Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Recovering Whales, Ocean Acidification the Jim Steele Horror Story - reviewed

Or, what a tangled web Steele weaves.

There's a tactic called the "Gish Gallop" where a speaker tosses out so many varied claims that it's impossible for the serious listener to keep up.  Steele has perfected this skill, but it's easy for him since his audience (Life Members of the International Electrical and Electronic Engineers) only wants to hear reassurances that they have nothing to worry about and can continue consuming like there's no tomorrow. 

I'm more serious and skeptical, so I've taken the time to chase after the various bones Steele tosses out.  This post will focus on his claims regarding whale population recovery thanks to La Nina along with Steele's bizarre take on the ocean acidification story*
*{for an update on that mischief, link here}

Recovering Whales, Ocean Acidification, and Climate Horror Stories by JIm Steele (considering 0:00 to 6:00)

update December 8, 2014
Wiley Evans, Ph.D. shares some thoughts regarding Steele's description of ocean pH studies.

Published on Nov 3, 2014 
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"

As usual Steele's words will be in Courier font.
:00  -  "The whales have been a tremendous comeback story.... {talks about watching whales off Monterey}
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The graph at 1:11 showing dramatic whale recovery - but see what the caption says:

Figure 7.10 "Recovery of the eastern Australian Humpback whale populations 
since whaling ceased in the 1960s" 
Source Dave Paton and Dr. Mike Noad - (Centre for Cetacean Research and Conservation)"

But, there are some 15 species of whales that have been commercially hunted, using one graph about a local population of one species does not represent the global whale population - why does Mr. Steele imply that it does?

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1:05 - "There's two reasons for the comeback, one is the La Nina right now causes more upwelling nutrients, the other I'd like to suggest... {here Jim builds up to a splendid joke, with laughs all around at those sillies who blame everything on CO2.}... and the advent of petroleum fuels in 1850, declining need for whale oil." 
1:25 "... well actually, there is a very indirect connection {to CO2}During Little Ice Age whales were hunted to near extinction for their blubber and oil.  People were shivering in the ice age and they wanted lamp oil."  
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First, the "Little Ice Age" was roughly from 1350 to 1850 [1]
I've even heard Jim imply we are still recovering from the LIA, however in reality the LIA ended more than 150 years ago![2]
Oh and even though everyone uses the term, the "LIA" was not an "ice age" by any stretch of the definition. [3]

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1:40 "When we developed an alternative energy source, petroleum that relieved the pressure of this hunting on all the marine mammals ... When you relieve that pressure you allow them to come back."
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I'm trying real hard to keep this polite, but this is nothing less than deliberately lying to his audience.  The advent of the coal age with its steam power,  followed by the petroleum age, along with technological advances, did nothing but skyrocket whale "harvesting" resulting in global whale populations getting demolished.

Here's an overview of historic highlights of America's whaling industry:
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Timeline: The History of Whaling in America
What PBS leaves out are all the other nations that stepped in and started harvesting whales using ever more efficient modern marvels to catch ever greater quantities of whales:
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Here's a more complete history of the evolution of whale hunting:
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International Whaling Commission -Status of whales
A simple overview of the status of whales by species and ocean basin
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15.2. Commercial Exploitation of Marine Mammals 
"In the early 19th century, “Yankee” whalers from New England extended their reach into the Pacific and Indian Oceans in a widening search for sperm, right, bowhead, and gray whales that swam slowly and could be killed with hand harpoons and lances (Figure 15.2). By the end of the 19th century, right whales in both hemispheres, as well as bow- head and gray whales, had been severely depleted." 
15.2.2. Current Practices 
"The era of modern commercial whaling was initiated in the 1860s with the invention of the cannon-fired, explosive-head harpoon. In combination with the development of faster steam-powered catcher boats, whalers could for the first time take large numbers of the faster swimming rorqual whales (initially blue and fin whales)." 
"The first Antarctic whaling station was established in 1904 on South Georgia; 195 whales were taken that year. By 1913, there were 6 land stations and 21 floating factories and the total catch was 10,760 whales (Donovan, 1995).
The invention of the stern slipway in 1925 allowed pelagic factory ships to haul harpooned whales aboard for processing at sea (Figure 15.3) rather than depending on shore stations and the kill of large rorquals rose dramatically.
From a harvest of 176 blue whales in 1910, the annual take climbed to over 37,000 whales (mostly blues) by 1931, when 41 factory ships were working in Antarctic waters (Figure 15.4). After this peak year blue whales became increasingly scarce, and catches declined steadily until the catch was commercially insignificant by the mid-1950s. In 1966, only 70 blue whales were killed in the entire world’s oceans." 
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"Whaling" by Lisa T. Ballance SIO 133 – Marine Mammal Biology Spring 2014 
“The commercial hunting of whales in the 20th Century represents what was arguably – in terms of sheer biomass – the greatest wildlife exploitation episode in human history.”  Clapham and Hatch 2000
Index for further information    
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by Edward James Gregr
B.Sc., Simon Fraser University, 1992
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1:55 "Now, regulations help, but won't do it themselves.  You just gotta look towards Africa, they have regulations against poaching elephants and rhinos..." 

{Here Steele uses African elephant, rhino poaching to example why whaling regulations are only slightly responsible for the comeback.

Steele neglects to consider the difference between what it takes to poach elephants (AK47s, trucks,  perhaps a small helicopter) as opposed to whales in open waters.  

Steele dumbs down and tailors his message for an audience that does not want to know what's actually happening in the world.  I'm pretty sure my audience has more intellectual integrity and is interested in the details.  Let me share a reasonable review of why African 'Wildlife Preserves' are failing.

Why Africa’s National Parks Are Failing to Save Wildlife 
"The traditional parks model of closing off areas and keeping people out simply may not work in Africa, where human demands on the land are great. Instead, what’s needed is an approach that finds ways to enable people and animals to co-exist.  ..."  by Fred Pearce - January 19, 2010
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Now, let's consider what it takes to poach whales from our oceans:

What Does the New Whaling Factory Ship Look Like? 
"The current Nisshin Maru was built with the cost of 7 billion yen (US $63 million) 20 years ago. It's likely a new, larger ship could easily cost between 14 billion and 21 billion yen (US $125 million to US$188 million)." 
"If the Japanese whalers want a factory ship that can hold all the whale meat taken from the current "research" program (called JARPA II), the factory ship needs to be able to hold up to 6,000 tons of whale meat . The current Nisshin Maru has capacity to hold around 2,000 tons. This suggests that the new factory ship will be at least 2 to 3 times the size of the current one."  
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2:12  - The other thing that's caused whales to return is upwelling.  And we know in the Little Ice Age when solar energy was low, so was upwelling ... As the oceans started to warm, as the solar energy started to increase, we had increased upwelling.
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Not so fast.  
What Steele hides from his compliant audience is that the more this mislabeled "LIA" event gets studied the less significant the sun's role seems to have been:
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"There is very little evidence that the lower global mean temperatures between 1400 and 1800 were caused by solar activity - there's more evidence it was associated with volcanic activity and/or internal oscillations in the climate system."
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2:30    What upwelling does is it takes these nutrients that sunk to the dark abyss and it lifts them up into the sunlight, where now plankton can photosynthesize, and that sets up a burst for the whole food web.  Get more zooplankton, get more fish, more whales.
2:45 - Now 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 becomes more acidic, because bacteria digest everything, we start 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 up onto the coast." 
{pH scale: 7 = neutral; <7 = acidic; >7 = basic - Keep in mind it's a logarithmic scale}
3:20  - So people say on average the pH is getting more, they don't know thatIt's a model*.  And it's modeling more CO2 causes more acidity, but we don't have the data.  The pH data is extremely sparse and it can not accurately average the tremendous variability of pH as it's goes through different depths, different locations, over different years and seasons, and it can differ dramatically hourly at the same location. ...
5:00 - "... it's driven by something called the Biological Pump.  CO2 is plant food.  The more the plants are photosynthesizing the greater abundance you have and the marine productivity and then you have fish a krill and stuff eating the plankton; their fecal pellets take that carbon right back down to the bottom of the ocean, till it's upwelled again.  So we can see even though it's gone two or three times higher than the atmospheric CO2, it dropped down lower than it's been since the little ice age.
5:30 - "So how much is pH doing it?  I really don't trust any of these studies that say we're having problems.  Usually when they say acidic. it's somewhere here off the coast, these shells are dissolving it's upwelling zones.
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{update December 8, 2014}
I sent research associate Wiley Evans an email asking what he thought of Steele's description of their research and the current understanding.  He was kind enough to take time out to respond and he gave me permission to share his words.
Evans' response speaks for itself. {I have added highlights 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 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 down 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
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OK I'm no scientist, but then neither is Mr. Steele, still I can accept what Steele is saying about upwelling mixing more acidic deep water onto continental shelves and I found corroborating information (a genuine skeptic, checks claims and looks for sources when the speaker refuses to share!). Here's a simple overview that includes the graph Steele uses:

But, here is another case of what Carl Sagan warned against - taking a small piece of the system and pretending it represent the entire system.  *Not to mention Steele's habit of moronically demonizing scientific "models" as if modern science is possible without them.  Mr. Steele, I dare you to name a field of science where models aren't used extensively?

Steele deliberately ignores the open oceans and their interaction with CO2.  Steele also dismisses basic chemistry[4].  Another thing to ponder, global continental shelves add up to about 300,000 kilometers in length, with these upwelling zones making up a portion of that.  But, open water makes up some 352,103,700 km².

Worse he implies that all the CO2 exchange is from deep water to surface water and visa versa.  At 4:40 he uses a graph that can be traced to a study by Evans, et al. [5].  Steele conveniently hides the study's information from his accepting audience: 
"... continental margins could represent a significant atmospheric CO2 sink, equivalent to ~30% of the open ocean CO2 uptake."
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[4] How Does Carbon Dioxide Enter Sea Water? : Earth Science
Published on Feb 10, 2013

Carbon dioxide that is dissolved in water is very similar in concept to carbonated water or carbonated soda. Find out how carbon dioxide enters sea water with help from the manager of the Science Division at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in this free video clip.

If the formula bores you, skip ahead to 1:40.
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[5] "Sea-Air CO2 Flux Variability on the Northeast Pacific Continental Margin" 
by Wiley Evans

From the Abstract:
"Sea-air carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes in continental margin settings are difficult to diagnose owing to the inherent large variability that occurs over broad spatial and temporal scales. In a global sense, continental margins could represent a significant atmospheric CO2 sink, equivalent to ~30% of the open ocean CO2 uptake. 

However, an issue common to many coastal sites is limited spatial and temporal data coverage relative to the system variability, which inhibits an accurate assessment of net fluxes. The role of coastal settings in terms of sea-air CO2 exchange becomes further complicated if enclosed waterways, such as estuaries, straits and fjords, are included in regional or global carbon budgets. This work addresses the variability in surface seawater CO2 partial pressure (pCO2) and sea-air CO2 flux across three specific regions of the northeast Pacific continental margin: the Oregon shelf, the western Canadian coastal ocean, and the Columbia River estuary. 

Results from each of these regions highlight sources of large flux variability that would be difficult to observe without aggressive sampling strategies, and are integral to an accurate assessment of annual net exchanges. The final portion of this work examines the remarkable prolonged exposure of high-pCO2 water on the Oregon shelf in July 2008. Through a combination of ship, mooring, glider and satellite data, it is argued that strong upwelling, rapid cross-shelf transport and subsequent subduction at convergent fronts during this event resulted in the short exposure time of upwelled water and a negligible phytoplankton response. 

The conditions during this 19-day upwelling event allowed for persistent shelf-wide CO2 outgassing. Such extreme events may become more prevalent as upwelling-favorable winds and cross-shelf thermal gradients intensify under climate change scenarios, ultimately changing the role of this continental margin from a net annual CO2 sink to a potentially significant atmospheric CO2 source."
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Further educational opportunities:
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One last flaw to point out regarding Mr. Steele's personal conviction that La Nina's are driving the whale's recovery, how does he account for periods of El Nino:

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