Environmentalists Peddle Scientific Illiteracy

Hey, it’s not just polar bears. The oysters are suffering, too. The Portland Oregonian tells the sad story:

For 30 years, the crew at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on Netarts Bay had been growing oyster larvae to supply oyster growers around the world. But one day in 2008, they were ready to walk away and give it all up. …

That’s when they got together with scientists at Oregon State University and figured out the problem — research that was recently published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide — which lead to increased acidity in the ocean water, or ocean acidification — were making it difficult, if not impossible, for the larvae to grow. …

“Over the last 100 years we’ve made the ocean a little more acidic than it used to be,” [Alan Barton, hatchery research manager] said. “There is a 30 percent increase in the acidity of the ocean. If you are an oyster lover, that little bit more acid is a big problem. Eventually it will put our hatchery out of business.”

A 30% increase in the acidity of the ocean due to human production of CO2? Wow, that’s really alarming! The source for this claim turns out to be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “Carbon Program.” whose web site says:

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of surface ocean waters has fallen by 0.1 pH units. Since the pH scale, like the Richter scale, is logarithmic, this change represents approximately a 30 percent increase in acidity.

Only that’s wrong; and although the error has been pointed out, NOAA has done nothing to correct its web site. Cut to Watts Up With That?

This letter to Dr. Richard A. Feely of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory Carbon Program in Seattle, WA was sent by Chuck F. Wiese [a meteorologist] on Wednesday. Chuck also asked me to post it on WUWT but I wanted to see if NOAA would fix the error on the web page first. It is now Saturday, and they haven’t, so I think a public notice is appropriate. I suppose I’m not surprised though, since Dr. Feely lists “Nobel Peace Prize (co-shared with Al Gore and other members of IPCC) – 2007” on his web page.

So here are excerpts from the letter that Mr. Wiese sent to Dr. Feely:

I exchanged e-mails with you a while back over a story that ran in the Oregonian on April 12, 2012. It was about “ocean acidification” that was supposedly killing off what would otherwise be healthy oyster harvests here in the Northwest. …

An OSU researcher who gave the story to the Oregonian, Alan Barton, had incorrectly asserted that the ocean pH had risen 30% because of human CO2 emissions and gave that as the reason the oyster harvests had been suffering. And he qualified that statement by stating that the ocean pH had moved .1 unit towards acidity over the last century.

But as you know, the equation for the pH of an aqueous solution is logarithmic and defined as pH = -log[ H+ ] . As you also know, there are 14 orders of magnitude that define the pH scale from zero to fourteen units as per this equation. So a movement of .1 units towards acidity cannot equal a 30% increase in acidity as claimed in this article. It is actually .1/14 or only 7/10ths of 1%. In order for there to be the increase cited, the researchers solved it for the hydrogen ion concentration and computed that change instead and called it the change in acidity.

30%? .7%? Hey, who’s counting?

Since the natural variation of ocean pH can be up to 5% in either direction, I am speculating that in order to make the story seem legitimate, a gross exaggeration of fact was needed to sell it and hence the switch and bait tactic was used with the pH equation.

You agreed with me in my premise that hydrogen ion concentration makes up the pH but it is not defined by that number because the number of ions in an aqueous solution of water are very large. That was the whole idea behind creating a logarithmic scale with the 14 orders of magnitude to define it. I reported this to the Oregonian readership and thought the issue was settled. But then I found this: [linking to the NOAA web page linked above]

In this explanation offered by NOAA, of which you are a senior scientist, we are back to the trickery of claiming the ocean acidity has increased by 30%. Are you aware of this NOAA information page? It needs an immediate correction. The ocean pH has been changing everywhere within natural variations. There is no provable decrease that can be identified with atmospheric CO2 that is related to human activity.

According to Wiese, Feely acknowledged in an email that Wiese was correct (and as far as I know, there is no dispute about the scientific point that Wiese made). Yet NOAA continues to misinform the public, and the Portland Oregonian has not corrected its story about the oysters. This is typical of the shoddy science and orchestrated hysteria that underlie global warming alarmism.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.