A new paper published in a top-ranked biology journal found that concerns about the acidification of ocean water are grossly overblown.
Published in PLOS Biology on February 3, the paper analyzed 91 studies on the effect of ocean acidification on fish behavior.
The paper found that better-quality studies tended to find smaller effects on fish behavior, and that the studies with the most dramatic results tended to have low sample size – making them less statistically reliable.
For over a decade, scientists have warned that the acidification of ocean water could decimate fish populations. They claim acidification changed fish behavior, making them less likely to evade predators.
As carbon emissions pushed pH levels higher and higher, climate advocates sounded an apocalyptic tone. Fewer fish would mean fewer fisheries, which would imperil the livelihoods of millions of fishermen across the globe. It could also mean fewer medicines, many of which are derived from marine life. (Related: Reduced oxygen levels in ocean water impact marine species’ development, could threaten our food supply.)
Those scientists and climate advocates are exaggerating, the new paper suggests.
“We contend that ocean acidification has a negligible direct impact on fish behavior,” wrote the authors of the paper. They also noted that lower-quality studies are “published in high-impact journals and have a disproportionate influence.”
The paper adds to a growing body of evidence for the so-called replication crisis, in which scientific findings fail to hold up upon repeated testing. While the crisis is thought to be most acute in the social sciences, it has also affected medicine and biology. Many findings in cancer research, for example, fail to replicate.
The PLOS Biology paper is not the first to question the consensus on ocean acidification. A 2020 study published in Nature found that “ocean acidification does not impair the behavior of coral reef fishes.” (Related: Reef fish found to be surprisingly resilient to ocean acidification caused by carbon dioxide (climate change).)
Ocean acidification is environmental groups’ back-up plan in case climate fails to warm
The idea of ocean acidification has been widely scrutinized.
In an article published by the Spectator on April 30, 2016, James Delingpole wrote that “ocean acidification is a trivial, misleadingly named, and not remotely worrying phenomenon which has been hyped up beyond all measure for political, ideological and financial reasons.”
Delingpole also cited book author Matt Ridley, who wrote on the topic in the Rational Optimist. “Ocean acidification looks suspiciously like a backup plan by the environmental pressure groups in case the climate fails to warm. I agree. That’s why I like to call it the alarmists’ Siegfried Line – their last redoubt should it prove, as looks increasingly to be the case, that the man-made global warming theory is a busted flush,” Ridley said.
Ocean acidification theory appears to have been fatally flawed almost from the start. In 2004, two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, Richard Feely and Christopher Sabine, produced a chart showing a strong correlation between rising atmospheric CO2 levels and falling oceanic pH levels.
The chart, which Feely presented in Congressional testimony, implies great danger from ocean acidification as the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide rises.
Mike Wallace, a hydrologist with decades of experience, noticed that key information had been omitted in the presentation. The chart only started in 1988, but there were records dating back to at least 100 years before. He corresponded with Feely and Sabine, which led to NOAA updating its World Ocean Database.
Wallace was then able to extract the instrumental records he sought and turned the data into a meaningful time series chart, which reveals that the oceans are not acidifying.
On December 26, 2014, Arizona Daily Independent News Network reported that NOAA was caught committing fraud in Congressional testimony about ocean acidification.
“It has recently been uncovered, that a NOAA scientist, Dr. Richard A. Feely, used ‘cherry-picked’ data in testimony before Congress in 2010,” the report said.
The report also noted that ocean acidification is just another bogeyman of climate alarmists.
“They claim that our carbon dioxide emissions will produce ‘acidification’ of the oceans that will cause marine life to die. These claims ignore the fact that marine life evolved when atmospheric carbon dioxide was 10 times higher than now. The oceans have never been acidic, even when carbon dioxide was 10 times higher, but the pH has cycled within the alkaline range of 7.9 to 8.2 correlative to the Pacific Multi-decadal oscillation,” the report said.
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