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The Sounds of Science: Lubchenco gives a demonstration of the science of ocean acidification

By Joe Romm on December 12, 2009 at 5:14 pm

"The Sounds of Science: Lubchenco gives a demonstration of the science of ocean acidification"

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Only the anti-science idealogues want a world without fish

This video is from House testimony early this month by from Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States’ leading climate office.  You can find the full hearing online here.

Only anti-science ideologues want to embrace do-nothing policies that will leave us “A World without Fish.”  We now know that global warming is “capable of wrecking the marine ecosystem and depriving future generations of the harvest of the seas” (see Ocean dead zones to expand, “remain for thousands of years”).

And yet the anti-science crowd in Congress have a difficult time using the emails to explain how unrestricted emissions of carbon dioxide will not ruin our oceans.  As Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) said at the hearing:

He said there was “a little emotion in my voice because I have seen in my neighborhood what this phenomenon is doing,” referring to the higher rate of acidification in the oceans, especially “the shallow waters off our Pacific coast”¦.Is there anybody in this room who has information to suggest that the oceans are not becoming more acidic?  Has anybody got information like that?  Anybody?  Has anybody got an explanation why the oceans are becoming more acidic, other than the fact that there is massive amounts of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere?  Has anybody got an explanation for that?”

The sounds of silence that ensued told the story of the unsoundness of their science.

Here is Part 2 of Lubchenco’s terrific testimony:


And for completeness’ sake, here’s more background on ocean acidification (which regular CP readers can skip):

Ocean acidification must be a core climate message, since it is hard to deny and impervious to the delusion that geoengineering is the silver bullet.  Indeed, a major 2009 study GRL study, “Sensitivity of ocean acidification to geoengineered climate stabilization” (subs. req’d), concluded:

The results of this paper support the view that climate engineering will not resolve the problem of ocean acidification, and that therefore deep and rapid cuts in CO2 emissions are likely to be the most effective strategy to avoid environmental damage from future ocean acidification.

If you want to understand ocean acidification better, see this BBC story, which explains:

Man-made pollution is raising ocean acidity at least 10 times faster than previously thought, a study says.

Or see this Science magazine study, “Evidence for Upwelling of Corrosive “Acidified” Water onto the Continental Shelf” (subs. req’), which found

Our results show for the first time that a large section of the North American continental shelf is impacted by ocean acidification. Other continental shelf regions may also be impacted where anthropogenic CO2-enriched water is being upwelled onto the shelf.

Or listen to the Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, which warns:

The world’s oceans are becoming more acid, with potentially devastating consequences for corals and the marine organisms that build reefs and provide much of the Earth’s breathable oxygen.

The acidity is caused by the gradual buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, dissolving into the oceans. Scientists fear it could be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons which make up more than a third of the planet’s marine life”¦.

Corals and plankton with chalky skeletons are at the base of the marine food web. They rely on sea water saturated with calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. However, as acidity intensifies, the saturation declines, making it harder for the animals to form their skeletal structures (calcify).

Analysis of coral cores shows a steady drop in calcification over the last 20 years,” says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of CoECRS and the University of Queensland. “There’s not much debate about how it happens: put more CO2 into the air above and it dissolves into the oceans.

When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans.” (Atmospheric CO2 levels are presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960.)

I’d like to see an analysis of what happens when you get to 850 to 1000+ ppm because that is where we’re headed (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm).

The CLF post notes:

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that an acidic ocean is the “equally evil twin” of climate change. Scott Doney, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution noted in a public presentation that “New England is the most vulnerable region in the country to ocean acidification.”

In June, dozens of Academies of Science, including ours and China’s, issued a joint statement on ocean acidification, warned “Marine food supplies are likely to be reduced with significant implications for food production and security in regions dependent on fish protein, and human health and wellbeing” and “Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years.”  They conclude:

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.

We, the academies of science working through the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), call on world leaders to:

“¢ Acknowledge that ocean acidification is a direct and real consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, is already having an effect at current concentrations, and is likely to cause grave harm to important marine ecosystems as CO2 concentrations reach 450 ppm and above;

“¢ Recognise that reducing the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere is the only practicable solution to mitigating ocean acidification;

“¢ Within the context of the UNFCCC negotiations in the run up to Copenhagen 2009, recognise the direct threats posed by increasing atmospheric CO2 emissions to the oceans and therefore society, and take action to mitigate this threat;

“¢ Implement action to reduce global CO2 emissions by at least 50% of 1990 levels by 2050 and continue to reduce them thereafter.

If we want to save life in the oceans “” and save ourselves, since we depend on that life “” the time to start slashing carbon dioxide emissions is now.

UPDATE:  For a recent story on ocean acidification, see “New climate change signal: oceans turning acidic.”

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11 Responses to The Sounds of Science: Lubchenco gives a demonstration of the science of ocean acidification

  1. It is not always easy to grasp the considerable amount of data and time-urgency of GW. The December 09 issue of National Geographic has a very clear diagram of our greenhouse gas accumulation problem. You can see it below on:

    http://www.NGM.com/bigidea

    It starts with:

    “It’s simple, really: As long as we pour CO2 into the atmosphere faster than nature drains it out, the planet warms. And that extra carbon takes a long time to drain out of the tub.”

    I suggest you study this short article that is on the web site above even if you do understand the criticality of GW because it is presented in an effective and clear-to-understand way.

    Please look for the second diagram on the second page too.

  2. David B. Benson says:

    The climate is changing: the Arctic Dipole emerges:
    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1398

  3. Steve L says:

    http://www.epoca-project.eu/images/RUG/oa_guide_english.pdf

    epoca released the above guide (it’s for non-scientists, but I think it’s a little too fluffy)

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Greetings Dr Ginosar,

    On of the places the CO2 Drains to is the ocean, so we are faced with decreasing alkalinity probably to the point that shellfish cannot survive.

    But it gets worse. As the ocean warms it will absorb less CO2, the drain is going to block up.

    And worse, as the ocean warms further, the ocean will start to release CO2, the drains are going to back up.

    Unfortunately we do not know when these things are going to happen, so the IPCC report simply excluded changes to the carbon cycle in the modelling studied.

  5. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi All-

    The way to decrease ocean acidification is to put CO2 back underground ASAP, IMO. The best way to do this is BECCS, I think:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bio-energy_with_carbon_capture_and_storage

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of bio-energy with carbon storage(BECS). BECS also includes other technologies such as biochar and biomass burial.

    The main appeal of BECCS is in its ability to result in negative emissions of CO2. The capture of carbon dioxide from bioenergy sources effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere.[4]

    Bio-energy is derived from biomass which is a renewable energy source and serves as a carbon sink during its growth. During industrial processes, the biomass combusted or processed re-releases the CO2 into the atmosphere. The process thus results in a net zero emission of CO2, though this may be positively or negatively altered depending on the carbon emissions associated with biomass growth, transport and processing , see below under environmental considerations.[5] Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology serves to intercept the release of CO2 into the atmosphere and redirect it into geological storage locations.[6] CO2 with a biomass origin is not only released from biomass fuelled power plants, but also during the production of pulp used to make paper and in the production of biofuels such as biogas and bioethanol. The BECCS technology can also be employed on such industrial processes.[7]

    It is argued that through the BECCS technology, carbon dioxide is trapped in geologic formations for very long periods of time, whereas for example a tree only stores its carbon during its lifetime. In its report on the CCS technology, IPCC projects that more than 99% of carbon dioxide which is stored through geologic sequestration is likely to stay in place for more than 1000 years. Compared to other types of carbon sinks such as the ocean, trees and soil, the BECCS technology is likely to provide a better permanence.[8]

    The amount of CO2 that has been released to date is believed to be too much to be able to be absorbed by conventional sinks such as trees and soil in order to reach low emission targets.[9] In addition to the presently accumulated emissions, there will be significant additional emissions during this century, even in the most ambitious low-emission scenarios. BECCS has therefore been suggested as a technology to reverse the emission trend and create a global system of net negative emissions.[2][9][10][11][12] This implies that the emissions would not only be zero, but negative, so that not only the emissions, but the absolute amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced.

    The figure in the Wikipedia entry is from a peer reviewed paper published in the journal Climate Change, and it shows that the total cost to reach 350 ppm CO2 using BECCS is only about 6 trillion dollars USD. This is a bargain, equal to about 5 years of U.S. military expenditures.

    I think the costs could be decreased by adding a topping cycle such as a high temperature heat exchanger running a conventional gas turbine on heated air, as was investigated extensively by the Clinton era Combustion 2000 research program, called IFCC (Indirectly Fired Combined Cycle) or HIPPS (HIgh Performance Power System).

    IFCC/HIPPS should work just fine with oxyfuel combustion, for easier CCS, as oxyfuel combustion burns hotter and produces a pure stream of CO2, requiring only some cleanup before deep injection into deep saline aquifers or fractured basalt deposits.

    This is the way to reverse our whole progression toward disaster, IMO. Put the carbon back underground.

    We should just seize the coal fired power plants, and either shut them down or retrofit them to become carbon negative BECCS power plants, run on biomass or biochar, with enhanced efficiency oxyfuel combustion, and carbon capture and storage.

    This would be a hugely synergistic solution, which would avoid fossil fuel use, generate useful electricity, prevent methane production from landfills and other waste, and put carbon back underground, all at the same time.

    Just about all coal fired power plants are located on rivers and lakes for cooling water, in the U.S. These rivers and lakes constitute a natural biomass or biochar transport system to transport biomass or biochar in river barges to the BECCS power plants.

    The cost might actually be zero to implement this plan, if the BECCS power plants could be retrofitted with a topping cycle. This topping cycle might generate enough extra efficiency to pay for the cost of the conversion, the cost of oxygen generation, and the cost of CCS. And woody biomass generally is slightly cheaper than coal, in most biomass power plants.

  6. dan e bloom says:

    a Brewington did not regret giving Palin space, noting, “She is someone who stirs discussion and we are in the business of putting out opinion. She reached out to us.”

    She said the e-mail actually arrived Monday night, but editors did not see it until Tuesday. Brewington said no other Op-Eds had to be bumped for the piece to appear Wednesday, adding that columnist Ruth Marcus is off this week, freeing up more space.

    Palin’s piece drew interest for its criticism of climate change proponents, citing a scandal in Britain in which some “climate experts” were accused of falsifying data.

    Brewington said the piece drew more reaction than most Op-Eds, adding that it ranked among the 10 most-read articles on the Post Web site Wednesday. “We are getting a lot of feedback. I have heard from a few more people today than I normally would have,” she said. “Some people I think were glad that Palin had a voice in the Post, some were critical of her writing about climate change.”

    Brewington said Palin was not paid for the piece, but said it was available on the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. She had no information on how man other papers had used the column.

  7. dan e bloom says:

    Brewington said Palin was not paid for the piece, but said it was available on the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. IT WAS. it appaered in over 400 newspapers worldwide, includiong my own dailu snailpaper in Taiwan, the China (sic) Post.

  8. SecularAnimist says:

    To view the problem of ocean acidification in terms of “a world without fish”, or in the words of the joint statement from the national scientific academies, in terms of “marine food supplies” being “reduced with significant implications for food production and security in regions dependent on fish protein” is, unfortunately, characteristically myopic and anthropocentric as is much of the discourse about the effects of AGW.

    We are not simply talking about oceans emptied of fish and coral reefs.

    We are talking about the oceans as living systems dying. Which means that we are talking about the most pervasive and foundational of all ecosystems dying. Which means we are talking about the entire Earth’s biosphere dying.

    The reason that I find James Lovelock’s extremely gloomy vision of what AGW has in store so compelling, is that he seems to see to a greater degree than other scientists the interconnected, holistic aspect of the Earth’s biosphere. After all, that is the core idea of the “Gaia hypothesis”, that the Earth’s biosphere is an integrated, self-regulating whole, not just a collection of parts. It is the idea that “a biosphere” is a biological entity, as is an organism, or a cell.

    And AGW doesn’t just mean the death of a forest here, and the collapse of a fishery there. It is a systemic attack on the entire biosphere as a living entity.

    If we poison the oceans with excess CO2, it won’t just be a matter of many millions of people starving from lack of fish protein. It will be a matter of the death of the Earth’s biosphere — or at least of anything remotely resembling the rich, diverse, resilient biosphere of the Holocene.

  9. Kerri Woodberg says:

    Between 1751 and 1994 surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.179 to 8.104 (a change of −0.075).
    The ocean is not acidic.
    The largest source of generating CO2 is actually the ocean. The articles seems to thing it comes from the air to the water. It is the other way around.

  10. Jason W says:

    Dr. Ginosar, thanks for that link to the (slightly cutesy) NG diagramme. A small detail I noticed in the bottom right-hand corner, concerning the current CO2 level in relation to earlier levels. It’s a shame they didn’t include the latest research UCLA showing that CO2 levels have not been this high since at least 15 MILLION years, as published in Science this October. http://www.climate.ucla.edu/news/article.asp?parentid=4676

  11. Jim Prall says:

    Kerri Woodberg: you should cite at least one source when making a controversial claim about a point of fact. First, saying “the ocean is not acidic” implies that pH=7.0 is some kind of special threshold – it is not. The ocean’s pH is falling, becoming less alkaline and thus “more acidic” that it has been in recent natural history.
    Second: claiming that the CO2 emitted by the ocean is somehow a bigger ‘source’ than excess atmospheric CO2 shows you missed lesson 1 on ocean-atmosphere gas exchange.

    Next, you should look at the Monaco Declaration, a statement from over 150 of the world’s top oceanographers from 26 countries, setting out just how serious a problem ocean acidification is in their view:

    The Monaco Declaration, PDF:
    http://ioc3.unesco.org/oanet/Symposium2008/MonacoDeclaration.pdf

    Background and more info from the Scientific Committee on Oceanographic Research:
    http://www.ocean-acidification.net/

    Here is a one-page summary on CO2 air-water exchange and pH from the EPA:

    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/recentoa.html

    This page projects how much lower pH can be expected to fall under business-as-usual CO2 emissions (full text is $$, but the free abstract says enough):

    http://sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5744/2204

    “Geochemical models forecast an exponential decrease of nearly 0.8 pH units by 2300 (4), a scenario for which there is no obvious precedent over the last hundreds of millions of years (5), with the possible exception of abrupt changes such as those associated with the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum 55.5 million years ago.”

    So, sorry Kerri, but your little unsourced factoids don’t hold up very well against the weight of expert opinion from actual oceanographers. Why did you post this anyway?