Surely it must soon be all bleached and dead.

  39. Tim says:


    I’m no expert in marine biology, but the graph at the top of this post seems to indicate that at the location being tested, seasonal variations in pH are 0.08 or less. As for differences in pH between equatorial regions to northern oceans, that doesn’t strike me as relevant to the fate of organisms adapted to living in one locale or another.

  40. Your Name Here says:

    This report is certainly very alarming.
    I did a little playing with numbers.
    Here is what I came up with.
    I took Mt. Kilauea as a sort of ‘average volcanic output’ at a 2,000 to 3,500 foot diameter caldera, and pegged it at a nominal 3,000 ft.
    Same thing with an ‘average’ car exhaust size of 3 inches.
    Area 3,000 ft. crater: 3.1416 (pi) x (1500 x 1500) = 7,068,600 sq. feet.

    Area 3″ dia. car exhaust: 3.1416 x (.25 x .25) = .19635

    1 square foot / .19635 = 5.0929 or 5.093.

    After crunching the numbers a little further:

    Kilauea = 7 million x car ex. 5/1
    35,000,000 cars = 1 Kilauea
    Cars in world 600,000,000
    600/35 = 17.14

    Then you can add in trucks, factories, ship exhaust.
    It was just my inexpert attempt to get a handle on this.

    I respectfully and politely challenge others to respond with their own take on this terrible predicament.

    If you will, rather than pick this completely apart, I’d like to see my angle reflected back to me from a recalibrated and more accurately defined POV.

  41. riverat says:

    Your Name Here,

    Your calculation only makes sense if the rate at which the Kilauea Caldera emits CO2/Sq.Ft. is the same as a car exhaust. I’d be willing to bet that the concentration by area of CO2 in exhaust gases is considerably higher than it is coming out of the caldera.

  42. dave says:

    Funny, They carry on about man made co2 causing the warming of the oceans, to me the REAL problem is not co2 but the billions of gallons of waste we pump into the ocean.

    Imagine how much toxic sludge china dumps into the ocean each year. Pure toxic waste that is HOT. All over the world these third world countries use the ocean as their toilet. I am suppose to pay for a carbon tax so china can continue to dump every toxic chemical known to man in the same ocean i am supposedly causing to warm?


    do you think the millions of barrels of crude pumped into the gulf might affect the ocean a bit more than co2 uptake?

    get OFF the co2 train. it is not the problem

  43. Philip Finck says:

    @ 40


    Thank you for a polite response.

    I agree. Do variations of pH stress organisms that are location specific while at the same time quite different pH’s don’t seem to stress similar organisms in other locations. Lots of room for good research here. Also questions such as migration of species, surviveability (sp?) of floating spat, long distance transport, changing ecosystems that are never static (nature – physical or biological) is never stable but in a constant flux, etc.

    It raises questions with respect to new article that talks about `tipping point’ at ph 7.8. A very nebulous concept.

  44. Barry Woods says:

    As a chemistry graduate the honest approach….

    would be to call it neutralisation….

    Could STILL be a problem…

    But the use of ‘acidification’, is just there for dramatic effect, the public do recognise this type of hype… and it will alienate people.