I stumbled across two very interesting articles regarding the principles behind pH, calcium and carbon dioxide today while reading on Watts Up With That.
Having been a salt water fish tank enthusiast for years, I understood the mechanics of pH in my tanks, but never really bothered to learn the exact chemical processes that occur between calcium, carbon dioxide, the water, calcium carbonate, and the limestone substrate and coral skeletons. Shame on me, but my Purple Up and infrequent kalkwasser drippings work so well, I never really bothered with the chemical formulae. I learned them today, and they are linked below.
The data mining excursion of today was to understand exactly what threat may be faced by a slight lowering of the pH in the oceans. This is erroneously referred to by alarmists, such as head of NOAA Dr Jane Lubchenco whom we’ve discussed before, as “ocean acidification”.
Sounds scary, huh? “Acid”, that’s bad, right? You don’t want acids in sea water, and fortunately they will never be there. This “acidification” is alarmingly referred to as a drop in the pH of the oceans from an average of 8.2 to perhaps 8.1 by the end of the century. But neutral pH is 7.0, everything above 7.0 is “basic” not “acidic”, everything below 7.0 is acidic. So, lowering the pH 0.1 unit is not “becoming acidic”, it is “becoming slightly less basic”.
I like how dire predictions are always made 100 years out, that way everyone who profited from the doom and gloom is long dead before it becomes obvious they were playing the public for fools. “The End is Nigh!” and always has been for some since we crawled out of the bushes a few millions of years ago.
The pH in my tanks often varies between 8.1 and 8.4, and all my corals are fine, one has even grown perhaps two inches over the last year, thank you very much! That’s why I stopped measuring the pH regularly, it obviously trended and therefore was subject to the specifc time and conditions under which the measurement was taken. For instance, when did I last add supplements, how long have the lights been on, how much water has been lost to evaporation in the sump, is the venturi slightly clogged on the skimmer (reducing oxygen to the tank), etc. Now I only measure it when I’m bored or the animals seemed stressed, and it’s always 8.1 to 8.4.
pH is a logarithmic scale, every whole number increase is a 100 fold increase in hydrogen ions (pH/acidity/alkalinity all just measure hydrogen ions), so a change from 8.1 to 8.4 in one day is significant percentage wise, but insignificant to my corals.
Why? Because the corals are alive. They have metabolic processes that contend with changing water chemistry and cellular processes that repair damaged tissue. When Dr Jane Lubchenco performed her third grade science exhibit before Congress she certainly understood and failed to mention the difference between chalk and a living coral. A lie by omission is still a lie, Dr Jane, and a rigged experiment meant to elicit an emotional reaction from Congress is unbecoming of a scientist, but I did like the purple starfish pin you wore – nice touch.
So, a slight change in pH isn’t that big of a deal to a living organism evolved to live in the changing conditions of the ocean.
But what if we cross some sort of threshold where anthropogenic carbon dioxide upsets a delicate balance in the seas and runaway something-or-other happens? It can’t. The seas are far too large, and have far too massive a buffer in limestone to be affected by all the unburned fossil fuels in existence. The seas already have far, far more carbon dioxide in them than would be contributed by burning everything we could set alight.
In short, ocean acidification is science fantasy.
Ready for the links? Put on your chemistry 101 hat and read here and here.