Acidification in ocean may be serious but not flesh scarring

There are dozens of new scientific studies discussing the acidification of the oceans, a critical issue for Costa Rica.

It turns out that there is little chance the ocean will move to the acid side of the pH scale. Acidification turns out to be a figure of speech.

The pH scale is logarithmic and measures the number of hydrogen atoms in a solution.  The more hydrogen atoms, the more acidic a solution is. The current pH of the oceans now is about 8.2. A wire story Friday cited an international study that said global warming is causing a silent storm in the oceans by acidifying waters at a record rate, threatening marine life from coral reefs to fish stocks.

Carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, can become a mild acid when mixed with water, said the article correctly. One of the lead authors was Carol Turley, a senior scientist at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England.

A vast number of global warming news stories fail to give specific temperatures to show that the world is estimated to have warmed less than a degree Celsius in the last 100 years.

Since the early 20th century, Earth’s mean surface temperature has increased by about 0.8 degree Celsius  (1.4 degree Fahrenheit), with about two-thirds of the increase occurring since 1980, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that measures the earth via satellite.

However, Dr. Turley and 539 other experts in 37 nations did state the current pH in the study reported Friday and said that a 170 percent increase in acidity is possible by 2100. That is equivalent to cutting the pH level of the ocean, a scale of acidity and alkalinity, to 7.9 from 8.2 on a logarithmic scale, they said. Battery acid rates about 1 and soap, an alkaline, is about 10.  A reading of 7.0 is neutral.  Human blood is about pH 7.4.

Dr. Turley was in Warsaw, Poland, Friday at the U.S. Framework Convention on Climate Change. But she did reply via email that the pH of the open-ocean surface layer is unlikely to ever become acidic (i.e. drop below pH 7.0), because seawater is buffered by dissolved salts.

“The term acidification refers to a pH shift towards the acidic end of the pH scale, similar to the way we describe an increase in temperature from -20°C to 0°C (-4°F to 32°F): It’s still cold, but we say it’s warming.” she said. “So the term acidification refers to a process just like warming does. So both are right – decreasing alkalinity and acidification.”

A very recent study said that digestion in sea urchin larvae was impaired under ocean acidification. It turns out that sea urchins have a stomach of pH 9.5, which is very alkaline. “Larvae exposed to decreased seawater pH suffer from a drop in gastric pH, which directly translates into decreased digestive efficiencies and triggers compensatory feeding,” said the study published in Nature Climate Change.

Although there is concern that a warmer earth will have serious impact on coral, sea level and marine creatures, the pH of the ocean would seem to be a separate issue. There is no doubt that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased. A recent report said that 400 parts per million has been measured. That would be up about 85 parts per million in the last 55 years.

Costa Rica to some extent depends on the oceans for food, tourism, recreation and exports. Although changes in the pH there may have devastating effects on marine creatures, an acidic ocean is not going to melt way a surfboard.

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