[Vision2020] Clarification: Re: Coral Reefs: CO2 Source or Sink? Re: Four Levels of Global Warming: A Climate Change Update

Ted Moffett starbliss at gmail.com
Sat Dec 18 16:49:25 PST 2010

On 12/18/10, Sam Scripter <MoscowSam at charter.net> wrote:

"Or are Nick and the ensuing discussants in particular just choosing to focus
on whether coral is/are participants in chemical balance repositioning among
atmospheric, oceanic, and coral carbon?"
Yes, I was exploring coral reefs' activity in the Earth's carbon cycle
and in ocean chemistry, and the question of whether or not coral reefs
are in total sinks or sources for atmospheric CO2, a question that
might be answered differently depending on the time scale involved...
I'm not sure.

The scientific basis, the concern, for addressing ocean acidification
from human CO2 emissions, has increased over the past decade, thus it
is not a false alarm.

On this subject below is an excerpt from a Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution website, and below that are references to published
science on ocean acidification indicating verification of the problem:


If ocean acidification is so potentially serious why isn’t it included
in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Conference of the Parties (COP) climate mitigation negotiations?

Although scientists have known for decades that ocean acidification
would occur as CO2 increased in the atmosphere, the consequences to
marine life were not realized until about 10 years ago. At that time,
biologists discovered that ocean acidification affected the ability of
many marine organisms to form their shells or skeletons. Since then,
many more effects of ocean acidification have been found to influence
a wide array of organisms and marine processes. Because the scientific
process relies on formal research protocols, peer-review, and
publishing, it takes some time for a new finding to be verified and
accepted by the scientific community. However, sufficient evidence
about ocean acidification existed by 2007 that the IPCC Fourth
Assessment Report on Climate Change (2007) stated in the Summary for
Policy Makers, “The progressive acidification of the oceans due to
increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is expected to have negative
impacts on marine shell-forming organisms (e.g. corals) and their
dependent species.” Ocean acidification and its effects have now been
documented to the point that they are widely accepted by the
scientific community and it will be seriously addressed by the Fifth
Assessment Report of the IPCC. In fact, ocean acidification was a
major topic of discussion at side events such as Oceans Day at the
December 2009 COP15 climate change negotiations in Copenhagen even
though specific considerations about oceans had little or no mention
in the text of the proposed agreement. — Joan Kleypas, Scientist III,
National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA; Carol Turley, Senior
Scientist, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK

Scientists Find Rising Carbon Dioxide and ‘Acidified’ Waters in Puget Sound
July 12, 2010

Scientists have discovered that the water chemistry in the Hood Canal
and the Puget Sound main basin is becoming more “acidified,” or
corrosive, as the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere. These changes could have considerable impacts on the
region’s shellfish industry over the next several decades.
International Scientists Find ‘Acidified’ Water on the Continental
Shelf from Canada to Mexico


“Acidification of the Earth’s ocean water could have far-reaching
impacts on the health of our near-shore environment, and on the
sustainability of ecosystems that support human populations through
nourishment and jobs,” said Richard W. Spinrad, NOAA assistant
administrator for oceanic and atmospheric research.
Science journal article on ocean acidification:

Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification


>From article above:

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is expected to exceed 500
parts per million and global temperatures to rise by at least 2°C by
2050 to 2100, values that significantly exceed those of at least the
past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved.

Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and
ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals
becoming increasingly rare on reef systems. The result will be less
diverse reef communities and carbonate reef structures that fail to be
maintained. Climate change also exacerbates local stresses from
declining water quality and overexploitation of key species, driving
reefs increasingly toward the tipping point for functional collapse.
This review presents future scenarios for coral reefs that predict
increasingly serious consequences for reef-associated fisheries,
tourism, coastal protection, and people.

Polar ocean 'soaking up less CO2'
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

One of Earth's most important absorbers of carbon dioxide (CO2) is
failing to soak up as much of the greenhouse gas as it was expected
to, scientists say.

The decline of Antarctica's Southern Ocean carbon "sink" - or
reservoir - means that atmospheric CO2 levels may be higher in future
than predicted.

These carbon sinks are vital as they mop up excess CO2 from the
atmosphere, slowing down global warming.

As CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, it makes them more acidic, harming
populations of marine organisms such as coral. The latest study
suggests that phenomenon will only get worse over the century.

The study, by an international team, is published in the journal Science.

NOAA: Study Details Ocean Acidification in the Caribbean

Conducted by scientists from NOAA and the University of Miami's
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the study was
published in the Oct. 31, 2008 issue of the Journal of Geophysical
Research – Oceans.

Previous NOAA studies have shown that a quarter of the carbon dioxide
that humans place in the atmosphere each year ends up being dissolved
into the ocean. The result is the ocean becomes more acidic, making it
harder for corals, clams, oysters, and other marine life to build
their skeletons or shells. A number of recent studies demonstrate that
ocean acidification is likely to harm coral reefs by slowing coral
growth and making reefs more vulnerable to erosion and storms.

Ocean chemistry changing at 'unprecedented rate'

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to
global warming are also turning the oceans more acidic at the fastest
pace in hundreds of thousands of years, the National Research Council
reported Thursday.

"The chemistry of the ocean is changing at an unprecedented rate and
magnitude due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions," the council
said. "The rate of change exceeds any known to have occurred for at
least the past hundreds of thousands of years."

Ocean acidification eats away at coral reefs, interferes with some
fish species' ability to find their homes and can hurt commercial
shellfish like mussels and oysters and keep them from forming their
protective shells.
Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett

On 12/18/10, Sam Scripter <MoscowSam at charter.net> wrote:
> Since Nick's piece, with a sentence or so about "coral", I have been
> following
> the ensuing discussion regarding ocean acidification and coral.
> But I am puzzled.
> Maybe that's because I am not on top of the changing views of "science"
> about the dangers of ocean acidification, caused by carbon dioxide
> increasingly
> dissolving into oceans' waters, from an increasing concentration of carbon
> dioxide in the atmosphere [anthropogenic or not].
> I thought -- until recently at least -- that the concern for coral, and
> for shellfish
> at large, was that the chemical shift to increasing acidity in the
> oceans was feared
> to dissolve the shells of some shellfish and  perhaps even prevent
> formation of
> shells in other shellfish trying to live.
> E.g., some or many shellfish could be put out of existence, "screwing
> up" some
> ecological food chains as well as sources for human food. These are not
> small
> matters!
> Am I off base? Has that concern gone away and/or shown to be false alarms?
> Or are Nick and the ensuing discussants in particular just choosing to focus
> on whether coral is/are participants in chemical balance repositioning among
> atmospheric, oceanic, and coral carbon?
> Sam Scripter
> Ted Moffett wrote:
>> Thanks for the response to my question from the post which can be read
>> in full at the website below, which will offer more context:
>> http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/2010-December/073255.html
>> --------------------------
>> I have found credible scientific information that relates to my
>> question regarding coral reefs lowering ocean water acidity, though
>> this information does not address coral reef calcium carbonate
>> formation effects on ocean water acidity.  It addresses the
>> dissolution of calcium carbonate in the oceans, lowering ocean
>> acidity.  Calcium carbonate is a treatment for acid stomach.  But this
>> process in the oceans is too slow to stop increasing ocean
>> acidification from billions of tons of human CO2 emissions:
>> http://www.elcamino.edu/faculty/tnoyes/Readings/10DR.pdf
>> > From website above:
>> "Recall that additional carbon dioxide makes ocean water acidic, and
>> that the acid dissolves calcium carbonate ...this neutralizes the acid
>> (the carbonate absorbs it). ...coral are said to "buffer" the ocean."
>> This academic source also states "...corals 'permanently' remove CO2
>> from the atmosphere by building their reefs" a statement that could be
>> used to conclude that coral reefs are in total atmospheric CO2 sinks,
>> which is disputed.
>> ------------------------
>> http://www.whoi.edu/OCB-OA/FAQs/
>> > From website above:
>> As the oceans become more acidic, more calcium carbonate minerals
>> underwater will dissolve. Will that offset ocean acidification?
>> The dissolution of calcium carbonate minerals in the water column and
>> in the sediments does increase the alkalinity of seawater, which
>> offsets the decreased pH and carbonate ion concentrations associated
>> with ocean acidification. However, as with rock weathering, this
>> process is slow and would take thousands to tens of thousands of years
>> to neutralize all of the CO2 from human activity that is entering the
>> oceans. Over the decades to centuries that affect human communities,
>> these processes are not fast enough to counteract CO2 invasion into
>> the ocean, and so the chemical changes associated with ocean
>> acidification will last for several centuries. — Richard A. Feely,
>> Senior Scientist, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, USA
>> ------------------------------------------
>> Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett
>> On 12/17/10, Andreas Schou<ophite at gmail.com>  wrote:
>>>> Now I wonder, if coral reefs remove carbon from ocean water, do they
>>>> help to lower ocean water accidification from human sourced CO2
>>>> emissions?
>>> Not really. Coral reefs remove carbon from ocean water by constructing
>>> their calcium carbonate exoskeletons; calcium ions, rather than
>>> carbonate ions, create a bottleneck w/r/t how much carbon they can
>>> remove.
>>> -- ACS
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