Un-refutable Proof of Alarmists’ Ocean Acidification Misinformation in three Simple Classes • Watts Up With That?

Jim Steele

  1. The Undisputed Science: The illustration shows how CO2 breaks down into 3 different molecules when CO2 combines with water, collectively called Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC). First one of water’s H+ ion pops off to form Bicarbonate ions. Bicarbonate ions now contribute over 90% of the oceans current DIC (red curve) . Another H+ proton pops off to form Carbonate ions which constitue ~9% of DIC (green curve). No more than 1% of invading CO2 remains as CO2 (blue curve).

The added H+ ions can make the water more acidic. The pH scale indicates H+ concentration.  At pH 2 there is 1 part H+ for every 100 (102) parts water.  At that low pH, there are so many H+ that they are more likely to re-join bicarbonate ions, nearly 99% of the DIC remains as CO2.  At pH 10, H+ ions are rare, 1 part H+ for every 10,000,000,000 (1010) parts water. With so few H+ to re-join carbonates and bicarbonates, DIC is ~ 90+% carbonate ions.

Distilled water has pH 7. It is considered the neutral pH because the H+ ions that pop off a water molecule are balanced by the negative OH- ions (alkalinity). In comparison, ocean water at pH 8.1 is 10 times less acidic than distilled water because the Bicarbonate ions and Carbonate ions are great buffers that can re-join with H+ ions and prevent the water from becoming as acidic as distilled water.

  • The Dissolving Snail Shell Hoax: This is NOAA’s insidious illustration of a dissolving shell of a dead sea butterfly in 7.8 pH water, a pH that models predict will occur from continued burning of fossil fuels.

First, consider that living sea butterflies’ shells, and virtually every mollusk shell, have a protective organic covering that prevents any shell dissolution. Likewise living coral polyps protect their reef skeleton.

Second, consider that the dead shell would have dissolved faster in the more acidic pH 7 of distilled water. Thus the addition of CO2 and its buffering molecules actually slow down any shell dissolving by maintaining ocean pH at 8.1 to 7.8.

  • The Reduced Calcification Hoax: Shells and reefs are made of calcium carbonate. The hoax abuses one true scientific factoid:  At a lower pH, the added H+ ions will re-join with the ocean’s buffering carbonate ions. That reduces sea water’s available carbonate ions by converting them to bicarbonate ion. So, alarmists’ falsely claim acidification will reduce seawater’s carbonate ions, making it more difficult to make calcium carbonate shells or reefs.

The truth is:  not a single researcher has detected in any shell or reef making organism an ability to import carbonate ions directly from sea water to make their shells or reefs. They all only import CO2 and the abundant bicarbonate ions, which they then convert internally to a carbonate ion.

As in the illustration of the steps in coral calcification, CO2 (highlighted by blue rectangle) which has no charge, freely passes through the corals outer lipid membranes. Once inside, an enzyme converts CO2 into bicarbonate ions which traps bicarbonate ions because charged ions cannot pass freely through membranes.

Then, special bicarbonate transporters (highlighted by green rectangles) allow bicarbonate ions to pass through membranes and into the space where the reef skeleton is made. Again, no carbonate transporters have been detected to allow import of carbonate ions.

In contrast, the calcium pump imports calcium ions for reef making directly from the seawater, but because they are positively charged, they must also pump H+ ions out of the reef making space to maintain an electrical balance. Conveniently, pumping H+ ions out also raises internal pH and causes the imported bicarbonate ions to convert to the required carbonate ions. The shell-making chemistry of all mollusks is very similar.

Finally, the calcium and newly converted carbonate ions combine to form the calcium carbonate building blocks for reef skeletons and shells.

Thus, any acidification that converts sea water carbonate ions into bicarbonate ions is actually helping reefs and shell-making which only absorb the critical CO2 and bicarbonate ions. Knowing the real science, I can no longer trust the IPCC or NOAA’s acidification alarmism misinformation.


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