Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Steele's Ocean Acidification Horror Story, a closer look.

Examining some of the claims in the YouTube video "Recovering Whales, Ocean Acidification, and Climate Horror Stories," I wrote 
Dr. Evans, who's data Steele uses and he responded to my questions with an enlightening email, along with suggestions for further investigation.   Now that I've spent more time looking into the question of 'what' and 'how' scientists know about ocean acidification, I've decided to give Steele's talk from 2:45 to 5:59 another dissection.  

For students of The Art of the Republican Attack on Science, this will be worth your while. 


Recovering Whales, Ocean Acidification, and Climate Horror Stories by JIm Steele (2:45-5:59)
Part 3 Jim Steele's Presentation to the Life Members of the International Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Jim is the author of "Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist's Journey to Climate Skepticism"
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2:45 - "Here's your question about ocean acidification.  This upwelling is a tremendous benefit.  If you do a vertical profile of the ocean, if you look at the surface the pH is gonna be around 8.2-8.3, as you drop down what you see is that it very quickly it becomes more acidic, because bacteria digest everything, we start to releasing the carbon. So you can see in the upwelling zones you can see it's down to 7.7 And when it upwells it brings it right to the coast"
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First off, notice Jim drawing his audience's attention away from how the oceans absorb CO2, instead focusing on regional upwelling of abyssal acidic waters along the continental shelf.

That's the way magicians work, draw the eye away from where the trick is happening.

Listen in on Steele's talk.  You'll hear a hint of the problem he chooses to ignore.  The surface of the ocean is on average basic ~8.2-8.3pH as Steele tells us {7 being neutral}.  CO2 is acidic and easily binds with water molecules.  We live in a world where the atmospheric CO2 concentration has skyrocketed by ~40% in a geologic blink.  How will that system behave?    How can Steele's IEEE audience be blind to that?
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3:20 - "People say on average the pH is getting more, they don't know that.  It's a model."

{Graph - no source given. "Estuarine/Near shore - Elkhorn Slough, CA tidal estuary (L1), Monterey Bay, CA near shore (L20)" -  Seasonal upwelling mixing with surface waters,}
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Here we have the Republican tactic of demonizing the "models."  

Even chemical formulas are models if you want to look at it like that.  Models of all types are used in every branch of science and none of our modern understanding (or marvelous gadgets) would be possible without using various models.  I would think Mr. Steele is aware of that.

A question for Steele's IEEE club:  Why not approach "models" (particularly climate models) with an interest in understanding them? 

Practice 2 - Developing and Using Models
{I've posted this video after my review.}
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3:25 - "its modeling more CO2 causes acidity, but we don't have the data"
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This is political nonsense and scientific ignorance. 

At the end of this review I've listed a number of "101" videos and other sources that explain the well established chemistry that our Mr. Steele and his compliant IEEE audience wants us to remain ignorant of, such as:  

O2 and CO2 solubility
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Global gas exchange in the sea surface microlayers - Fast Forward Science 2013
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It's just a lousy model, Jim's not buying any of it.  

Please notice how, for someone who claims to reject appeals to scientific authority,  Steele has taken on the Mantel of Authority for himself: Listen to me, I know what I'm talking about; I've looked into this; you can trust me; models are all bullpoop; they don't know what they're talking about; those others are the fools.     

Ironically, this comes on the heals of Jim displaying data collected by ocean scientists, who most certainly do know what they are talking about - and when they don't, they're the first ones to admit it.  But you actually have to listen to what they are sharing!  

Oh, and what background gives Mr. Steele his deep understanding that justifies such absolute certitude?
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3:35 - "The pH data is extremely sparse {is that a fact? link to find out} and it can not accurately average the tremendous variability that happens to pH over various depths, different locations, over different years and seasons, and it can differ dramatically hourly at the same location."
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Here's another page from the reject inconvenient science handbook.  If every little detail and riddle isn't solved, assume the right to reject all that is known.  

It's an intellectually dishonest trick, of value only to those who deliberately want to deceive.

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3:50 - "Elkhorn slough goes from... it's bouncing back and forth 8.2 to 7.4, a few miles away the daily pH varies between 8.3 and 7.9, but the pattern of daily variations differ from Elkhorn Slough (tidal estuary) to Monterey Bay (near shore)"
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What the heck else would you expect from a mixing zone?  
The facts Jim shares are true enough, it's the point he's making that's a fraud!
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4:16 - "{graph of seasonal mixing, from where ? by whom ?} if you look on seasonal, our upwelling along California starts in the spring, what you can see is that the blue is more acidic and the red more alkaline.  During the spring upwelling brings more acidic waters to the surface, then those acidic water drop during the summer and fall."
4:35 - "They did moorings off of Oregon and even within a season you see these spikes .  And CO2 this baseline here represents the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.  In the water it will go 2 or 3 times greater than that.  During these upwelling events, but only take about a week for these levels to drop down and to drop down below what atmospheric levels are." 
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Oh my!  Sounds so melodramatic.  Come on, let's think this through - it's an upwelling zone, ribbons of cold deep acidic ocean water circulating up into warmer surface waters, its a turbulent mixing zone.  Extreme differences in numbers within narrow ranges of space and time are exactly what's to be expected until the system mixes and nears a new, if temporary, equilibrium.

Ironically, there's another clue to the problem - Steele tells us "levels drop down to below atmospheric CO2 levels."  Think about it, if the normal surface waters are well below atmospheric levels, doesn't it stand to reason the surface of the ocean would be soaking up some of that available atmospheric CO2?  It's way more complicated than that, but you get the idea. 

Steele also ignores the chemical fact that CO2 and water mix quite easily - plus, there's about a thousand times more ocean surface area then continental shelf.  Why isn't the IEEE audience the least bit interested in those omissions?
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Regarding the graph at 4:35, it had a source listed Evans et al. so the study was easy to find. 
"Evans et al. Seasonal Cycle of pCO2 off Newport, Oregon"

I contacted Dr. Evans asking about some of Steele's claims.  He was kind enough to respond.  I share Dr. Evans' assessment at the end of this review.

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5:00 - "This is because it's driven by something called the biological pump. CO2 is plant food,{That's a nice touch, feed that Republican Meme, "it's plant food gotta be great"} the more plants are photosynthesizing the greater the abundance you have in the marine productivity and then you have fish and krill that are eating the plankton, their fecal pellets take that the carbon right back down to the bottom of the ocean, until it's upwelled again. {and that's where Jim leaves it.  No talk about the other ingredients of this biological pump.} So we can see, even though it's gone two or three times higher than atmospheric CO2, it drops down lower than what it's been since the little ice age. {Wow, where did that come flying in from? ... what's the little ice age got to do with any of this?  Oh yea Gish Gallop.}"
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Jim only shares one element of a hugely complex ocean/ocean circulation system, ignoring the ocean/atmosphere part all together.  But he feels comfortable drawing absolute and global conclusions on those tiny bits of information?

Steele's Sin is tricking his audience into believing his is the only mechanism that matters.  Another sin is in assuming his personal opinion is superior to professionals who have spent their lives studying these phenomena.  His IEEE audience's sin is going along with the transparent fraud.
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5:30 - "So how much is pH doing it, I really don't trust any of these studies that say we're having problems." 
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Mr. Steele again assumes his mantle of authority - he decrees with certainty don't trust any of those silly studies they don't know what they are talking about.

And who is this Mr. Steele to pass down such certain condemnation?  Check out his bio, an enthusiastic "naturalist" instructor at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, he's taught nature studies and biology 101.  I know that in the Northern Sierras some consider him a sort of authority on bird counting.  That's it.  No serious research, no papers, oh but written a book he's now peddling.  

Ironic thing is Steele just got through sharing a number of graphs and some other information that were produced by dedicated hard working researchers who put in the blood, sweat, tears and hours, endless hours, to produce and publish the information that Steele shared with his audience.

But, his message is: Don't trust a bit of it.
What's up with that?
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"Usually, when they say acidic, it's something off along the coast here.  Some of these shells are dissolving, it's upwelling zone {it's more than that buddy, take a link}.
 {Check out what Dr Evans has to say about this line of reasoning, you find his email at the end of this review}
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Here Steele's implying scientists aren't smart enough to figure out the difference between these zones and other regions of the ocean... or something like that?  It's not like Steele makes any effort to clarify himself, confusion is the name of his game.  Besides, he's on a Gish Gallop, no time to linger.

Still, for a "naturalist" to show such complete disregard for acknowledging the context within which these upwellings exist, is appalling.

Just as bad, Jim belittles "some of these shells."   Just another unimportant externality, ey Jim?  Glibly ignoring that we are talking about the oyster and shell fish industry and all the folks who depend on it and eat their product - an industry dealing with a real life horror situation that continues mounting. 

It's one of the most hateful aspects of this Republican war on science - ignoring everything that interferes with their personal objectives.
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5:40 - "What's amazing is things like diatoms, where they live in heavily upwelled areas, they don't have calcarious shells that can dissolve in acid, they have silicon, silicious shells that won't dissolve.  So I think there's been an evolution, that they know there's certain places with high acidity and they've evolve to adapt into that."
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Lets consider for a moment, how does Steele know any of that?
Just like, probably you, and definitely me, Jim's never put in the endless study, or spent any time on a boat battling the elements and fatigue to gather the data.

We read about it and trust what we read because we know there's a large group of other scientists, intelligent, skeptical, and knowledgeable in the specifics of that particular field, checking out each other's work.  It's what all the back and forth dialogue is all about.  If there are issues, it's talked about and folks like him and me hear about it and take that into consideration as we digest the information.

But, where did our knowledge come from?
It was professional ocean researchers and scientists who gathered and shared the information.  Jim likes this information - so to him it's good science and worth sharing.

Sadly the moment scientists produce results that don't fit into his preconceived story line, it's bad science and worth derision and broadcasting denunciations and the most extreme conspiracy ideation  - even though he has no direct understanding of the science involved.  This is politics straight out of the Republican Science Rejecting Handbook - and it has absolutely nothing to do with learning about this planet we depend on for everything.  Shame on the whole lot of 'em.

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For those interested in learning about their planet,
here's some more information sources and a few YouTube videos, after I share Dr. Evans' email:

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I sent research associate Wiley Evans PhD an email asking what he thought of Steele's description of their research and the state of current understanding.  He was kind enough to take time out and respond.  He gave me permission to share his words.  Evans' response speaks for itself. 
{I have added highlights, links and some paragraph breaks} 

"Regarding your write-up of Steele's video.: yes, he is very disillusioned. He should probably talk to an oceanographer before giving that talk, or at the very least look at some more appropriate references.   
First off, there are data that clearly show ocean carbonate chemistry is changing in response to anthropogenic CO2 uptake. The classic dataset is from HOT, but every major open ocean time series site shows the same thing. This was summarized in a nice paper by Nick Bates in Oceanography this year.   
The confusion is that coastal settings, particularly upwelling regions, are far more variable than open ocean settings and the consistent data records are not as long. So researchers rely on calculations to estimate the small quantity of DIC {Dissolved Inorganic Carbon} derived from anthropogenic CO2 uptake in the water column. Feely did this in his 2008 paper describing acidified water along the US west coast, and others have done this as well (e.g. Juranek et al; Harris et al).   
The point is two-fold: it is a small quantity of DIC that amounts to a large change in saturation horizons and that this is well vetted in the scientific literature, which Steele seems to be ignoring and misusing (hence showing my figure and focusing solely on the variability).  
The "extra" DIC in the water column from anthropogenic CO2 uptake has the impact of shifting the envelope of variability in the system such that organisms experience more corrosive conditions longer than they would otherwise. " 

Wiley Evans
Ocean Acidification Research Center - 
University of Alaska at Fairbanks

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Ocean Acidification Research Center - University of Alaska at Fairbanks
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New ocean acidification study to launch in Prince William Sound
Posted on April 29, 2014 by ddugan
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A regression modeling approach for studying carbonate system variability in the northern Gulf of Alaska
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Volume 118, Issue 1,  pages 476–489, January 2013

Wiley Evans, Mathis, Winsor, Statscewich and Whitledge

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Building an integrated coastal ocean acidification monitoring network in the U.S.
Jeremy T. Mathis Richard A. Feely
Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene
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NOAA - Ocean Acidification pH

These datasets shows computer model simulations of surface ocean pH and aragonite saturation state from 1895-2094, with continents and coral reefs marked (aragonite saturation state is commonly used to track ocean acidification because it is a function of carbonate ion concentration). 
These datasets show surface ocean pH and aragonite saturation state changes over time. Aragonite is one of the more soluble forms of calcium carbonate but it is widely used by marine calcifiers. Each successive frame shows, in 6-month increments beginning with January 1885 and ending with July 2094, the low-pass filtered monthly mean aragonite saturation state or pH of the surface ocean as modeled by the Community Climate System Model 3.1 (CCSM3.1 Doney SC et al. 2009. Skill metrics for confronting global upper ocean ecosystem-biogeochemistry models against field and remote sensing data. JOURNAL OF MARINE SYSTEMS 76(1-2): 95-112). 
The model simulation is driven with atmospheric emissions based on records of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, for past dates, and the A2 IPCC SRES scenario for future dates (approx. 850 ppm atmospheric CO2 by 2100). Low-pass filtration removes seasonality and interannual variability with a period of less than 10 years. White indicates no data. A plain-language script for docents is included to help them introduce visitors to ocean acidification and to these particular data.
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USGS - Polar Regions: The Arctic
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Climate Science for Australia's Future

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March 31 2014 - Report 
Scientists Focus on Polar Waters as Threat of Acidification Grows

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Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel On Ocean Acidification
Scientific Summary of Ocean Acidification in Washington State marine Waters
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Research along the West Coast
The interplay of upwelling and ocean acidification along the U.S. West Coast
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"The combined effects of ocean acidification, mixing, and respiration on pH and carbonate saturation in an urbanized estuary"
Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 88 (2010) 442e449
Richard A. Feely, Alin, Newton, Sabine, Warner, Devol, Krembs, Maloy
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OA in the Pacific Northwest
What do we know about Ocean Acidification in Pacific Northwest coastal waters?
Prepared by Jan Newton and Terrie Klinger, University of Washington
also see

Six things we know about ocean acidification in Pacific Northwest coastal waters:
1.  Rising atmospheric CO2 changes ocean chemistry and negatively impacts shelled organisms. 
2.  Pacific Northwest shellfish are sensitive to reduced calcium carbonate-saturation state within the current range of conditions. 
3.  Natural and anthropogenic contributions are additive. 
4.  Anthropogenic contributions to ocean acidification are detectable and have increased the frequency, intensity, and duration of harmful conditions. 
5. Small changes in the environment can cause large responses among living organisms. 
6. Local species are affected.
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Ocean Acidification in Google Earth Tour at High CO2 Conference

Published on Sep 24, 2012 - Ever wondered what impacts all that carbon dioxide we emit is having on the ocean and what consequences this could have for the future? This Google Earth Tour, narrated by Dan Laffoley from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), who is Chair of Europe's Ocean Acidification Reference User Group, takes us on a global journey to understand what impact carbon dioxide has on ocean chemistry. It explores the phenomenon of ocean acidification and explains why even small changes to ocean chemistry could have profound implications for marine life and future economic activities. 
Follow the tour as we fly from the Great Barrier Reef to remote islands in the Arctic and the bubbling seabed off Vesuvius in Italy. Hear stories of how ocean acidification is already affecting marine life and livelihoods' dependent on a healthy ocean, such as shellfish farming. This animated tour was first presented at the 3rd Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World in Monterey in September 2012 and was prepared in partnership with Jenifer Austin Foulkes (Google), with script by Owen Gaffney (International Geosphere and Biosphere Programme) and Dan Laffoley. 
The animated sequence of ocean acidification through to the year 2300 was created using data provided by the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (courtesy Dr. Tatiana Ilyina) and the visualization tools of the German Climate Computing Center (courtesy Dr. Michael Böttinger). Film clips courtesy of Canadian Broacasting Group's One Ocean, Greenpeace, Tipping Point by Nicolas Koutsikas and Laurence Jourdain, Georama TV Production. Learn more at
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Introduction to CO2 Chemistry in Seawater Part 1

Published on Mar 1, 2012  Over the past twenty years, accurate measurement of the seawater carbon dioxide system has become a high priority for scientists who have worked to understand just how much of the carbon dioxide created by man's activities has ended up in the ocean, where it is distributed, and how it has changed the chemistry of the oceans; a process known as ocean acidification.  
Andrew G. Dickson, Professor of Marine Chemistry at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego, has been measuring carbon dioxide in seawater for over 30 years. In this two-part series, he introduces the basic chemical processes underlying the study of carbon dioxide in the oceans, and provides an overview of the experimental techniques that are in use to measure the levels of carbon dioxide in seawater indicating how a newcomer to this field might make decisions as to what research tools best suit them.  [Series: "Scientific Horizons" 4/2012, Show ID: 23499]
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NASA Ocean Gas Exchange & Ecology

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Global gas exchange in the sea surface microlayers - Fast Forward Science 2013
In this video you get up to date science from the field of marine global gas exchange. The really thin sea surface microlayers play a major role in the exchange of CO2 with the atmosphere and the bulk water. By understanding this small ecosystem we learn more about the effects of CO2 exchange in the ocean, like the greenhouse effect and ocean acidification.  

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Oyster Profile

By C. Greg Lutz, Pramod Sambidi and R. Wes Harrison, 
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
overview   The United States produces two major species of oysters, Crassostrea virginica (the Atlantic oyster or Eastern oyster) and the non-native Crassostrea gigas (Pacific oyster). The Eastern oyster, found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf Coast) region and the Chesapeake Bay region, historically accounts for roughly 75 percent of total U.S. harvests. The Gulf Coast region, principally Louisiana, generally leads the nation in oyster production. The Pacific region, principally the state of Washington, follows closely, and the Chesapeake region, principally Maryland, ranks third. 

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Practice 2 - Developing and Using Models

Paul Andersen - Bozeman Science
Published on Jan 2, 2013

Developing and Using Models 
Paul Andersen explains the importance of modeling in science and engineering. Models are used by scientists to explain phenomenon. Unlike mental models, conceptual models can be shared by all scientists to improve our understanding of the Universe. Engineers use models study systems and test designs.
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A collection of scientists discussing climate models, if you listen to them you'll notice that scientists are very clear about the limitations and flaws within climate models.  They are not trying to trick anyone - they are concerned about learning and improving their accuracy!  They also realize climate models don't need to be absolutely accurate in order to inform us.
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Might as well end with this tour of our incredible planet 
to remind us about the stakes we are gambling away.

2014 Earth From Space Full

Program Description -
"Earth From Space" is a groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms it into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustains life on earth. 
Viewers witness how dust blown from the Sahara fertilizes the Amazon; how a vast submarine "waterfall" off Antarctica helps drive ocean currents around the world; and how the Sun's heating up of the southern Atlantic gives birth to a colossally powerful hurricane. From the microscopic world of water molecules vaporizing over the ocean to the magnetic field that is bigger than Earth itself, the show reveals the astonishing beauty and complexity of our dynamic planet.
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