October 09, 2013

Ocean Acidification and Northwest Shellfish: Did the Seattle Times Get the Story Right?

 Check my update on this: http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2013/11/coastal-ocean-acidification-answering.html

Last month, the Seattle Times ran a glossy, three-part story called "Sea Change:  The Pacific's Perilous Turn" where it discussed the impacts of ocean acidification resulting from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.  The article made some strong claims that increasing atmospheric CO2 and the resulting acidification of the oceans and coastal waters were causing acute problems today for the shellfish industry in the Northwest.  The third part of this series described how oyster larvae grown in Northwest shellfish farms had high mortality in 2005-2009, mortality that the ST blames on CO2-induced acidification of the coastal ocean by the atmosphere.

As I read the article I became increasingly concerned with contradictions within the story; furthermore, some conclusions did not appear to be supported by scientific evidence.  Since then I have read a number of relevant articles on the subject and have talked to some local experts.  My conclusion is that this series has some serious problems and draws several unwarranted conclusions.   Particularly that recent shellfish problems are the result of past or current CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

The Seattle Times Sea Change series can be found online, with loads of graphics and videos.

But before I go on, let me make clear that I believe ocean acidification IS a serious issue and that as the century unfolds, the lowering ph (a measure of the degree of acid or base) of the ocean will undoubtedly cause problems for a variety of sea life.   My biggest problem is with the Seattle Times claims that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is doing damage now

Why am I concerned about this article?  Because I am troubled by the tendency of some media outlets and others to claim, without real evidence, that current problems (e.g., floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, etc.) are related to increasing atmospheric CO2.   Global warming is a serious issue but the major impacts are in the future, particularly for our area of the globe.  Trying to scare folks by blaming current problems on atmospheric CO2, without strong evidence, ruins the credibility of the scientific community.  And credibility is a precious thing.

Some Quotes

Let's begin by allowing the Seattle Times article to speak for itself though a few passages from the article.

In short, atmospheric CO2 is the problem.  And its impacts are coming faster than expected!

Lethal, corrosive waters.  As we will see, this paragraph cannot be correct.

So, the Northwest acidification is the the canary in the coal mine.  The first in the world.  And has been "walloping" marine life and "hurting people." 

Pretty scary stuff.   The Seattle Times minces no words.  Damage to the shellfish industry during the last few years is the clear result of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. 

This conclusion is probably not true, for reasons described below.

Some Background

    Those of you with a bit of chemistry know that a ph of 7 is neutral, above 7 is basic or alkaline, below 7 is acidic.   The world's oceans are alkaline, with typical values today of around 8.1.    The ph scale is logarithmic, so that an change of one unit is associated with a factor of ten change in acidity/akalinity. Carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere, mainly due to burning of fossil fuels, and the oceans are also taking up a considerable amount (see figure).  The amount of a gas a liquid (such as sea water) can take up depends on temperature, with colder water being able to hold more CO2.  A measure of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean is the partial pressure of CO2  (pCO2).

CO2 gas in solution can make sea water less alkaline or more acidic, and in fact this has happened, with increasing CO2 in the atmosphere leading to the world's oceans becoming less alkaline, specifically, a decrease of ph from about 8.2 before industrial society to around 8.1 today. To quote from the IPCC (Intergonvernmental Panel on Climate Change):
 " The pH of ocean surface water has decreased by 0.1 since the beginning of the industrial era (high confidence), corresponding to a 26% increase in hydrogen ion concentration"

The figure above shows the increase in atmospheric CO2 (red line), the increase in CO2 gas ofthe waters in the middle of the Pacific (dark blue), and the decline of ph from 8.11 to 8.07 since 1988 (24 years, light blue). 

Some in the media have talked about seawater becoming more corrosive due to the impacts of increasing CO2, but this is clearly not true.  Both an alkaline and acidic ph can be corrosive; being at 7 is least corrosive (neutral).  Sea water is getting closer to seven and thus is becoming less corrosive.  Shellfish larvae and juveniles are sensitive to ph, particularly when the ph drops below roughly 7.5, with an inability to form shells. I guess that is their definition of corrosive.

So while the global ocean ph has dropped by .1 over the past hundred years or so, and roughly .05 during the past quarter century, what has happened in the coastal and inland waters of the Pacific Northwest?   As we shall see, the local variations here have dwarfed those found in Hawaii or in most of the world's oceans.  For example, the next plot shows  the ph at Bay Center on Willapa Bay (southern WA coast) for the second half of this summer (data from the very nice UW NANOOS web site).  You will note the water is a bit more acidic (about 7.5) than the ocean average, with daily large swings of .6 and even larger weekly declines by over 1 (to a ph of 6.6). 

Similar variations are noted at Nahcotta, on the other side of the Bay, with ph swings of .6 or more, far more than the long-term trend due to global increases in CO2.

A longer-term measurement program at Tatoosh Island (published in Wooton and Phister 2012) showed a substantial decline of ph from an average of around 8.2 in 2000-2004 to roughly 7.7 in 2010.   And also note the large variability each year around one ph unit.

So we have learned a few key pieces of information from these and other data.  First, that the variability of coastal ph in the Northwest during the each year (.6 to 1)  is far larger than global changes in ph due to increases in CO2 in the atmosphere (around .1).   Second, that the ph of our coastal waters have declined during the last decade far more quickly than the global average, with the global declines clearly tied to increases in atmospheric CO2.

To put it another way, it seems highly unlikely that changes in atmospheric CO2 are driving the large observed changes of ph of our local waters.  The clear implication: the Seattle Times has gotten this story fundamentally wrong.

What could explain these large changes in ph of our coastal waters?  One possibility, mentioned in the Seattle Times article, is increased upwelling (upward motion of water)  along the Northwest coast.  Upwelling tends to occur around here in the summer as northerly winds develop.  The deep water is less alkaline than the surface waters because it is colder, the lack of photosynthesis in the darkness below, and because of the decay of organic matter dropping in from above.  Thus, upwelling can bring up more acidic water.  Here is what the Seattle Times article said:

Now there are a lot of problems with this theory about "corrosive" waters, surfacing under upwelling conditions, causing the recent problems for the NW shellfish industry.  First, there is no evidence that upwelling variations explain the problems in 2005-2009.   Here is the summer coastal upwelling index for 45N that I secured on the NOAA web site that discusses acidification. 

 You will notice that upwelling actually WEAKENED during 2007-2011 and the upwelling before was not extraordinarily large.   And there is another flaw in the upwelling argument, and particularly the connection with atmospheric CO2: as noted in the Blue Ribbon Panel on Washington State ocean acidification, the sub-surface waters along the coast that are being upwelled are relatively old waters that were not in contact with the atmosphere for decades...that means they would have the characteristics of the atmosphere decades ago when CO2 was far less.  But the Seattle Times has an ominous spin on even this point:
The ST is determined to connect the upwelling impacts on increasing atmospheric CO2.  Coastal upwelling along our coast has a large amount of variability and does produce large and significant modulations of coastal ph.  But upwelling's past variations have little to do with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.  (As an aside, some climate models suggest that by the end of the century a warming earth might increase the strength of high pressure over the northeast Pacific and thus upwelling, but not now).

The problems for Northwest oysters described in the article and elsewhere are not for adult oysters in the wild, but for larvae ground in commercial hatcheries.  Some analysts (like here) suggest that the real problem is poor hatchery management, such as taking in cold (and thereby more acidic water), heating it up quickly, and thus exposing the larvae to less alkaline conditions.  Or the hatcheries used surface water during upwelling periods, when the conditions are less alkaline.  The ST article does not examine hatchery practices.   In fact, it appears that local hatcheries have generally solved the problem by providing more attention to the quality of their intake waters.

Bringing it all together

The essential point I am trying to make here is that major drops in ph along the Washington coast are predominantly NOT due to increases of CO2 in the atmosphere.  Sure, there is a modest increase in ph due to atmospheric CO2, but this is small compared to variations from other causes.

Let me give you an analogous situation.   A large tsunami struck Japan last year and did terrible damage along their coast.  Global warming due to anthropogenic CO2 has caused sea level to rise several inches during the past decades. Yes, CO2-related increases made things slightly worse, but the disaster would have happened anyway.   I believe this is a close analogy for the acidification problems we have seen in our region...they would have happened anyway.

And there are many other possibilities for the rapid acidification during the past decade, and the Blue Ribbon panel notes several of them:

"Other regional factors affecting ocean acidification in Washington include runoff of
nutrients and organic carbon (such as plants and freshwater algae) from land, and local
emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, which are absorbed by
seawater from the atmosphere. The relative importance of these local drivers varies by
location. For example, acidification along the outer coast of Washington and Puget Sound
is strongly influenced by coastal upwelling while acidification in shallow estuaries,
including those in Puget Sound, may be particularly influenced by inflows of fresh water
(which is naturally lower in pH than seawater) carrying nutrients and organic carbon
from human and natural sources. The added organic carbon, as well as nutrients that
stimulate excessive algal growth, can make seawater more acidic when algae and other
organic matter decompose."

So coastal ph can influenced by a number of factors other than increased atmosphericCO2, including variations in upwelling, influxes of fresh water, chemical and run-off pollution, among many others.  Might a combination of them explain what has happened?  Regarding fresh-water run-off, I was surprised that none of the acidification documents I reviewed noted the huge coastal precipitation/flooding events of 2006 and 2007;  could they be important?
Native and Foreign Shellfish in the Northwest

It is very interesting to note that dying baby Pacific oysters headlined in the Seattle Times piece are not natives.  They were imported during the early 20th century from Japan, a location without the large upwelling variations prevalent along the western side of the Pacific.   My research so far suggests that our native shellfish species are doing fine....happy as a clam, so to speak.  You might even have noticed the headlines of the record razor clam season we are having:

Could it be that our native species are far more accustomed to the naturally varying ph of our region and that the imports are not?

More research, not media hype, is needed

Considering the considerable uncertainty about what is going on, including weaknesses in the atmospheric CO2 explanation for our recent problems, one can be glad that Governor Inslee has found funds for an ocean acidification center at the UW.  This center, located in the UW College of the Environment, can bring together UW experts  and others (such as coastal ocean experts at NOAA) to figure out the origins of the Northwest acidification and problems with young oysters noted in Blue Ribbon panel and the ST article.  As CO2 increases in the atmosphere, its impacts will undoubtedly grow larger in time. According to the IPCC:

"Earth System Models project a global increase in ocean acidification for all RCP scenarios. The corresponding decrease in surface ocean pH by the end of 21st century is in the range of 0.06 to 0.07 for RCP2.6, 0.14 to 0.15 for RCP4.5, 0.20 to 0.21 for RCP6.0 and 0.30 to 0.32 for RCP8." 

 Still smaller than the interannual and intraannual variations we have seen on our coast, but getting large enough to potentially have impacts.

But the fact that atmospheric CO2 is probably not the main cause of recent problems is reason for hope:  perhaps the origins are from mechanisms we can control (like poor sewer treatment, excessive far or forest run-off, poor practices at oyster hatcheries).   A series, like the one found in the Seattle Times, may get people's attention, but without good science behind it and overhyping mistaken ideas, it can lead to undermining the credibility of the environmental sciences that society must depend on to make the right decisions. 

Bellingham Talk on October 15th
I will be giving a public talk on "The Future of Weather Forecasting" in Bellingham on October 15th.    In this talk, I will discuss the development of weather prediction from folk sayings to numerical weather prediction, and will describe what I think will happen over the next decades.  For more information, go here


  1. Wow, Cliff,

    Excellent analysis.

  2. The $64 million question then is, are oysters now successfully reproducing again in Oregon and Willapa Bay? Interesting as well, everything I have heard about ocean upwelling is that it is positive for most species, bringing up rich deep-water nutrients that fuel the food chain: plankton, herring, salmon, etc.

  3. I'd like to a similar critique of the falsified problem of AGW Ocean Dead Zones off Oregon and Washington.

    Photos of dead crabs 2006 on the ocean bottom assisted OSU in making a contrived connection to global warming.
    This natural fluctuation in ocean upwelling caused seasonal dead zones was falsely attributed to climate change and then embellished as being new, bigger, lasting longer and crossing a tipping point.

    Yet near record harvests of Dungenus crab and flourishing salmon runs have dominated the thriving marine fisheries.

    Unfortunately the false claims have resurfaced.


  4. "Sure, there is a minor increase in ph due to atmospheric CO2,.."

    I think you mean "minor decrease"

    Thanks for the thoughtful review of the ST article.


  5. I understand and appreciate you point Cliff.

    What I think is missing and the gap between your analysis and the media rush is that while the affects may be in the future, the time to do something about them is now. In poular opinion (as opposed to scientific opinion) we do something now, because something is happening now. it is far to easy for cliemate deniers to use the soft pedal that we change what we ae doing later (adfter I've made all the profit I can now) when the problem is before us.

    that I think is what the scientific community--more than a lack of consensus or science based evidence is not able to convince policy makes and the public that it is a probale we need to do something about now.

  6. Natural variability wrapping an artificially generated trend: a familiar story!

    These attribution challenges are tricky.

    From one perspective it's absolutely true that when a storm surge is 1 meter, an extra couple of centimeters doesn't make much of a difference.

    However, from the perspective of a person vacuuming the liquid and solid results of just a couple of centimeters of water from the floor of a living space, 2 centimeters is a huge difference. It's not really possible to ignore that little bit of water and it's more likely it wouldn't have been there without our little bit of help.

    Looking again at ocean pH, some oysters won't mature mostly due to natural variability, with some fraction being pushed over the threshold of viability by that little bit of change we're causing. It's all significant.

    Weather phenomena work pretty much the same way. A couple of degrees of difference isn't much, except when it's happening at an "edge." Viability of certain crops has a knee effect when certain temperature thresholds are reached.

    Thanks for taking the time to look at this, Cliff. It's not necessary to exaggerate the problems we're facing, or minimize them.

  7. I posted the following comment in response to an op-ed article by Manning and Taylor affirming the Seattle Times series about the dangers from ocean acidification.

    "I read Dr Mass' critique carefully. He is overly generous with his evaluation of the ST series, that is both unfounded and specifically designed to scare the public.

    I agree with Dr Mass that indigenous oysters are more adaptive environmental change than imported species. However, oysters are highly sensitive to colder water temperatures that can inhibit both propagation and growth.

    Currently, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) current is negative or cooling. This condition is usually a 30 year cycle. Its influence is ideal for dramatic increases in anchovy and herring populations and is reflected by the large increases in Pacific salmon returns this year.

    The ST scare series theorizes that coastal cold water upwelling are highly corrosive due to increased atmospheric CO2 absorption even though there is no evidence that the variation in seawater alkalinity is novel. In fact, the difficulty coastal oyster growers are experiencing is probably due to the lower water temperatures alone.

    Even assuming that seawater alkalinity is decreasing, I submit that sulfuric acid made from undersea volcanic sulfur dioxide emissions and that is a component of acid rain is the probable cause of oyster mortality. Sulfuric acid is stable and exponentially stronger than carbonic acid that is unstable in sea water.

    At best the ST series is science fiction."

  8. You nailed it. As a shellfish scientist who has worked in Willapa bay for more than a decade, I was
    very dismayed by this story. Yes,
    both native and introduced shellfish actively reproduce there - with
    variation we expect from a variety of sources. Attributing increases in atmospheric CO2 to any of this variation is simply NOT possible.

  9. I'm surprised that no one else has commented on this blog since there's a good case to be made for atmospheric CO2 entering North Pacific Intermediate Water (NPIW) at the confluence the Kuroshio current and the subarctic front. This water is advected eastward along isopycnals with a residence time of about 20 years.(Shimizu, Y. et al. 2004. J. Oceanogr., 60, 453–462.)

    Summer coastal upwelling will bring this water to the surface where the decreased pH can cause oyster spat to fail to produce calcified shells. The failure is due to the increased energy required of the oysters working against a gradient that has shifted the the carbonate system toward carbonic acid.

    The short residence time of the NPIW allows the pH of the upwelled water to directly reflect the increasing partial pressure of CO2 in the atmospheric boundary layer.

    The ST article was so focused on the fate of the oyster industry they apparently had little interest describing how atmospheric CO2 in a oceanic convergence zone could be responsible for the oysters in upwelled water.

  10. Interesting. I'd like to have you bring in some of the scientists actually working on this and get their opinions on your hypothesis. Folks from Taylor Shellfish for instance on Hood Canal are working on this issue.

  11. Thank you for your careful analysis. I could not help reflecting on a book that I am currently reading, "State of Fear" by Michael Crichton. I am amazed at how easily I have accepted mis-information offered by mass media.

  12. Craig Welch, the author the three part ST series is one of the best environmental journalists around.

    Has he responded to this blog post?

    I'd love to hear what he and some of the scientists he interviewed think of your rebuttal.

  13. Stephan,
    No, I have not heard at all from Craig Welch. ..cliff

  14. Excellent analysis, Cliff. Thank you for helping clear the atmosphere (of non-CO2 related non-science) displayed by the ST. I hope this was well received by them and corrections are made in public.

    Daniel Hanson
    Oyster Farmer
    Hood Canal

  15. Yes, the Times has responded, after running this blog post by some experts in the field (actual chemical oceanographers, not climatologists): http://blogs.seattletimes.com/seachange/2013/10/12/expert-critique-of-seattle-times-sea-change-project-ignores-the-science/

  16. Craig Welch has now posted a rather withering rebuttal, with links to the relevant research, here:


  17. The Seattle Times reponse to Cliff's critique of our reporting is posted on our Sea Change blog:


    Our blog post notes that the critique ignores the published science by acidification experts.

    FYI: Craig Welch, the project reporter, did not respond immediately to Cliff's critique because he was on assignment on a boat in the Pacific.

    -Jim Simon,
    Deputy managing editor
    Seattle Times

  18. Thank you for this great analysis, Dr. Mass. The indiscriminate attribution of a multitude of ills to CO2 is unfortunately very common, and the MSM share a large part of the responsibility for this. As a consequence, serious scientific research is often prevented (We already know CO2 is the cause, right?) and poor science leads to poor policies, which do nothing or little to provide effective solutions.
    A good example is provided by a recent article (http://judithcurry.com/2013/10/07/bangladesh-sea-level-rise/) on the causes of sea level rise in Bangladesh. The article argues that global warming is responsible for less than half of the expected sea level rise, and maybe as little as 10%. The dominant process responsible for increased sea level rise (57%) is the amplification of tidal range, which can be the result of a number of factors including channel constriction by embankments. This means that policies meant to help this situation through reduced CO2 emissions seem futile for Bangladesh. Instead, a policy aimed at reducing and controlling embankments is the way to address the issue.

  19. The Seattle Times should have mentioned that the non-native Pacific oysters used by the shellfish industry are genetically modified triploids. This may have more to do with the problem, since atmospheric CO2 is probably NOT the problem as you point out. And it also appears that temperature is more of a problem perhaps than pH. The Pacific oyster hatcheries in Hawaii are not having this problem, which makes sense since Pacifics are more of a warm water species than our native shellfish. Also, if atmospheric CO2 were, in fact, the problem, then it seems it would behoove us to refrain from sending our coal to China, which I think now accounts for about 25% of the atmospheric CO2, much of which comes from coal fired power plants. I agree that the Seattle Times should publish a retraction to their inaccurate story and look into the above issues.

  20. In case you missed it, Cliff, here is Craig Welch's response:


  21. Here is the link to the Seattle Times response to Cliff's blog. As I suspected, Cliff should have stuck to the weather. Real ocean acidification scientists will soon be providing their response to Cliff's error filled blog.


  22. Thanks to all of you who noted the ST has put up a response to my blog. I have asked Craig Welch to be allowed to respond and have my response available on the same web site. Much of the ST response is baseless, suggesting I said things I never did. Folks like myself spend a lot of time looking at the effects of increased CO2 on environmental parameters. This is really the same thing, with many of the same statistical tools being relevant. I have read several dozen papers on the topic carefully to insure I got the story right. I suspect I am at least equally able to interpret these papers as Mr. Welch, a non-scientist. And I should note that several local experts (who did not want to go public) have told me I got the story correct...cliff

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. On October 11, Alf wrote that he’d like to have the scientists actually working on the problem respond to Cliff’s hypothesis. The Seattle Times rebuttal of Cliff’s error-filled blog has done just that. A more detailed analysis, Scientific Summary of Ocean Acidification in Washington State Marine Waters, is at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1201016.html. A convincing piece of evidence that NOAA scientists and others, Taylor Shellfish, the tribes, et al. have correctly identified CO2 as the culprit in the loss of up to 80% of the oyster larvae as late as 2009 is that once the hatcheries began monitoring the waters they used for pH and other parameters and changed their protocols for drawing water, production rebounded.
    Cliff know his weather, but proves his ignorance of ocean chemistry when he ignores the reams of evidence that contradict his hypothesis. His blog has done nothing to advance our understanding of a problem that may prove to be the most damaging of all the effects of our continuing to use the oceans and the atmosphere as a toilet for our waste. What his blog has accomplished is to give aid and comfort to the fools and knaves who deny climate change.

  25. WriteMan,
    Please read the report you are citing. It doesn't say what you claim. The report is far more nuanced than the ST article and notes other possibilities for changing the PH and aragonite levels. A direct quote:
    "Our waters are exhibiting the effects of not only
    the global atmospheric CO2 increase, but
    also other processes that can contribute to
    regional acidification"
    and then they list them. The question is NOT whether increasing CO2 is lowering the PH of local waters...it is...the question is how big it is NOW compared to natural variability and other human impacts. My conclusion is that it is a minor player NOW. There is no crisis NOW as suggested by the Seattle Times.

  26. Cliff
    I am a physical oceanographer at the UW and for a number of reasons I would like to remain anonymous. But let me tell you, your story is correct. Keep slugging. Alot of your critics have agendas and self interest at stake.

  27. I am no physical oceanographer, just a poor dumb physicist, but I recognize a familiar pattern: A media outlet prints an alarmist story that violates the simplest chemical and oceanographic considerations, once one becomes casually familiar with them. Someone blows the whistle on this. So said media outlet does what such outlets always do: go to some self interested "authority" who intones the desired endorsement. There, the science is settled... once again.

    Unfortunately the ST is not unusual in its irresponsible behavior. It is rather the norm.

  28. Here is the comment that I left at the Seattle Times:

    "I find it very odd to be commenting here in defense of Professor Cliff Mass at the University of Washington. He and I have long been at odds over Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. But Cliff is substantially correct in what he said about the Ocean Acidification hysteria promoted by the Seattle Times.

    Whenever anyone wants to claim that something is caused by man, they first need to eliminate the possibility that it might be a natural variation. Cliff understands this and the Seattle Times does not even come close. Quoting the paper's favorite experts who are heavily conflicted in promoting this scare is far from appropriate or scientific.

    Also Cliff certainly has sufficient expertise to spot a problem as obvious as the lack of accounting for natural pH variations. As Nobel Laureate in Physics Richard Feynman said, 'Science is the belief that the experts could be wrong.' Expertise merely says that people possessing it (like Cliff) are entitled to their own opinions and the scientifically uneducated (like this newspaper) are not. Likewise, publication in the peer-reviewed literature is no guarantee of correctness. Amateurs never seem to understand this either.

    What determines science, even when it is never 'settled?' Logic and evidence only. Cliff presented quite a lot of logic and evidence that speaks to the ocean acidification hysteria. He obviously understands this issue better than those whom the Seattle Times considers experts.

    Thanks Professor Mass for speaking up against the nonstop hysteria from the Seattle Times. I salute you.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    La Center, WA USA"

    P.S. Thanks to the Oceanographer "Oceanguy" for standing up for the truth. I'm sure he would be severely attacked if he dared to reveal his identity. Such is the world we live in.

  29. I applaud your willingness to speak your mind. You have sparked a debate over ocean acidification’s role in Pacific oyster larvae mortalities and judging by the comments to your blog, there are many who share your views. Regardless of the outcome of this question, I think you would agree that ocean acidification it is a problem that will be even more pressing for future generations.
    This debate could be a great opportunity for students to witness first hand. Rather (or in addition) to conducting it in blog posts, I challenge you to have it in front of high school biology students. Have the students moderate the debate, ask the questions, and be the judges. Let them take on the debate – it is their future. They will be the ones to address the impacts of ocean acidification.

  30. "A series, like the one found in the Seattle Times, may get people's attention, but without good science behind it and overhyping mistaken ideas, it can lead to undermining the credibility of the environmental sciences that society must depend on to make the right decisions. "

    The impact is not just to the credibility of science. High-impact journalism creates or accelerates political pressure to do something about a perceived problem. If the journalism creating the political pressure is flawed, the policies that result are likely to be flawed as well. And as happens so many times in our over-hyped age, we end up creating a "solution" that makes everyone feel like they did something but which in fact solves nothing.

    I'm a retired journalist. Time was when an editor was a reporter's worst critic, and challenged the factual basis of every assertion in a story. These days, with journalists expected to cover multiple beats, interact with readers via blogging and the decline of editorial staffs, editors have become tantamount to cheerleaders, and it's not surprising such a flawed series could be produced. Whose got time to check whether a story is right anymore?

    Sean Griffin
    Anderson Island, WA

  31. FYI, Dr. Mass


  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. People interested in a peer-reviewed paper on the matter might want to read:
    Biotic and Human Vulnerability to Projected Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry over the 21st Century

    at this link


    For many the abstract might be enough:

    Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions can modify climate processes and induce shifts in ocean temperature, pH, oxygen concentration, and productivity, which in turn could alter biological and social systems. Here, we provide a synoptic global assessment of the simultaneous changes in future ocean biogeochemical variables over marine biota and their broader implications for people. We analyzed modern Earth System Models forced by greenhouse gas concentration pathways until 2100 and showed that the entire world's ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. In contrast, only a small fraction of the world's ocean surface, mostly in polar regions, will experience increased oxygenation and productivity, while almost nowhere will there be ocean cooling or pH elevation. We compiled the global distribution of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and found that they would all experience simultaneous exposure to changes in multiple biogeochemical variables. This superposition highlights the high risk for synergistic ecosystem responses, the suite of physiological adaptations needed to cope with future climate change, and the potential for reorganization of global biodiversity patterns. If co-occurring biogeochemical changes influence the delivery of ocean goods and services, then they could also have a considerable effect on human welfare. Approximately 470 to 870 million of the poorest people in the world rely heavily on the ocean for food, jobs, and revenues and live in countries that will be most affected by simultaneous changes in ocean biogeochemistry. These results highlight the high risk of degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardship expected in a future following current trends in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

  34. Dear Professor Mass:

    I just read your interesting blog about The Seattle Times’ recent long and unquestioning piece about oysters and CO2, a report that accepts the Oyster Growers’ party line that increasing CO2 in the air is what causes young Pacific Oysters to fail to grow shells and thus fail to develop.

    The Seattle Times failed to ask what else is going on in Willapa Bay and your blog does not mention that oyster growers, the state and others have been dosing Willapa Bay for years with Glyphosate (aka Roundup, etc., etc., etc.) and Imazapyr. Glyphosate is a powerful herbicide that Swedish medical researchers show associates with incidence of NonHodgkins Lymphoma among casual and other users.
    The State Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific County and sometimes others spray it to kill Spartina, an East Coast intertidal grass introduced in the Bay by oyster growers God know when. Imazapyr is a kill-everything herbicide, banned in Europe. Users often mix both chemicals together and with other chemicals–too many to list here–to intensify effects and to increase the efficiency of spraying and other applications. I hesitate to mention that some UW faculty cheerlead such applications for killing Spartina.

    Willapa oyster growers until just lately have dosed the deadly pesticide Carbaryl on oyster beds to kill sand shrimp, a native animal that softens bay bottoms. Just what cumulative effects Carbaryl might have had on sets of young oysters has not been studied so far as I know.

    French researchers, I remember with a weakening memory, have noted that the presence of Glyphosate at oyster beds connects with increases in strains of Vibrio bacteria that inhibit young oysters from forming complete shells.

    One can conclude that there is a lot going on in Willapa Bay that may affect the welfare of oyster sets there. One does note that your blog at its end, when talking about how well native shellfish seem to doing, fails to give any mention to how well native oysters are doing in forming shells in Willapa Bay or elsewhere. Plainly that is a matter demanding scientific investigation.

    Thank you for writing about the lack of detailed reporting about the CO2 problem. As an old (terribly old) newspaper reporter and editor (among other things) I am happy to see the oyster-set situation once more come to scientific attention.

  35. To believe the Global Warming article by Craig Welch, you must buy that -0.0017 pH /year is the deal-breaker for oyster life, when a normal year swings 60,000% that much.

  36. Dr. mass,

    This AP story may be of interest to you and your followers.



Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

The Weather Regimes of Summer

 Weather patterns tend to get "stuck" for extended periods and we have certainly seen such persistent conditions this summer.    W...