Ocean acidification is a Misnomer

A good way to excite people is to tell them that something is becoming more ‘acid,’ as ‘the oceans are undergoing acidification and this is a potential environmental catastrophe.’

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading proponent of the doom of global warming, states that the mean pH of surface waters ranges between 7.9 and 8.3 in the open oceans, so the oceans remain alkaline. It is dishonest to present to a lay audience that any perceived reduction in alkalinity means the oceans are turning to acid. (1) Since the pH of the oceans is higher than neutral (pH = 7), this means the oceans are alkaline. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14; pH 6 is ten times more acid than pH 7 and pH 5 is a hundred times more acid than pH 7. (2)

Unfortunately, as Scientific American points out, ‘acidification’ means a drop in value, anywhere along the scale. (3) So the term ‘ocean acidification’ is misleading. The oceans are not acidifying. They are undergoing a process known as neutralization, but the term ‘acidification’ sounds scarier than talking about the oceans becoming slightly less basic or a little more neutral.

At least one university is equating seawater with vinegar in an on-line presentation for schools. Vinegar (acetic acid) has a pH of 2.5, almost a million times more acidic in terms of hydrogen ion activity than seawater. This is deliberate disinformation to present to young people. (1)

Jack Dini, Hawaii Reporter, 20 August 2010. Full article.

1 Response to “Ocean acidification is a Misnomer”

  1. 1 Jean-Pierre Gattuso 24 August 2010 at 16:05

    This letter contains misconceptions. For example on the chemistry, detection of increased acidity and the biological responses. This illustrates that some aspects of ocean acidification research, for example the carbonate chemistry, are intricate and counterintuitive. For these reasons, the media and the general public find some scientific issues or results confusing.

    The U.S. Ocean Carbon and Biogeochemistry (OCB; http://www.us-ocb.org) program, supported by the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA; http://www.epoca-project.eu/), and the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (http://www.oceanacidification.org.uk), has compiled a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). These questions were widely distributed to the research community with the request to draft concise replies summarizing current knowledge, yet avoiding jargon. The replies were then subject to an open peer-review and revision process to ensure readability without any loss of scientific accuracy. The response of the community was enthusiastic. In total, 27 scientists from 19 institutions and 5 countries contributed to the whole process.

    Anyone is invited to seek clarification or send comments to Sarah Cooley (scooley@whoi.edu). The list will be revised periodically using this input and maintained at http://www.whoi.edu/OCB-OA/FAQs , http://www.epocaproject.eu/index.php/FAQ.html, and http://www.oceanacidification.org.uk.

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