Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Watts chemistry fail - lands in Wonderland

Anthony Watts has had to reach for the Tums today following a bad attack of acid heartburn (archived). He now appears to be on a Lewis Carroll inspired project to redefine commonly accepted words.   As Humpty Dumpty put it:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
And today's word is


Princeton's Word Net defines acidification thus:
  1. acidification(noun)
    the process of becoming acid or being converted into an acid
For the hard of comprehension, that Anthony Watts and his commentary team, the first part is the important one.  The process of becoming acid.

You see, one of Anthony's biggest problems is that the oceans are not actually acidic.  They are actually alkaline and one suggestion is that the term should be becoming less alkaline.  But there is already a good and well worn word for that. It is acidification.  Scientists all over the world understand.  Perhaps retired TV weathermen don't.

I'm not sure if Anthony understands what is going on.  pH levels in the ocean, according to Wikipedia, have decreased by a pH of 0.11 since pre-industrial times. That might not seem a lot, but in terms of hydrogen ion concentrations, which is really what pH is a measure of, there has been a scary increase of 28.8%.  And if Watts isn't concerned by that, then perhaps he might remember that the ocean is a very big volume of water.  My calculator goes into meltdown when it gets into the number of zeroes we'd have to put on the end of 6 if we wanted to write Avagadro's Constant and convert that to the actual number of particles involved.  Let's not bother.  It's very big.

By 2100, it is projected that the pH will be down to 7.824, a whopping 126.5% hydrogen ion concentration increase.  It's hard to see that sort of change not affecting ecosystems. 

Yes, Anthony, a pH of 7.8 isn't actually acid, but it is becoming more acidic compared to the current pH.  Just because you don't like a word, doesn't make that word disappear in a puff of unsmoke and the world become just a little more like you would like it to be. The world doesn't work that way.

Where Anthony goes, the ducks walk into the echo chamber:
Shifting the goalposts again. “Well, gosh, we were wrong about CO2 causing global warming. But CO2 does cause ocean acidification. So we still need to tax carbon and de-industrialize the world.” This is part of step-down from AGW while at the same time maintaining the same goals.
Notice the same imprecise scare language: “silent crisis”, “profound impact”, “healing our oceans”.
All language has imprecision.  Mathematics, on the other hand, is a different matter. 
I find their logic fun. To use it in a slightly different example, when a cup of water changes in temperature from 90 degrees to 85 degrees, it is freezing. It is not frozen (as the deniers would point out), but it is freezing. 
No, the appropriate term would be cooling because freezing is a more precise process.  Get with the language program, John.

Greg just decides to deny the evidence:
“Earth System Models project…” Doesn’t that say it all? The tiny decrease in alkalinity is …modeled. Are there
Even if the Ph decrease was real isn’t there a big difference, since it’s a log scale, between 0.065 and 0.1?
“While ocean acidification is well documented in a few temperate ocean waters,…” Is it? Where? And is the measurement a real signal or buried in noise and they hope it’s real? 
Measuring pH of any body of water isn't too difficult.  Use a properly calibrated pH meter and away you go.  I've done it with river water samples during my time in academia and I reckon hundreds of geography students have done it for decades.  Automated pH meters that maintain their accuracy over months if not years are currently difficult to achieve.  That's what the X Prize competition that Anthony moans about is really for. 

Marco, sadly, remembers his not so good chemistry education:
i’ve gotten into arguments on other science sites about the ‘acidification’ terminology. i was taught that a base can be more or less alkaline and an acid more or less acidic. for some reason, the science community has decided that everything will be described in terms of acidity…even bases. imo, its because it sounds more dramatic than saying the oceans are slightly less alkaline 
 Tim, on the other hand, spots a consporacy:
It’s another hoax, quite frankly they’re just playing games, this isn’t science.
The Reverend (Methodist) Richard S Courtney BA (Open), DipPhil (Cambridge), Diploma (Bath) feels he has to contribute his four penn'orth:
The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE says
Breakthrough sensors are urgently needed for scientists, managers and industry to turn the tide on ocean acidification and begin healing our oceans.
OK. So which is it
(a) Do we know “our oceans” need “healing”?
(b) Do we lack instruments to discern if the oceans need to be “healed”?
It cannot be both.
 This one's for you, Richard: My a dhispres agas fowt sotelneth hag agas heb yeth treylyes, ty vab hernenn dhivamm !  (Answers on a postcard to the usual address.  The first correct answer to be drawn out of Willis Eschenbach's woolly hat will win a straight to Betamax copy of Monckton - The Movie, which should be available in time for Christmas, the perfect present for those people in the office you can't stand.)

Just in case we didn't know:
the pH has not changed….
Biological processes that make the ocean work….create millions of magnitudes more acid
Or we could just get a buy one get two free denials squeezed into one comment:
As seawater is a complex buffer system, it’s pH is quite difficult to alter, particularly by a weak acid such as the carbonic acid produced when CO2 dissolves in water.
The Earth has had much higher CO2 during most of its history of life on Earth and life thrived during this entire time.
This is more BS and propaganda. Ocean pH has done nothing unusual and remains inside its normal range. 
Just to answer: first sentence - perhaps but it is happening.
Second sentence - and?  Perhaps trilobites didn't care but plenty of humans do.
Third sentence: conspiracy ideation, and unevidenced claim. 
As usual.
Trilobites not giving a stuff about ocean acidification
Since Anthony has decided on an Alice In Wonderland world, perhaps a few more quotes might not go amiss.  After all, Lewis Carroll was a mathematician in real life and was a whole lot cleverer than Watts:
Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.
And this one is apt for Anthony Watts:
Always speak the truth, think before you speak, and write it down afterwards.
Except, of course, that he doesn't.

Not real, just a funny not drawn by Tosh (from



  1. At what pH does the blood condition called acidosis start to occur? Hint, it is higher than 7. Idiots. t_p_hamilton

  2. At what pH does the blood condition called acidosis start to occur? Hint, it is higher than 7. Idiots. t_p_hamilton

  3. What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would be as prickly