back to article Oceans gaining ACID faster than last 300 MILLION YEARS

The world's oceans may be experiencing a rate of acidification unparalleled in the past 300 million years, according to a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science. "The geological record suggests that the current acidification is potentially unparalleled in at least the last 300 million years of Earth history," co- …


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  1. 0_Flybert_0


    How well was ocean ph measured 100 years ago .. or 50 years ago so as to determine that it has dropped 0.1 ? .. is this some average measured over 100 years in many locations ? .. how many measurements mid ocean vs coastlines where other local activities

    like to point out as well .. that it's unlikely 100 years, or even 1000 years of a 0.1-0.3 change in Ocean ph would show distinctly in Ocean floor sediment 1 million years ago .. or 10 million years ago .. much less over 300 million years

    1. Sapient Fridge

      Re: Optional

      Perhaps if you read the paper then your questions as to how the scientists know the PH has changed over the last 300 million years would be answered.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Optional

        Perhaps it would, but I followed the link and I don't have access to said paper. Perhaps some kind person who does have access will let us know. Until then, it's a reasonable enough question. 100 years is not long if your source information is a rock stratum.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Optional

        Tried to read it but it's pay-walled, and the abstract is a bit non-committal. I suspect though that it's pushing the scary evil CO2 meme because it talks about "acidification" (a scary and bad thing) rather than neutralisation which is what you get when you make a basic solution like the sea less so, as we are actually talking about here.

    2. eulampios

      do not trust those dinos

      >>How well was ocean ph measured 100 years ago

      Or how well was it measured 300 million years ago? Can we trust the scientists of the Permian period? I think dinosaurs, ichtyosaurs had made it all up!

  2. deadlockvictim


    ACID (in all caps) for me is something that all good databases should have. It seems to me that more atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability is not a bad thing for the oceans.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: ACID

      The trouble is like most databases there’s some fuckwit who will write delete * from lifeforms without a where clause.

      1. David Dawson

        What you need

        is a good migration strategy to allow you to make your changes without causing destructive side effects.

        Tell the shell fish to just move, lazy buggers.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ACID (Tom 7)

        You have an error in your SQL syntax ... near '* FROM lifeforms' at line 1.

        Disaster averted! Long live the fish!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ACID

      Maybe the oceans should switch to a NoSQL solution?

  3. paulc

    so confused...

    Silly scaremongering headlines... anyone would think it was acidic in nature and thus attacking stuff

    at 8.1, it's nature is basic, not acidic, so moving from 8.2 to 8.1 means it's becoming more neutral, as pure water is defined as neutral at a pH of 7.0

    1. some vaguely opinionated bloke

      Re: so confused...

      8.2 -> 8.1 is indeed becoming more neutral. However, those who choose to can say that this is - semantically at least - becoming more acidic as the value is moving from a position of negative acidity to a position of less negative acidity, in just the same way as someone else can say that the value is moving from neutral with alkaline tendencies to neutral with less alkaline tendencies.

      Basically, it's changing, and that might be bad. Or might not. Who knows. Right now, I'm more concerned with trying to work out why I originally tried to use the non-word alkalic instead of alkaline.

      1. Measurer

        Re: Re: so confused...

        You're an alkoalic, dowm the pub, quick!

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Tads

      Re: so confused...

      Sea life inhabiting todays oceans evolved to live and reproduce with ocean ph at 8.2 or higher, so any lowering of that is more acidic to them. If the oceans die back significantly then we -are- all toast.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: so confused...

      No such thing as "more neutral". And nothing is "defined" as pH 7.0, it just happens that -Log[H+] of pure water is around 7.0 at [15 or 20 C or some such temperature]. And acidity has just about nothing to do with "attacking stuff." (Strong bases are more harmful than strong acids when e.g. ingested.)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's WITH these SUN style HEADLINES?

    They're very annoying, and I usually associate these irritating RANDOM capitalised headlines with The Sun, if EVER there was a publication NOT to follow, this would probably be IT. They seem TO be creeping IN more and MORE lately.

    1. Tim Parker

      Re: What's WITH these SUN style HEADLINES?

      All perfectly normal - El Reg *is* the Sun of the IT world...

  5. John Angelico

    CO2 blamed?

    As the bowl of petunias thought: "Oh no, not again!"

  6. itzman

    Dredging for a Scare story....

    Well its not as if the levels of CO2 were unprecedented. Oh No. Move along, nothing to see here...but hang on, we need SOMETHING to scare people into buying windmills with..Hmm?.


    The RATE OF CHANGE of CO2 is alarming,. There! That should have em queueing up for Vestas, now!

    And if all that fails we can go to the second derivative if we need to.

    1. Tim Parker

      Re: Dredging for a Scare story....

      Comprehensive... and I look forward to your even deeper analysis of the study, and associated discussions and releases, with anticipation.

    2. CJ Bill
      Thumb Down

      Re: Dredging for a Scare story....

      The levels of CO2 may not be unprecedented but the rate of change is. Well, it is outside of extinction events...

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: Dredging for a Scare story....

        C J Bill, actually it probably isn't. We can't say whether it's unprecedented because we only started detailed measurements of atmospheric CO2 within the last century, and only reliably wide-spread and detailed measurements within the last 60 or so years. Prior "measurements" are taken from ice cores and other proxies, and have a ridiculously low resolution on the measure of, at minimum, a decade and up to centuries between data points. They show fairly big changes but what they don't show is the noise. We could just be measuring noise and thinking it's significant.

        Of course there's the inconvenient fact that temperatures do not correlate with CO2 levels at all now. They appeared to for a while, but not any more.

        1. NomNomNom

          Re: Dredging for a Scare story....

          CO2 spikes take long enough to die down that decades to a century is easily long enough resolution to spot one. There are no CO2 spikes in the ice core records like this one because none happened, nor is that surprising. We know what is causing the current spike. It's not natural. It's humans tearing up a bulk of fossil fuels laid down over millions of years and burning them into the atmosphere in a matter of centuries.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Dredging for a Scare story....

            Something else for the alarmists to wank over.

  7. Crisp

    Oceans full of ACID

    I can just imagine the little fishes swimming around in circles, staring at pretty bits of seaweed and being fascinated by staring at the size of their fins.

  8. Stephen Hunt

    Climate change

    I am reminded of the story of the group of men in blindfolds who were presented with an elephant and asked to identity it.

    1. Tim Parker

      Re: Climate change

      Scientist : We reckon odds on it's an elephant, but we'd have to open our eyes to be sure.

      IPCC : Scientist absolutely prove elephant exists but it won't in 10 years unless we immediately stop using blindfolds.

      Andrew Orlowski : There's nothing there - it's just another Green warmist conspiracy promoted by commentards.

      Lewis Page : We should have got an American elephant.

      Andrew Orlowski : ..and it was all Googles fault.

  9. The Axe

    So where is CO2 going

    All the AGW scientists are saying that the CO2 is going into the atmosphere and staying there and creating a greenhouse effect. Now we have other scientists saying that the CO2 is going into the ocean and making the more acidic.

    So which is it? Is it that the balance of CO2 stays in the atmosphere. Or is the CO2 going into the ocean stopping the build up of CO2 in the air. So should we now stop worrying about greenhouses and start worrying about acid oceans - which if I remember were the result of the acid rain scare stories from the 80s.

    Maybe I should read all the science, but that's the job of journalists to break it down into managable pieces of information instead of parroting press releases without thought.

    1. NomNomNom

      Re: So where is CO2 going

      It's about half and half. Half into the oceans, half into the atmosphere.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So where is CO2 going


    3. Julian 4

      Re: So where is CO2 going

      Prior to the industrial revolution CO2 was sourced and sunk by land and sea and it was all in equilibrium.

      Since we've been injecting extra CO2 into the atmosphere the natural environment is capable of sinking some of it, land sinks some and the oceans sink much more as they have a much greater capacity for sinking excess CO2 (and also sinking heat, rather than reflecting it).

      Some however, remains in the atmosphere and since the late 1700s this has increased from roughly 270ppm to 393ppm gaining roughly 1.5 to 2ppm per year. It's primarily due to (exponential) economic growth, which despite improvements in efficiency still mean more over all CO2 is produced by us, because our economy is powered by fossil fuels.

      The Oceans can sink an incredible amount, but it takes a while for it to dissipate in the currents thus ocean acidity and ocean temperature are projected (and are starting to) rise due to increased CO2.

      -cheers from julz (designer of the FIGnition DIY 8-bit Computer).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So where is CO2 going

        Julz, you forgot the really scary bit... the extra sunk CO2 will be released in the future as the ocean warms, and induce further feedbacks. The average delay was about 800 years for the last few Milankovich cycles, but as warming will accelerate, the release will be earlier and more intensive.

        The silver lining for CO2 ocean outgassing is that it'll reduce the acidity, but unfortunately also its oxygen carrying capacity.

        If the ocean becomes too acidic for organisms to fix carbon, then it'll be a very long time to wait for afforestation and plate tectonics to make new coal and restore the balance.

        Meanwhile, better get used to a diet of jellyfish and rats! :)

    4. R J Tysoe

      Re: So where is CO2 going

      Had they invented the Carbon Cycle when you were at school or were they still on the Penny Farthing?

    5. Nick Collingridge

      Re: So where is CO2 going

      @ The Axe: Do you REALLY think that journalists do the job you describe? Then you are very very naive. Most of them just peddle whatever line their paper follows, and this is done to keep their readers loyal.

      So if you're like the Daily Mail or the Telegraph, for example, which are basically neo-liberal mouthpieces, you won't publish anything that supports the science of AGW because your readers want to believe that we can go on consuming in the same old way forever (BAU).

      Therefore you need to select your news sources very carefully to get the "truth" and in practice no paper prints the absolute truth across all subjects; they all have their areas of blindness and promote certain ideologies or perspectives.

      No, the only way to get to the "truth" is to go back to, in this case, the science and look into it sufficiently to be able to form an educated opinion. I have done this and I find it very hard to believe that anyone who has also done so could reject AGW science.

    6. Tads

      Re: So where is CO2 going

      The main reason warming predicted in past decades has not been observed is that that the oceans have unexpectedly absorbed close to 40% of global CO2 emissions. That leaves the other 60% in the atmosphere creating the warming we have seen to date.

      The earth does try to self balance as does any relatively closed ecosystem, however we are still pumping out too much of the stuff for the planet to usefully manage. The extent of the oceans capacity to clean CO2 from the air is unknown but once rising acid levels start killing off ocean plants and animals (plankton is already showing signs of disruption as carbonic acid interferes with its reproductive capacity) the ocean will return stored carbon with a vengeance as plants and animals die and rot. Oceans contain the majority of life on the planet, so when that starts happening we're all screwed.

      1. Tads

        Re: So where is CO2 going

        Oops mistake in my post, oceans absorb 1/4 of CO2 releases not 40%. Damn you memory!

        Warming will also make the oceans less capable of storing CO2 in exactly the same way as beer or coke getting warm causes it to give up dissolved CO2.

    7. Tads

      Re: So where is CO2 going

      Journalists are presenting the stuff, you still have to find it and read it;

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Graham Jordan

    We can fix this surely?

    I have an aquarium at home with some pH correcting chemicals. I’m happy to do my part and hand it over to the greenies.

    It is however in a plastic non-recyclable bottle… Because I'm the devil.

    1. Tads

      Re: We can fix this surely?

      Wouldn't that just undissolve the CO2 out into the atmosphere again? Out of the frying pan ...

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    So what does this do to ocean currents?

    I don't know.

    Concerns have been raised about more fresh water ice melting, lowering difference in densities between sea water and fresh water currents and slowing some major warm currents.

    Now does pH level affect this process or is it a different set of concerns?

    Thumbs up for improving the *science* of this, and I hope it will be incorporated into the relevant models as quickly as other developments in this field. This seems to be one area where the *assumptions* were not pessimistic enough.

    It will be interesting to see how this balances out some of the recent good news on climate modelling as people have stopped *assuming* and started cutting down the fudge factors they seem to have been fond of.

  13. Jim Birch

    My guts are better than you guts!?

    A rough simplified guide to the science:

    The pH is a logarithmic measure of the density of hydrogen ions (H+) in water. That means that a pH difference of 0.1 is is actually a 25% change. It won't matter so much to big organisms but the microbiota that use calcium carbonate in their shells will find they need to do more biochemical work to stop their shells from dissolving. This includes things like algae and plankton that form the first rung or two of the food chain. If they go, everything up the ladder gets whacked. Calcium carbonate is actually soluble in seawater already but organisms are able to add other stuff to the crystal structure to stabilise it. It's a question of how difficult it becomes as to how well they survive. If they go, something will replace them eventually but it might take 10,000 human lifetimes to get going, during which time there will be no fish to eat. This hasn't happened yet, we're just at the worrying signs stage.

    The history of pH doesn't rely on dinosaur oceanographers - it can be figured out to to a fairly precise level because certain minerals will or won't form in sediments at a given pH. You just look at what's in the rocks laid down at the time in question; the basic chemistry doesn't change.

    There is an alternate take on this data which runs like this: if some scientist disagrees with what I feel in my guts then they are incompetent fools and/or part of a sophisticated global conspiracy. Take your pick.

    Some people take the approach that if they've got

  14. Al Black

    "Acidification" is Propaganda

    pH values greater than 7 are called alkaline, whereas less than 7 are called acidic. So if we're moving from 8.2 to 8.1, what does that mean? Yes, the oceans are becoming less alkaline, rather than more acidic. It cannot be called acid till the Ph falls below 7. If the Ph has fallen by 0.1 in the last Century, and in the unlikely event that this were to continue (Peak Oil is due any day now, so fossil fuel burning is due to taper off; it cannot continue growing for much longer) , it will take over 1000 years before the ocean reaches neutral, the Ph of distilled water. The other thing this article ignores is that higher levels of CO2 in sea-water is actually good for coral, which converts the carbolic acid (dissolved CO2) into carbonates as it builds coral reefs, sequestering vast amounts of carbon in the process. This is one of the negative feedback loops which explains why the Global Warming stalled in 1998, and there has been no further warming since, although the last 15 years remain warmer than the prior decades of the twentieth century.

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