“Water-Borne Zombies“ – Jellyfish warning us to behave better

Summary: Another in a series about the dying oceans, a severe problem that’s ignored because its solution has no political benefits for the elites running the Left and Right in America. We see the world only as shown to us by the news media. Like the philosophers of Laputa (the flying city Gulliver visited), unable to see anything until our minders bring it to our attention. It’s a sad state for a free people.

Giant jellyfish

AFP/Gettty photo


Water-Borne Zombies

by Theo Tait (deputy Editory of The Week)
London Review of Books, 6 March 2014

Reprinted with the permission of the author and LRB

Review of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean by Lisa-Ann Gershwin.


Near the end of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, the Time Traveller finds himself on a desolate beach in the distant future. Under a lurid red sky, by a slack, oily sea, he is set upon by giant crabs, last survivors in a dying world – ‘foul, slow-stirring monsters’, with ‘vast, ungainly claws smeared with an algal slime’. If Wells were writing that scene today, the jellyfish would be a much better candidate than the crab for the part of the doomsday creature on the terminal beach. According to Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s disturbing book, the jellyfish is an ‘angel of death’, a harbinger of ‘planetary doom’ likely to be the ‘last man standing’ in what she describes as our ‘gelatinous future’.

Jellyfish are immensely old. From the fossil evidence, we know that they dominated the oceans for millions of years before predators with bones or shells or teeth evolved. ‘Through the eons,’ Gerswhin writes, ‘while trilobites and dinosaurs came and went and plants and animals moved onto land and evolved respiratory machinery and mammals evolved bigger and better brains, jellyfish stayed the same.’ With no brain, no heart, no lungs and no gills, they are ‘simple but effective’ – ‘essentially a gelatinous body with one or more mouths for ingesting food, one or more stomachs for digesting food, and usually four or eight gonads for making more jellyfish’. Species of the phylum Cnidaria – the classic jelly – have existed in something close to their current form for at least 565 million years; Ctenophora, the comb jellies, are not much younger.

They survived the ‘big five’ mass extinctions. And now, it seems, they are experiencing a renaissance.

Stung! is a serious monograph, a guide to jellyfish biology and to the recent explosion in jellyfish blooms by an expert in the field. (Gershwin has devoted her working life to marine invertebrates and has discovered more than 150 new species; an American, she is now the director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory – ‘Consulting on all aspects of marine stinger management’.) But it’s a serious monograph disguised, quite convincingly, as a monster movie. It begins with a series of horrifying vignettes of jellyfish on the rampage, such as the ‘mass fish-kill’ events suffered by salmon farms. In 1998, a swarm of large Aurelia (the standard moon jelly) moved into Big Glory Bay off New Zealand’s South Island, and killed 56,000 three-kilo salmon in their pens within half an hour. Gershwin describes the incident in terrible detail:


The salmon all swim in one direction inside the circular pens, creating a fairly strong vortex that sucks water from the surrounding area. The Aurelia, being passive drifters, became entrained in the vortex. Too large to pass through the mesh, the jellyfish were pinned against the netting. As the jellyfish struggled against the current and the netting, their mucus, which is profuse and packed with stinging cells, was sucked into the cages. It appears that as the salmon inhaled the mucus, it blocked the oxygen-exchange surfaces of their gills, causing them to suffocate. The stinging cells exacerbated the problem by alarming the salmon, causing them to breathe faster, thereby serving to suffocate them faster.

At the time this seemed like a freak event. But since then, similar things have happened in salmon farms across the world: in Scotland, between 1999 and 2002, more than four million salmon died in their cages in ninety separate incidents. In addition, jellyfish have knocked out power stations in India, America, Israel and the Philippines by clogging the grills on their water intakes; disabled the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan, in the same fashion; and capsized a Japanese trawler, whose nets were filled with the ‘sumo-wrestler sized’ Nemopilema nomurai.


Getty photo

They are more or less unstoppable, like water-borne zombies:

  1. ‘Chemical repellents don’t work, because jellyfish drift on the current and can’t respond.
  2. Electric shocks don’t work for the same reason.
  3. Acoustic shocks don’t work, because jellyfish, not having a brain, aren’t afraid of noise.’
  4. Biocides don’t work because, alive or dead, jellyfish block pipes, fill nets and spread their stinging mucus.

Most of all, jellyfish have bloomed in vast numbers in bays, seas and oceans all round the world, driving swimmers off beaches and, far more important, dominating once rich ecosystems. One species, Mnemiopsis leidyi, a comb jellyfish native to the east coast of the US, invaded the Black Sea in vast numbers in the 1980s, having apparently been transported across the Atlantic in ships’ ballast tanks (it was standard practice until recently for ships to load up with ballast water in one port and dump these ‘floating zoos and botanical gardens’ in another, spreading invasive species and pathogens across the world).

Summertime blooms in the Black Sea created densities of 300-500 specimens per cubic metre; 300-500 ‘fist-sized’ jellies in an area ‘no larger than the leg room under a small breakfast table’. Thereafter, Mnemiopsis spread through Europe’s seas ‘like cancer’ or ‘Hitler’s army’, invading the Caspian, where it helped bring about the extinction of the beluga caviar industry, then moving through the Sea of Marmara into the Aegean, the Ionian, even as far as the North Sea and the Baltic.

Partially enclosed bodies of water tend to be the worst affected: the 30 square kilometres of Lurefjorden in Norway are home to an estimated 35 million Periphylla periphylla, the red-coned ‘Santa’s hat’ jellyfish. But even the open ocean can be ‘flipped to a state of jellyfish control’. The Benguela Current off Namibia, historically a rich sardine fishery, is now dominated by two large species of jellyfish:

By mid-2010, the once-productive Benguela fishing region had become a ‘ghost town’, or ‘dead zone’. Dead and dying jellyfish sink to the bottom and rot. Millions of phytoplankton [single-celled aquatic plants] that were once eaten by copepods [tiny crustaceans] and other zooplankton, now uneaten, also die and sink to the bottom to rot. These masses of decaying carcasses create a zero-oxygen zone of hydrogen sulphide where nothing can survive.

Vast expanses of the seafloor are now a moonscape, an eerie graveyard almost completely devoid of living things. Jellyfish dominate the surface waters above this dead zone. The jellyfish have excluded most other living things by partitioning their vertical and horizontal space into a stingy-slimy killing field impacting over 30,000 square nautical miles.

Seasonal jellyfish blooms have been recorded throughout history, but Gershwin argues that current events are on a completely different scale. In the whole of the last century, for instance, three large-scale Nomura blooms were recorded in Japanese waters. Then, starting in 2002, there were six in eight years. One recent study, of quantifiable jellyfish trends in 45 large marine ecosystems, found an increase in 28 of them; jellyfish populations were stable in 12 ecosystems, and decreasing only in two. All this is largely down to ‘anthropogenic perturbations’.


The most obvious cause of multiplying jellyfish is overfishing. We have fished out or otherwise slaughtered its few predators – among them mackerel, tuna, sunfish, sea turtles and albatross. We have fished out its competitors, forage fish such as anchovies, pilchards, sardines and menhaden. In particularly grave cases, this allows the jellies to take ecosystems over entirely. They devour huge quantities of zooplankton, such as small crustaceans and the eggs and larvae of fish, which forage fish also rely on. So jellyfish kill fish directly by eating their young but also indirectly, by depriving them of food.

Most contemporary books about marine biology return, inevitably, to the theme of our terrible mistreatment of the sea. This one is no exception; and it gives a compressed, powerful and righteously relentless summary of all our various assaults on the ocean. Gershwin provides a brief overview of the work of fisheries biologists such as Boris Worm, Ransom Myers, Jeremy Jackson and Daniel Pauly, whose work underpins much media coverage of overfishing, such as the recent documentary The End of the Line.

In a study from 2003, Myers and Worm found that, since the beginning of industrialised exploitation, 90% of all large fish have disappeared. Typically, within 15 years of a new fishery opening, ‘community biomass’ will have been reduced by 80%. Their work has been contested; if you prefer, a more conservative recent UN study suggests that a mere 72% of all fish stocks are currently overexploited. But Gershwin argues that figures like these only make sense in terms of ‘shifting baselines’: each generation starts with lower and lower expectations of marine life.

Overfishing also has manifold indirect effects: the so-called ‘trophic cascades’ that disrupt whole ecosystems when a link in the food chain is removed. Take the case of the disappearing Aleutian sea otters in the Bering Sea. Forage fish in that area declined in the 1980s as a result of overfishing and climate fluctuation, which led to a decline in their pinniped (seal and sea lion) predators. As a result, killer whales were suddenly short of mammalian prey. So they turned on sea otters, which, being scrawny compared to juicy seals, were eaten in large numbers. As sea otters declined, so their main prey – sea urchins – increased eightfold in biomass, and voraciously grazed on kelp, ‘reducing once lush kelp forests to moonscapes of bare rock and crustose algae’. As the kelp forests disappeared, a whole ecosystem went with them – small fish, snails and ‘a myriad of gribblies living in the understory’. Pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea began to crash in the late 1980s; it is presumably no coincidence that at the same time jellyfish suddenly became wildly more abundant – so much more that the area north of the Alaskan Peninsula became known to fishermen as the ‘slime bank’.

But there are several baleful man-made influences besides overfishing at work, primarily the discharge of fertilisers and sewage, along with other forms of pollution, and climate change. Gershwin’s chief example is the most studied jellyfish bloom in history, in the Black Sea. It is one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water, the sole drainage sump for 165 million people in 22 countries, through its five large tributary rivers. Excess nitrates, phosphates and other pollutants have created a ‘critically eutrophic’ dead zone nearly twice the size of the one at the mouth of the Mississippi, which itself is about the size of Massachusetts. These nutrients encourage large but short-lived algal blooms which decay and create hypoxia (depletion of oxygen), causing fish and other animals to suffocate.

Meanwhile, decades of overfishing have taken their toll. First the big fish – tuna, sturgeon, swordfish – were fished out. Initially stocks of forage fish, such as sprat and anchovies, rose as they were freed from their pinniped predators. Grateful fishermen took up the slack, and by 1990 they too had crashed. In addition, trawling had trashed the sea-floor habitat, killing off most of the mussels and other bottom-dwelling filter-feeders that had survived the hypoxia. Since filter-feeders usually cleanse vast amounts of water of its impurities, the water became dirtier and murkier still. By the late 1980s, the Black Sea was ‘the marine equivalent of a patient with HIV and emphysema’ – and Mnemiopsis was the marine equivalent of pneumonia.


About Jellyfish

Jellyfish are ‘marine weeds’, Gershwin says: hardy, fast-growing, fast-breeding, adaptable and tenacious. They have complicated but prolific reproductive strategies. They practise the ‘alternation of generations’. Typically, what we think of as the jellyfish, the medusa, reproduces sexually, spawning sperm and eggs which, once fertilised, turn into sea anemone-like polyps, which attach themselves to the jellyfish’s bottom or other surfaces. These, in turn, reproduce by cloning; when conditions are right, they ‘strobilate’, elongating and splitting into a stack of discs which develop into larvae, and break away to become medusae. They are tolerant of hypoxia, as well as changes in sea temperature and acidity levels that are fatal or disabling to many aquatic animals; they don’t mind murky waters, since they hunt by touch, with their tentacles, rather than sight; they don’t appear to be affected by many toxins, or even by radiation.

They can eat vast amounts when times are good, and can even ‘degrow’ when food is scarce, consuming their own body mass very slowly, with no ill-effects. Jellies of 18 cm can degrow as far as 1.4 cm, then grow back up again, in a period of 120 days. In the case of Turritopsis dohrnii, the cells reaggregate when the medusa dies to form new polyp colonies, ‘the first known example of true biological immortality’, as if a dead butterfly’s cells had reformed into a caterpillar.

In short, like rats or cockroaches on land, jellyfish are perfectly poised to capitalise when ‘ecosystems wobble’. They kill off all the competition, and because they have so few predators, they are largely a ‘trophic dead end’. Even when they die, they rot, helping to create hypoxia and encouraging toxic bacteria.

Stung! is not an unalloyed joy to read. Gershwin’s style could politely be called enthusiastic: ‘Some jellyfish species can get BI-I-I-I-G’; ‘The more jellyfish, the louder the siren and the redder the flashing lights that something is out of sync: “wwhoooop … wwhoooop … problem, problem!”’ She doesn’t always deal with the counter-arguments to her doomy, march-of-the-jellyfish thesis, weak and self-interested though they often are. I would have liked to see her address the criticisms of the Boris Worm school of fishery biologists more effectively, since they are often hard for the non-specialist to follow; the sections on global warming would not, I fear, satisfy a determined reader of the Sunday Telegraph. There is little on the various attempts to fight back the jellyfish tide, by breeding turtles, for instance, or fish that feed on them.

The outlook for the sea, Gershwin writes in what remains a fascinating book, is ‘essentially apocalyptic’. In the vast majority of fisheries we are still, as she puts it, fishing out the capital and ‘leaving the interest’ – or, in the case of bottom-trawling, burning down the bank to get our cash out. Stung! is a roll-call of crashed fisheries – Newfoundland cod, California sardine, Pacific hake, Pismo clam, white abalone, orange roughy – and extinct or severely endangered marine species: Steller’s sea cow, Mediterranean hammerhead, barndoor skate, vaquita, monk seal, Hooker’s sea lion, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. A global tragedy of the commons is taking place in our time, which we ignore because it’s underwater. And even if we could persuade the world to do something about it, which we won’t, it’s probably, as Gershwin says, ‘too late’.

In the 1990s, there were about 125 known eutrophic dead zones around the world; by 2011 the official tally had risen above 530, with another 228 sites showing signs of stress. To quote Jeremy Jackson, these ‘will increase to form continuous swaths for thousands of kilometres within the century. Toxic blooms will also increase in size and frequency … with catastrophic effects on fisheries and agriculture.’ Meanwhile the acidification of the oceans, thanks to rising CO2 levels, is continuing apace; snails, corals and crustaceans are already losing shells and skeletons as the calcium carbonate leaches out. And every day we add more and more carbon dioxide and fertilisers and industrial waste.

So what’s left? After the big fish and the marine mammals have vanished, after the clams and worms have suffocated in the bottom hypoxia, and the snails and the corals and the calcified plankton have disintegrated, after the birds and the mussels and the sea cucumbers have choked on plastic … and the macroalgae have succumbed to the shading of the dinoflagellates, what is left?


Our gelatinous future awaits.


For More Information

Other articles about the jellyfish problem:

  1. Another review of this book: “They’re Taking Over!“, Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books, 26 September 2013
  2. Jellyfish Invasion, a video at National Geographic
  3. Jellyfish are taking over the seas, and it might be too late to stop them“, Gwynn Guilford, Quartz, 16 October 2013

Other posts about our dying oceans:

  1. Valuable background information about oil slicks: excerpts from Science, 2 May 2010
  2. About the long-term effect of giant oil spills, 17 May 2010
  3. Death of the seas from CO2 acidification, 4 September 2010
  4. Let’s watch the oceans die while we worry about other things!, 16 July 2013
  5. Let’s defend the oceans, before it’s too late, 13 December 2013
  6. Straight talk about the radiation from Fukushima in the ocean, 24 December 2013

Not the real threat, but still scary

Jellyfish invasion

By Hao Tian, Huang Haiyang and Shi Jianwei




19 thoughts on ““Water-Borne Zombies“ – Jellyfish warning us to behave better

  1. Bubba

    Another review on the same book/topic. Must say I find jellyfish fascinating, even if it is in the context of how we are neglecting the oceans. Completely concur with your observation that the elite allow this tragedy of the commons to proceed apace. But then again, they only allow this because we allow them to. I don’t think people even begin to understand what is going on…



  2. Joe Bonham

    It seems to me the underlying root of this and other environmental problems is a fatal flaw in capitalism. The free market system assumes that infinite economic growth can be indefinitely sustained in a world with finite resources.


  3. OldSkeptic_2

    Thanks for that great (but sad) article and the terrific links (which I will be following up). You are one of the few that ‘gets it’ about the dying of the oceans. Keep it up, somehow people have to realise the disaster that is happening in (not so) slow motion and the implications are horrific.


  4. Legatus

    About “ocean acidification”:

    The ocean is alkalin, unless a huge amount of acid is added to it, it stays alkalin, only slightly less so. So, lets rename it, “Ocean Neutralization”. Not so scary now, is it? In fact, fish are covered in slime to protect them from the alkilinity, less of it is good.

    The amount it has changed is about 0.1, it varies naturally every year by 0.3, so 0.1 is well within that limit. Sea life is used to this variation, and will not be harmed.

    The effect on coral- when coral first showed up, there was FAR more CO2 in the air (more than 10 times), and at twice the atmospheric pressure as well. More CO2 therefore cannot hurt them. Studies that claim to show that it does do so by quickly increasing the amount, a study that slowly increased it over 6 months showed no ill effects on the coral, in fact (as expected, see above) they thrived.

    CO2 has varied throughout earths history, in past ages, it was as much as 7000 parts per million, compared to 395 today. Life evolved in that CO2 richness, and kept alive through many changes as it varied and eventually decreased. The oil and gas today is from those old plants and animals that thrived. If CO2 goes down below 150 parts per million (it has been down to at least 240 before), all life on earth will die, since plants cannot get it at that level, we are building a cushion against that. CO2 is plant food, plant life on earth has increased about 7% worldwide, since it went from 260 to 395.

    Throught recent history (last some millions of years), there have been periodic ice ages (the ages last about 100,000 years, the warm periods, maybe 10,000, we are due for an ice age right about…now). During the ice age, the oceans were colder (duh!), and cold water can hold more CO2, and did. When the ice age ended, and after about 700 years of warmth, the ocean, being warmer, cannot hold as much CO2, and it outgasses. Note, this increases the CO2 in the atmosphere, note also that the warmth comes first, the CO2 comes later, the CO2 did not cause the warmth. This means that the CO2 content in the oceans changes. If “ocean acidification” would kill all the life, why is there still life on earth after all those ice ages with all that CO2 in the ocean? To say nothing of past ages with thousands, not hundreds, of parts per million in the atmosphere, and STILL the life thrived. With all that variation of CO2 in the oceans, them oceans should be stone dead if “ocean acidification” were true. Are they?

    Maybe if you are going to warn about that deadly “ocean acidification”, you should first find out the facts. Do you believe everything you see on the internet?

    Also, “climate change” did it, yet there has been no warming now for 17 years 5 months, so, what, exactly, changed? Before it can do something, it has to be, like, around.

    Hint, carbon dioxide is taxable. Hint, the “scientists” are paid by the government that can do that taxing.

    Hint, many areas of the oceans are so fished out that European fishers, at least, have bribed African dicators to let them fish their waters, result, the local African fishing villages had no fish, and so turned to piracy. No fish, some other kind of sea life is going to fill the vacume.


    1. Editor of the Fabius Maximus website Post author


      (1) “The ocean is alkalin, unless a huge amount of acid is added to it, it stays alkalin, only slightly less so. So, lets rename it, ‘Ocean Neutralization’.”

      I lost interest in your comment from this first line. Acidification is a well-established scientific term for a decrease in pH. As in the “soil acidification”. That you mock what you don’t understand is a bad beginning for your comment.

      (2) “Hint, many areas of the oceans are so fished out that European fishers, at least, have bribed African dicators to let them fish their waters, result, the local African fishing villages had no fish, and so turned to piracy. No fish, some other kind of sea life is going to fill the vacume.”

      Since that was a major part of the post, you obviously didn’t read it. That is a very bad conclusion to your comment.

      (3) I doubt you are interested in reading what scientists have to say about this, but others might find this of interest: “Death of the seas from CO2 acidification“, 4 September 2010


  5. oldskeptic

    You will be amazed to read this .. but I agree with you FM. CO2 acidification is a real long term threat, but it pales into minute insignificance compared to the problems of over fishing and rubbish and chemical dumping.

    The over fishing alone … ‘mining of the sea’ is so destructive..

    Give you a personal example of the damage that can be done. I live In Melbourne which has a huge bay area (Port Philip Bay). Now for a long time I was a very keen scuba diver. For ages scallop dredging had been allowed. Now if you went underwater after a dredging … there was nothing, I mean nothing, left alive. Not a single fish, obviously scallop, plant … a desert. Finally it was banned and now those same areas are full of life .. and scallops.

    The Australian tale of the Orange Roughy should be an instruction manual in ‘not how to do it’.

    Yes, there are other long term threats, but the current unending short and medium term ones are what are killing the oceans Right Now.

    And, of course this reduces their capacity to deal with those other, longer term ones.

    But, realistically by the time the long term threats eventuate .. there will be nothing left alive to threaten.


    1. Editor of the Fabius Maximus website Post author


      “You will be amazed to read this .”

      Not at all. While I have a different epistemology and analytical process than you (e.g., IMO a far higher standard of evidence), you have made some excellent calls. Both things I didn’t know (e.g., America’s low social mobility) and things I didn’t see (e.g., America’s astonishingly rapid slide away from self-government to tyranny (still in the early stages, but now unmistakable by anyone paying attention).


  6. OldSkeptic_2

    My analytic framework is ‘follow the data’. Background physics, then operations research. Lots of experience with non-Gaussian and non linear systems (hint just about everything is, Gaussian linear systems only exist in the classroom). Studied Stafford Beer (etc) in the 70’s (even met him) so have a very good idea of how to measure and manage complex systems in a complex environment.

    I am a professional analyst. Analysing things is what I do for a living, and I think (hopefully) that I’m good at it … though often people don’t like to hear what I come up with.

    Because I have the technical skills (data analysis, maths/statistical skills, combined with very good scientific programming skills and tools, etc) my standard approach is ‘give me the data’ and I will analyse it myself usually (though not always of course) better than what has already been done.

    I fact I am usually very skeptical of just about anything until I have done my own analysis (at least a preliminary first cut, order of magnitude one). Obvious exceptions are in the physics area, I really don’t feel the need to question EM (ether Maxwell or QED) theory or gravity (Newtonian or Einsteinian), to name but a few. They have rather well been proven.

    I find it mentally easy to switch between raw data and the ‘bigger picture’. Part of my ‘find the trend’ and ‘work out the system’ mentality, in other words ‘what is really happening’, ‘where has it come from’ and ‘where is it going to’ (on current trends of course, trends change).

    I find people cripple their analysis by several ways:

    (1) They simply don’t have the technical skills. It takes skill to analyse things properly. Especially when you are in the non-Gaussian/non-linear world (most of it by the way). So the chances of successful analysis is zero even before they start. I’ll add to that the skills to deal with large complex, usually error ridden, data. The amount of people that can deal with that is about … zero. The World is awash with data … nearly all useless to normal analysis because of the inevitable errors rates and its non Gaussian/non linear nature.

    ‘Intelligence’ agencies note. The most successful Intelligence analytic team of all time …was that ran by R.V Jones (later Prof of Physics) during WW2. Everyone else has been a sad joke since then. I’d put the entire, current CIA/NSA/etc up against Jones … and his 3-5 team in WW2 any day … and I’d know who would be correct.

    (2) They ‘goal seek’. I have told people (and told my staff) not to give me any results of other analyses, just give me the data, so I don’t colour what I might find. I have deliberately hidden things from staff (including my own findings) so that they independently find their own results without bias.

    (3) They have an ‘agenda’. 90%+ of all ‘consultancy’ (and I’ve worked for some of the big ones) is about finding out what people want to hear, then delivering it. Needless to say .. I am not good at that.

    (4) Propaganda. “Give me lie I can sell’. Again, needless to say .. I am not good at that.

    (5) They will tell their bosses what they want to hear (combination of some of the above). My skills at that are precisely …zero..

    Tell you a true story FM. Had a young analysts, 1st in statistics no less and, at 28 pretty experienced. I created a project (world first no less, though .. of course … zero thanks or recognition) and I’ll never forget when he came up to me and said “I have always been taught how to copy, this is the first time (working for me) I have had to think for myself’.

    So that is me mate.


    1. derek5

      Also, you dumped a lot of information on my head, FM – thanks again.

      The link after #3 requires a username and password after its abstact.

      The author of #4 seems to be dealing with the chaotic nature of complex systems. I think what happens is that the variables, and the variables affecting those variables, become insurmountable even to sophisticated algorithms.


  7. Legatus

    I could post something, but “I doubt you are interested in reading what scientists have to say about this, but others might find this of interest”.

    Corals evolved in a time when carbon dioxide was more than 10 times higher than today. For that matter, so did most life. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/08/10/study-climate-460-mya-was-like-today-but-thought-to-have-co2-levels-20-times-as-high/
    Since corals (and most life) evolved in times of vastly higher CO2, we should not expect that a slight decrease in the alkaline nature of the ocean (some scientists can name it anything they want, but this is the measured, physics, scientific fact) will adversely effect that life.
    Carefully and honestly done experiments have shown this. Example of a dishonest study, the usual one where they suddenly change the PH of the water by injecting a lot of CO2, and then report that the coral was bleached (many of these). Example of an honest and carefully scientific study, they slowly increased the amount of CO2 over 6 months, the coral suffered no ill effects, and appeared to actually do better by a small amount. It also seems that many instances of bleaching have been found to be viruses.
    There are yearly swings of “ocean acidification” that are larger amount that has been caused by increased CO2. Easy version http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/27/the-ocean-is-not-getting-acidified/ Full version, actual measurements of ocean PH, High-Frequency Dynamics of Ocean pH: A Multi-Ecosystem Comparison http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028983 . It varies daily by more than PH is supposed to go up between now and 2100. Obvious conclusion, the oceans MUST BE stone cold dead by now, heck, one day should kill them. “First, there are a number of places in the ocean where the pH swings are both rapid and large. The life in those parts of the ocean doesn’t seem to be bothered by either the size or the speed these swings. Second, the size of the possible pH change by 2100 is not large compared to the natural swings.”

    So, considering that both measurements of past CO2 amounts, during the time all this sea life evolved, showed much more CO2, considering that during times of ice ages (9 out of 10 years in the “recent” history) the colder water holds more CO2, and the fact that natural, yearly swings in ocean acidification (PH) are much greater than what has been measured from increased CO2 in the air, how, exactly, will the sea life be harmed? And how, exactly, are we to even know how much affect “acidification” is having if we wipe out whole ares of most fish, troll the bottom of the ocean, etc etc? You can’t hurt the life if it ain’t there.
    I suppose we could just, I dunno, do actual observation, like them scientist types do. The fishes and the coral live happily in the CO2 bubble plume http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/28/the-fishes-and-the-coral-live-happily-in-the-co2-bubble-plume/ You might not want to look at that if you really want to continue to believe (is science about belief?) in “ocean acidification” and how dangerous it is. You also wouldn’t want to look at this, where people actually go to said great barrier reef and check the predictions of “great scientists” versus what is actually happening http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/swimming-in-a-sea-of-disinformation-over-the-great-barrier-reef/story-fni0ffxg-1226849583753 And there is all this http://wattsupwiththat.com/tag/coral-bleaching/ , a bunch of articles about actual, you know,OBSERVATION of what is happening, science, rather than the pre scientific method of “argument from authority”, or the ‘scientists believe” stuff.
    You might want to find out how science works, look here Feynman on Scientific Method http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYPapE-3FRw

    As for your objection to my objection to “ocean acidification”, which you claim all scientists use, check this out
    “For those hard-core scientists that still want to call adding a small amount of acid to a basic solution “acidifying” the basic solution, and who claim that is the only correct “scientific terminology”, I recommend that you look at and adopt the scientific terminology from titration. That’s the terminology used when actually measuring pH in the lab. In that terminology, when you move towards neutral (pH 7), it’s called “neutralization”.”
    So, what is the correct terminology, again? “Acidification is a well-established scientific term for a decrease in pH”, really? Obviously, not always. And you “lose interest” in any actual scientific data based on what words are used, is that how you do science, based on how you feel about it? You really need to watch that Feynman video.

    “Since that was a major part of the post, you obviously didn’t read it.” And you know this…how,exactly? Could I be, I dunno, ADDING a little data to your post? Perhaps I could simply be pointing out how much overfishing (almost total in some areas) is happening, and thus pointing out that “acidification” is hardly needed to kill off large areas in the ocean. Heck, throw in some bottom trawling, while you are at it, get it all.

    By the way, you or sort of right< I really am not interested in "what scientists have to say about this" unless they can BACK IT UP with actual hard data from experiment or observation. Actual observation of reality, not computer models which are merely computer enhanced prejudices. "Computers make very fast, very accurate mistakes".


    1. Editor of the Fabius Maximus website Post author


      (1) I don’t know to what you’re replying. But certainly not to my post about ocean acidification. You obviously didn’t even read that post. In this thread I said “The potential threat from ocean acidification is as yet unclear.”

      Oldskeptic said “CO2 acidification is a real long term threat, but it pales into minute insignificance compared to the problems of over fishing and rubbish and chemical dumping.” Which is certainly correct. If we continue CO2 emissions at current rates, many (probably all) scientists in this field believe ocean acidification will be a serious problem by the late 21st century.

      (2) “and who claim that is the only correct “scientific terminology” ”

      Reading FAIL. I said that your mocking was incorrect, and that “acification” was a common scientific terminology for these kinds of situations. Such as with “soil acidification”. You reply not only ignores this, but adds a falsehood: I never said it was the “only correct scientific terminology”. Different fields of science — such as titration (aka titrimetry) — might have different terminology from the environmental sciences described here.

      (3) “and you “lose interest” in any actual scientific data based on what words are used”

      I said: “That you mock what you don’t understand is a bad beginning for your comment.” In my experience (32,000+ comments, hundreds of email conversations) the combination of mocking and error is a reliable indicator (or flag) of an unreliable comment.

      (4) “By the way, you or sort of right< I really am not interested in "what scientists have to say about this" unless they can BACK IT UP with actual hard data from experiment or observation. "

      Yes, that's what I thought. Scientists might sometimes differ from what you believe. I suspect most of us will stick with the scientists. It's a free country, and you are welcome to your own beliefs.


    2. derek5


      Would have liked to see you reply to Legatus in his/her earlier post, re: ‘you seem to believe in the IPCC’. (I understand that Legatus may have his/her own personal agenda.) As I see it, the predictions of the IPCC have not been accurate and Legatus makes some valid points, such as that their computer models do not mirror reality.

      This advocating of science and its experts, how is it not representative of arguments based on authority – a logical fallacy?

      In any case, I hope you keep at it because the digging and the reporting helps us in our efforts to make sense of things.


    3. Editor of the Fabius Maximus website Post author


      “the predictions of the IPCC have not been accurate”

      Can you provide some peer-reviewed research to support that statement? Models are each a working hypothesis, not oracles. But “not been accurate” appears to me an exaggeration. Some projections, such as sea level, have been quite accurate. If the pause continues, at some point the surface atmosphere temperature will fall our of their forecast range. But that is not yet so, if I correctly understand.

      More importantly, there is imo zero need to pay attention to the laypeople on either side so confidently spouting off about things they very seldom understand. I’ve engaged people scores of times on the FM website, marshaling large amounts of studies and data. In my experience doing so is a total waste of time.

      For those people who would like to know more about the current state of climate modeling, here are some recommendations. The primary conclusion: there are competent people working on all of these questions. Much remains uncertain, which is why the IPCC gives its conclusions in terms of degrees of certainty — not as diktats from God, as the climate alarmists believe.

      (1) See AR5, WGI, Chapter 9: “Evaluation of Climate Models” for a long detailed discussion of the topic, with many many references.

      (2) A Commentary in Nature Climate Change (these are opinion pieces, and usually not peer-reviewed): “Overestimated global warming over the past 20 years“, John C. Fyfe et al, September 2013. Here is an update, but gated: “Recent observed and simulated warming“, John C. Fyfe and Nathan P. Gillett, Nature Climate Change, in press.

      (3) The models are today somewhat of a “dogs breakfast”, using parameterization instead of representation of all the key climate dynamics. For more about this see “What Are Climate Models Missing?“, Bjorn Stevens and Sandrine Bony, Science, 31 May 2013.

      (4) Are they becoming better or worse? Yes. For an explanation for a general audience see “Are climate change models becoming more accurate and less reliable?“, Ashutosh Jogalekar, blog of Scientific America, 27 February 2013.


    4. derek5

      Thanks for your response, FM. I am less interested in the specifics of climate science than in the epistemology surrounding it and the politics entwined with it. Thus, I admit that I can cite no scientific journal articles showing the IPCC has been inaccurate.

      However, I consider that the climate is a chaotic system and MAY be beyond the powers of humans to fully understand. This, of course, does not mean that it is not worth while trying to understand it.

      Also, Legatus demonstrated knowledge of the Popperian view of science in terms of making a guess, and seeing if the test matches reality. My sense is that the IPCC cannot predict the future climate because it is too chaotic and they are reliant upon computer models which cannot possibly mirror nature. All of which is to say that you are correct in the need for more funding, in its application and skepticisms in its reported results, etc.

      As far as lay persons grasp of science and the epistemology of the thing, I offer the words of Tom Van Flandern, although I am aware that Wikipedia has dubbed him a pseudoscientist:

      “Please do not, dear reader, either here or for anything important in your life, defer your judgment to experts. Never assume that your powers of judgment are inferior to those of an “expert.” Experts may have more facts and experience; but when they have brought both to bear, and you have seen the arguments on both sides of an issue and the recommendations and conclusions of the experts, you will often be in a better position to impartially judge the relative merits of competing ideas than are persons with a vested interest in the outcome. Experts who cannot easily make themselves understood are often concealing weaknesses in ideas they are defending. Experts have only the advantages of facts and experience. They do not thereby have better judgment than others. And they frequently do misjudge.”

      To sum up: experts have more facts and experience, but this does not equate to better judgment. Possibly this relates to their vested interests, which of course includes funding, job security. If this be the case, reliance on testable and tested predictions, ala Popper, will determine the future course of science.

      Will be on the lookout for validated/falsified hypothesis of climate scientists, as I agree this is a muddled part of my contention.


  8. OldSkeptic_2

    Legatus, you are getting caught up in that argument about absolute levels. Life is adaptable, so it is the rate of change that matters. Now more CO2 in the atmosphere will, eventually, lead to higher PH in the oceans.

    Now if this happens over (say) 100,000 years then life, including corals, will adapt, They will find ways to deal with the higher Ph. If it happens over 10 minutes .. they wont. Even current estimated times spans of about 50-100 years is far too fast for current, low PH adapted, corals to evolve.

    But the point FM is making (and I agree with 100%) is that by other means we are killing all the life in the oceans anyway …… and far faster.

    To be able to evolve and adapt to a new environment … you first have to be alive.

    They way the World is going right now, there wont be any corals, crustaceans, etc left to be killed by acidification of the oceans….

    Take the Great Barrier Reef, the biggest threats to it are, right now, over fishing (supposedly a Marine Park), particularly that what takes out ‘keystone’ fish, and the run off of fertilizers from the land (along with dredging for new coal export ports and some other stupid things).

    Realistically by the time ocean acidification gets too high for it to survive, it will already have been long dead.

    I, like FM, believe in fixing the most immediate issues first, then dealing with the longer term ones.

    In terms of the oceans, by (ideally) rebuilding the fish, etc, stocks, then you have a much more robust pool of life that can deal far better with these, real but longer term, threats.

    Bit like treating someone’s diabetes while they are having a heart attack …. first things first.


  9. Pingback: Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the risks threatening humanity | Watts Up With That?

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