Rapture Of The Deeps

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

One of the reasons I lived so much of my life in the tropical South Pacific is because of the diving. Coral reefs are one of the most astounding ecosystems on the planet, boiling over with energy, movement, and color. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in the water, both snorkeling and scuba, and most of my time was spent just marveling at the endless variety of the reef creatures large and small.

bg coral reefAs a result, I’ve had a long-time interest in the claimed effects that people say increased CO2 will have on the reefs. The addition of CO2 to the air slightly neutralizes the naturally alkaline sea water. [Note that while this is change in pH from increasing CO2 is usually called “acidification” of the ocean, that is just alarmist terminology. Since the additional CO2 is making the ocean more neutral, it cannot be “acidifying” the ocean. At least as the English language is commonly understood, something cannot be both more neutral and more “acid” at the same time.]

For the last five years or so (see the list of my previous posts in the end notes), I’ve been saying that the slight neutralization of the ocean from the ongoing increase in CO2 will make no difference to the coral reefs. In particular, I noted that the pH over coral reefs can change by a full pH point in the course of one tide. I also discussed the fact that coral reefs are often a source of CO2, and thus the reef itself drives down (neutralizes, wrongly known as “acidifies”) the pH of reef water. In my opinion, these facts made it very unlikely that a small neutralization of the ocean would make a significant difference to coral reefs.

Since I’ve been pounding this drum for five years, I was happy today to see an article on Phys.org entitled Increase in acidity may not be harmful to coral reefs after all.  It discusses a paywalled paper entitled Shifts in coral reef biogeochemistry and resulting acidification linked to offshore productivity.

The Phys.org article puts it very clearly (emphasis mine):

To better understand what might happen with coral reefs if more carbon dioxide makes its way into the oceans due to an increase of the gas in the atmosphere caused by human emissions, the researchers set up monitoring devices along a coral reef offshore from Bermuda—information from the sensors was monitored for five years (2007 to 2012). The team also had access to data from an ocean chemistry monitoring station approximately 80 kilometers from their study site. The combined data offered a unique perspective on coral activity.

In studying the data, the researchers noticed that spikes of phytoplankton blooms occurred during 2010 and again in 2011—those blooms made their way to the coral reef offering more food than normal for the coral. The coral responded by growing which caused them to pull more alkaline carbonate from the surrounding water, making it more acidic. Eating more also resulted in the corals emitting more carbon dioxide into the water. The result was a big increase in acidity—to levels higher than have been predicted for the future due to human emissions—yet, the coral continued to flourish.

These observations contrast sharply with the prevailing view that an increase in acidity is harmful to coral—leading to death if it goes too far. But the levels seen by the researchers with this new effort suggest that is not the case at all, and therefore muddles theories regarding the impact on the oceans of higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures. Another team with Western Australia noted that the results found by this new team appeared to agree with those of a small study they conducted where they put boxes around some coral and piped in carbon dioxide, to no detrimental effect.

Gosh, actual observation of pH at actual reefs … a novel concept indeed in these days of endless modeled “might”s and “could possibly”s …

All I can say is, once more, WUWT leads the way …

My best wishes to you all,


My Usual Request: If you disagree with someone, please quote the exact words you disagree with. Only in this way can we all be clear on exactly what you are objecting to. I can defend my own words. I cannot defend someone else’s interpretation of my words.

Further Reading: Below, in chronological order, are my previous posts on ocean neutralization.

The Electric Oceanic Acid Test 2010-06-19

I’m a long-time ocean devotee. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life on and under the ocean as a commercial and sport fisherman, a surfer, a blue-water sailor, and a commercial and sport diver. So I’m concerned that the new poster-boy of alarmism these days is sea-water “acidification” from…

The Reef Abides 2011-10-25

I love the coral reefs of the planet. In my childhood on a dusty cattle ranch in the Western US, I decorated my mental imaginarium of the world with images of unbelievably colored reefs below white sand beaches, with impossibly shaped fish and strange, brilliant plants. But when I finally…

The Ocean Is Not Getting Acidified 2011-12-27

There’s an interesting study out on the natural pH changes in the ocean. I discussed some of these pH changes a year ago in my post “The Electric Oceanic Acid Test“. Before getting to the new study, let me say a couple of things about pH. The pH scale measures…

The Reef Abides … Or Not 2014-07-06

I’ve written a few times on the question of one of my favorite hangouts on the planet, underwater tropical coral reefs. Don’t know if you’ve ever been down to one, but they are a fairyland of delights, full of hosts of strange and mysterious creatures. I’ve seen them far from…

pH Sampling Density 2014-12-30

A recent post by Anthony Watts highlighted a curious fact. This is that records of some two and a half million oceanic pH samples existed, but weren’t used in testimony before Congress about ocean pH. The post was accompanied by a graph which purported to show a historical variation in ocean…

A Neutral View of Oceanic pH 2015-01-02

Following up on my previous investigations into the oceanic pH dataset, I’ve taken a deeper look at what the 2.5 million pH data points from the oceanographic data can tell us. Let me start with an overview of oceanic pH (the measure of alkalinity/acidity, with neutral being a pH of…

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29 thoughts on “Rapture Of The Deeps

  1. I visit Cairns (Australia) often.
    the older guys in Cairns and Port Douglas say that the coral comes and goes in beauty. Each “coming an going” seems to last about 5years for the past 60 YEARS.

  2. Thanks Willis, excellent articles and links as always.

    I live in Cairns and daily get “acidification of oceans, massive bleaching next year, the reef is in need of more research (funding) it’s stuffed”.

    Agricultural run off is the only real problem.

    Corals grow bigger just north oh here in PNG where waters are considerably warmer!

    The MSM just repeat this nonsense without checking that most of it is based on failed models.

    Have you visited here Willis?

    • It bit the dust millions of years ago. I have better things to worry about than ocean acid.

      Today’s weather: Ocean PH to be highly variable.

      Abstract – 2011
      Will ocean acidification affect marine microbes?
      ……….Useful comparisons can be made with microbes in other aquatic environments that readily accommodate very large and rapid pH change. For example, in many freshwater lakes, pH changes that are orders of magnitude greater than those projected for the twenty second century oceans can occur over periods of hours. Marine and freshwater assemblages have always experienced variable pH conditions. Therefore, an appropriate null hypothesis may be, until evidence is obtained to the contrary, that major biogeochemical processes in the oceans other than calcification will not be fundamentally different under future higher CO2/lower pH conditions.

      Abstract – December 19, 2011
      Gretchen E. Hofmann et al
      High-Frequency Dynamics of Ocean pH: A Multi-Ecosystem Comparison
      ………. These observations reveal a continuum of month-long pH variability with standard deviations from 0.004 to 0.277 and ranges spanning 0.024 to 1.430 pH units. The nature of the observed variability was also highly site-dependent, with characteristic diel, semi-diurnal, and stochastic patterns of varying amplitudes. These biome-specific pH signatures disclose current levels of exposure to both high and low dissolved CO2, often demonstrating that resident organisms are already experiencing pH regimes that are not predicted until 2100……..

      …..and (2) in some cases, seawater in these sites reaches extremes in pH, sometimes daily, that are often considered to only occur in open ocean systems well into the future [46]. …..
      DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028983

      Abstract – 1 March 2013
      Is Ocean Acidification an Open-Ocean Syndrome? Understanding Anthropogenic Impacts on Seawater pH
      …Changes in the watershed can, for example, lead to changes in alkalinity and CO2 fluxes that, together with metabolic processes and oceanic dynamics, yield high-magnitude decadal changes of up to 0.5 units in coastal pH. Metabolism results in strong diel to seasonal fluctuations in pH, with characteristic ranges of 0.3 pH units, with metabolically intense habitats exceeding this range on a daily basis. The intense variability and multiple, complex controls on pH implies that the concept of ocean acidification due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions cannot be transposed to coastal ecosystems directly….

  3. Willis, plus many. I exposed the Fabricius Papau New Guinea hydrogen sulfide misconduct fabrication in essay Shell Games (ebook version, not the abridged CE post you also liked). Corrals will be fine if pollution and overfishing of essential reef species are curtailed. Nothing to do with CAGW.

  4. In addition to what has been presented heis re, a thought in the back of my mind every time I hear the term ‘acidification’ when applied to the sea. This thought is based upon the fact that the solubility of CO2 in a liquid (such as sea water) reduces when the liquid is heated.
    The old coke bottle trick on a hot day is an illustration of this. Take a coke bottle out of the fridge on a hot day and open it – hardly a fizz will be heard. Take the same bottle out of the fridge and let it stand in the hot Aussie sun for a few hours and then open it. The fizz will almost be explosive. It is the carbon dioxide in the coke that is doing the fizzing. Hot coca cola can hold less carbon dioxide than cold coke. The same applies to sea water.
    Now, back to the question of how this applies to ocean acidification. Surely, if the sea water is warming – as adherents of the CAGW hypothesis assert – then the trend will be for the water to absorb less CO2. So, what proposition do they want to argue? Are they arguing that the water is getting hotter – and therefore losing its ability to absorb CO2 or are they arguing that more CO2 is being absorbed and that the water must therefore be getting cooler?

    • David Mason-Jones November 10, 2015 at 8:43 pm

      Now, back to the question of how this applies to ocean acidification. Surely, if the sea water is warming – as adherents of the CAGW hypothesis assert – then the trend will be for the water to absorb less CO2. So, what proposition do they want to argue? Are they arguing that the water is getting hotter – and therefore losing its ability to absorb CO2 or are they arguing that more CO2 is being absorbed and that the water must therefore be getting cooler?

      Mmm … you’ve got to be careful when you claim it has to be either A or B. It might be C or D.

      Here’s the thing. As best as we can tell, the ocean is indeed becoming slightly more neutral. However, the ocean is not warming all that much. The relationship between temperature and CO2 is about 16 ppmv per degree. So the ocean hasn’t warmed anywhere near enough to offset the ~ 125 ppmv increase in CO2.

      As a result, there has been a slight neutralization of the surface waters. My claim has always been that the change is so trivial compared to the tidal, daily, monthly, or annual swings in pH that the ocean creatures won’t even notice.


      • Thanks Willis, Yes, I can see that my position that it has to be A or B may be dependent on whether or not the sea water is actually saturated with CO2 at the moment or not. If it were saturated, then I would assume it would be an A or B proposition. Is that correct?
        If the ocean is not saturated with CO2 then the answer could be C or D. This raises the question of what is the current level of CO2 in the ocean in ppmv? Do you have any charts/graphs of what would be the saturation level at various water temperatures? How close is sea water to saturation?
        With relation to this issue I have been following the argument about the effect of limestone rocks etc as agents in the ocean which will buffer the so-called ‘acidification’ of sea water. Having stood on the limestone ocean cliffs of South Australia and Western Australia, and seen the enormous quantities of these buffering rocks, I am highly persuaded by this buffering argument.
        And, as an aside, I read Tim Flannery’s recent book ‘Atmosphere of hope’ and was appalled by his chapter titles ‘Ominously Acid Oceans’. (It is Chapter 3) In the whole chapter he uses the words ‘Acid’ and ‘acidification’ numerous times. He writes these words over and over again and talks in a way that the reader would conclude that the ocean is already acid in nature. In the whole chapter he never once mentions the fact that the ocean is actually alkaline. It’s terribly misleading. If you’d like to contact me via the email address on my website I’d like to discuss this in much more detail. I think it is really a clear case where the spin and misleading statements of people like Tim Flannery are just not true. Sooner or later the public has just got to eventually see through the misleading information that supposedly reputable people spin.

      • I suppose El Nino’s of long duration and the following La Nina’s are not only changing the temperature strongly, but also will change the water chemistry in the same strong way by other winds, other currents and by other biological processes. And this all is devastating to the local corals???

        Or are “corals”, like the earth, a not yet understood very complex and self regulating system which is not collapsing by slight differences in circumstances, adapting every time to these changing circumstances?

        And, Is the not understood “adapting of the systems” already in “the models”??? Both for corals and the earth?

  5. Thank God that an author here is finally recognizing that “neutralization” is the correct term, and “acidification” is not. A basic solution that is becoming less basic is NOT being “acidified.” It is being neutralized. Any other description is false, and a deliberate attempt to deceive.

    • MfK November 10, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      It is being neutralized. Any other description is false, and a deliberate attempt to deceive.

      Thanks, MfK, but I fear that the second claim, of a “deliberate attempt to deceive”, is a step too far. People often use these terms simply because they’ve heard them used before. The term is very misleading … but that doesn’t necessarily mean there was intent to deceive. Think of all of the high school and college students having this nonsense drilled into them, with no encouragement to actually consider the terms they use.



      • Willis, the people who use the term acidification in their press releases, research papers, & books, are accorded the status of x-spurts by the media & public, so it is incumbent on them to be accurate. Failure to accurately reflect the truth is inexcusable from people claiming expertise & deference to their opinions.

  6. Every little bit counts….The phys.org article is not going to “alkalize” the headlong alarmist rush, however. I’m sure there are sock puppets galore girding for the smear. Especially in the next three weeks.

  7. Good stuff. Photosynthesis is a very alkalizing process and can raise the pH by over two pH units in a bay or estuary on a sunny day. Corals and all living things have physiology by which they control the chemical conditions, including pH, using metabolic energy. If this was not true, then a vinegary salad should kill a human who eats it.

    It’s blatant junk science for them to pretend that such a weak acid as carbonic acid can detectably affect the pH of the complex buffer system we call seawater. Furthermore, as there is a long, extended equilibrium from CO2 to carbonic acid to bicarbonate to carbonate to calcium carbonate (the latter is in a saturated condition in the tropics), adding more CO2 simply pushes this equilibrium toward producing more calcium carbonate. Coral reefs love this, there’s no downside. Only a source of protons from an outside source, such as a dumping of Hal into the sea, would significantly affect this equilibrium in a negative way, forcing it toward releasing CO2.

  8. No more arguing over neutralization or acidification, I have a solution . We chemists usually do, actually.
    If too much CO2 in the water is the problem, then all you have to do is de-carbonate. Simple.
    Here is an effective de-carbonation technique which would be applicable around economically valuable Tourist-Trap reefs, keeping the reefs healthy and profitable. All it takes is a bit of candy.

    This may be a bit of a take off on another fountain show, The Bellagio.

    So much for CO2 and coral.

  9. Thank you, Willis, for a very good article!

    In the link below are my video greetings especially to you:

    Best from Finnish Lapland, Antero Jarvinen

  10. Thank you Willis for your treatise which is eye-opening, truthful and most scientific straight from the field and not from a computer model.

    One little detail: While agreeing totally about the ‘acidification’ thing being a misnomer, if not an outright hyped lie, in my opinion the addition of CO2 may cause less alkalinity and not neutralisation. What do you think? The oceans will always be alkaline especially considering that the pH scale is logarithmic.

  11. “Since the additional CO2 is making the ocean more neutral, it cannot be “acidifying” the ocean.”
    What about mentioning the fact that the oceans have a slight negative charge. Until the oceans become positively charged they are not acidic.

  12. Willis
    Re: neutral view of ocean pH on 1-2-2015…After reading your January post I obtained the worldwide pH data from NOAA containing the 2.5 million pH measurements taken. Since the data were from all depths, I selected the 0-10 meter depth group and plotted all of the remaining and more than 492,000 measurements dating from 1921 to late 2014 using Excel (which was barely capable to do this) and found the pH values to be rising to present day, to my surprise, with a slope of 0.0047. I would show the chart here but cant figure how to post. I thought perhaps this cannot be correct, so I then calculated and plotted annual averages (had to cull many outliers of pH =0 and pH =12-14 to do this). The result showed an upward slope but with a down-and-then upward shorter trend from 1980 to present, perhaps with this hiccup corresponding with intro. of digital thermometers. Anyway the upward slope was not so pronounced as the first attempt yet it still remained ever so slightly positive. This is pretty solid evidence collected by NOAA that sea water is not becoming less alkaline or even approaching neutral.

  13. The result was a big increase in acidity—to levels higher than have been predicted for the future due to human emissions—yet, the coral continued to flourish.

    This sort of loose language would have been met with a FAIL in my days.

  14. What a good morning, first you give us the perfect counter argument to spending money on reducing CO2, then on its heels reasons not to worry about “acidification” of the oceans. In both cases you accept their own non-real-world estimates of warming and “acidification” and throw back at them why their solutions have no relevance in their non-real-world. These arguments are so useful in discussion with people without scientific backgrounds because they are easily understandable and rememebered

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