Tag Archive: john everett


A companion article at ArkFab shares my thoughts on peer review in regards to this project and DIY/community/citizen science in general. 

At long last, the much-anticipated booklet, “CO2 Trouble: Ocean Acidification, Dr. Everett, and Congressional Science Standards” is available and approved for human consumption! Download and share HERE (or at Scribd HERE).

In this document, I have bundled, updated, and expanded my series of essays debunking the congressional testimony of Dr. John Everett regarding the environmental chemistry of carbon dioxide.

It has been designed to be a fairly short (less than 30 pages, including images, appendicies, etc.) and accessible read. It has been challenging but fun to write; I have had to learn a lot about GIMP, Python, Scribus, social networking, and of course ocean acidification to get to this point.

It was also very useful for me as an opportunity to go back through my earlier remarks and double-check my work. For example, I later realized that the documentation which Dr. Everett provides for his CO2 data in part two is ambiguous: Although the citation for the rate data is referred to as “Recent Global CO2”, the URL provided links to the longer record as measured at Mauna Loa Observatory. This confusion had led me in the past to make incorrect claims about some of the figures he presents. Ultimately it was inconsequential to my argument, but it was frustrating to have to deal with such ambiguities. On the other hand, this led me into comparing the Mauna Loa record with the global record (Appendix B) which was an interesting exercise.

In researching this project, I also came across new phenomena I wasn’t previously aware of. For example, while I was calculating historical rates of CO2 change, I ran though the 1000-year Law Dome record and saw this:

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

The last part of Dr. Everett’s testimony presents his conclusions. Much of it is simply reiteration ofclaims he has already

Fig. 1. The rate of change in atmospheric carbon dioxide, based upon gas samples from three ice cores (Law Dome, Taylor Dome, and Vostok) and direct measurements at Mauna Loa Observatory. Data courtesy of NOAA Paleoclimatology and ESRL (see endnotes). Click for full.

made, but he also takes the opportunity to thicken the smoke screen just a little bit more. Some parts are mundane: ‘The most important approach […] is to examine what happened during past times.’ I completely agree! See Fig. 1. But other parts are more problematic. Here’s a quick flyby:

He claims ‘There is no reliable observational evidence of negative trends that can be traced definitively to lowered pH of the water’, and dismissing experimental results. However, studies meeting his criteria exist, and they demonstrate negative consequences.

He demands that experiments be run over sufficient generations to allow for adaptation, but he doesn’t say how many generations are sufficient. This leaves any study demonstrating negative effects open to rejection by moving the goalposts for sufficient experimental length. Ironically, a paper which Dr. Everett had earlier claimed cast doubt upon acidification studies mentions the short time scales of current experiments, but concludes that it could well be masking the more severe effects of acidification:

‘Although suppression of metabolism under short-term experimental conditions is a “sublethal” reversible process, reductions in growth and reproductive output will effectively diminish the survival of the species on longer time-scales.’  (Fabry et al. 2008)

Conclusions he doesn’t like can be further dismissed: ‘If there were [an observation of deletrious effects of acidification], it would be suspect because there is insignificant change relative to past climates of the Earth.’ We have seen this statement to be simply incorrect. He fails to give further support for this position, stating that ‘Scientific studies, and papers reviewing science studies, have similar messages’, but not giving us any examples.

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Supposedly posts with images get all the clix. So here is an image. Via PictureIsUnrelated; clix for sauces.

Part VI of John Everett’s testimony is a criticism of a geoengineering approach to ocean acidification. I agree with his conclusion (that adding alkaline calcium carbonate to the oceans is not a useful approach to ocean acidification) but nevertheless find this section to be problematic. I’ll return to it once I’ve finished with the rest of his testimony.

Part VII is a collection of research suggestions “that would go a long way toward establishing the likely effects of an increased CO2 world.” On the surface, it’s hard to take issue with his suggestions, but in the context of the rest of his testimony, they ring rather hollow.

For example, his first research suggestion is the development of

“a CO2/temperature timeline based on extant research on past climates, at least back to about 600 million years before the present. This effort would provide a critical review of candidate papers and unpublished work that goes well beyond a typical peer-reviewed journal publication, or prior summary reports of the IPCC.”

I think that it would be great to have a comprehensive review of the state of paleoclimatology and paleogeochemistry. But Dr. Everett ignores what we already know about those topics- so what good would such an effort be?

Suggestion #2:

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

Part V of John Everett’s testimony (“Is this bad or good or just different?”) repeats several claims that we’ve already seen to be simply incorrect:

Little Rock Lake, site of a famous acid rain study. Image from Google Maps; sauceclick.

The only new evidence he presents in this section regards a different pH problem: acid rain.

“During the acid rain issues in the 1980s, a lake basin in Wisconsin was deliberately acidified (with EPA and NSF funding) to a pH of 4.7 then allowed to recover. ‘Some species were decimated and others thrived, but the sum-total of life in the lake stayed the same.’ This is a level of acidification 1,000 X the worst-case scenario for the oceans. It provides a clue as to what a 2X change might be.”

His reference for this claim is this news item from ScienceDaily. To clarify, when Little Rock Lake was ‘allowed to recover’, acidification was halted and its pH was allowed to rise to its previous levels. The news item is reporting on the slow recovery, which only took place once the acidification ceased. Dr. Everett presents a quote from this news item, which would seem to suggest that things were just fine in the acidified lake. In fact, the quote in its entirety refers to the lake’s recovery, rather than its acidified state:

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

We’ve seen that Dr. Everett’s discussion of paleogeochemistry fails to consider both rates of change and the geological record of ocean acidification. There is one last talking point in this section which requires comment:

“From 50-600 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels were usually 2-20 times higher than at present. […] This included the age of the dinosaurs, when life was so prolific that we still use its carbon, limestone and chalk.”

Limestone and chalk, like corals and coccoliths, are made out of calcium carbonate. Many deposits of calcium carbonate occurred when there was much more carbon dioxide in the air. The Cretaceous is named after chalk deposits like the White Cliffs of Dover; CO2 levels during the Cretaceous were over 1000 ppm, compared to current levels around 390 ppm. If the ocean deposited calcium carbonate en masse during the high-CO2 Cretaceous, why should we expect it to become hostile to carbonates now?

The chalk cliffs of Dover, massive deposits of calcium carbonate from the high-CO2 Cretaceous. Is this a paradox? Not really. Click for sauce.

The answer lies, again, in time scales.

Over short time scales, like those on which acidification is currently occurring, the saturation state of calcium carbonate is determined by pH, which is controlled by CO2. However, on longer time scales, it’s controlled by another factor. As this article explains:

“Hence, the key, but rather counterintuitive result, is that on long time scales, ocean pH and atmospheric CO2 are decoupled from carbonate mineral saturation state, which is dictated primarily by weathering (in conjunction with the major cation [Ca2+, Mg2+] content of the ocean). Actually, saturation is not entirely decoupled geologically from pH and CO2, as all things being equal, at high CO2 (and a warmer climate), enhanced weathering requires higher carbonate burial and hence higher ocean saturation. Thus, the presence of “carbonate factories” with widespread CaCO3 production and burial is entirely consitent with a high CO2, low pH world. […] Only in significant and geologically “rapid” departures from steady-state carbon cycling will both pH and saturation fall together…” (my emphasis)

In other words, over a long timeline, it’s the calcium that determines calcium carbonate favorability. Over short timelines, it’s the pH- and CO2 emissions are altering the pH on a short timeline.

A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

Last time we looked at Dr. Everett’s testimony, we examined his claim that, because carbon dioxide levels have been higher in the past, increasing levels are not alarming now. His argument is flawed, because although CO2 levels have changed, they usually change only very slowly. Now, they’re changing abruptly. Graphs of Deep Time can be intuitively misleading, because they collapse time scales and it can be hard to compare the rates of change from one image to the next. For example, this next graph shows information that we have gathered from looking at  gasses trapped in Antarctic ice. It’s obvious that the climate changes over Deep Time- but is it obvious from this graph how historical rates of change compare to modern rates?

Paleoclimatic and paleogeochemical data gathered from the Vostok ice core. Temperature (red) and carbon dioxide (blue) go up and down on these time scales - but its the rate that really matters. Click for sauce.

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

People who minimize or deny the threat of climate change (or ocean acidification, as in part IV of Dr. Everett’s testimony) will often demand that the change be “unprecedented” – that nothing like it has ever happened before in Earth history. (eg, here) The reasoning seems to be that if there have been ecological events like anthropogenic climate change in the past, then current events must not be alarming, since life on earth has each time survived and recovered:

“We know that the Earth has seen these conditions before, and that all the same types of animals and plants of the oceans successfully made it through far more extreme conditions. ” – Everertt (part V)

 

This has always seemed to me like it’s setting the bar a bit low: Do we only become alarmed when faced with the possibility of sterilizing the planet? And considering the amount of violence which earth life has withstood over the ages, it doesn’t seem a very strong statement that human impact is unlikely to wipe it out.

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

Often, in order to explain why a particular Weird Belief is correct despite being at odds with available evidence, the belief holder will invoke conspiracy theories. Young Earth Creationists often invoke a conspiracy by god and/or satan to make the earth look much older than it actually is. Intelligent Design Creationists allege an academic conspiracy to suppress ID research. Climate change skuptiks see conspiracies to falsify data the way I see faces in clouds. It’s not necessarily that conspiracies don’t exist- but because the point of a conspiracy is to mask its own existence, we have to be very careful in deciding which conspiracy theories are justified and which aren’t.

Dr. Everett doesn’t invoke a conspiracy in the classical sense of a bunch of men in suits, smoking cigars in a dimly lit room. But he does seem to invoke a distributed, systemic conspiracy, in which science as a system has been corrupted, and its results can not be trusted. He does this in order to cast doubt on studies of the effects of acidification on calcifiers:

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

Coccoliths: microscopic death stars of the ocean. Via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever gone camping with someone who doesn’t know how to build a fire? It might go something like this: you get a pile of twigs burning, and immediately your friend starts piling on huge logs. The fire dwindles. “Hey,” your friend says, “This fire sucks. It must need more logs.” If some fuel is good, then more must be better. It’s a terrible way to roast marshmallows. And yet it’s the philosophy that Dr. Everett applies to the effects of increased carbon dioxide on life.

Here’s an example from part I of his testimony:

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A part of my John Everett series – read more: 0/I – II.0 – II.5 – II.75 –  III.0 – III.3 – IV.0 – IV.4 – IV.8 – V – VII – VIII – Full Report 

The last couple posts looked at Dr. Everett’s discussion of the growth rate of carbon dioxide. There’s one other claim in this section which warrants inspection: that a constant airborne fraction is a challenge to projected acidification.

I got the bright idea to sudo rm -rf in my /etc/ and now GIMP is broken. So none of my sweet graphics this episode. Instead here's a diagram of the carbon cycle, courtesy of NASA (click for sauce.) It's just as well. The coolest thing I could think to draw was some pictures of pie. Mmmm pie.

Here’s what he has to say:

The meaning of this information [the supposed leveling off of CO2 growth rate] (and the future of all climate models[)] became VERY cloudy on 31 December 2009 with the ScienceDaily acknowledgment of a paper published by American Geophysical Union and authored by Wolfgang Knorr that shows “No Rise of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Fraction in Past 160 Years”, despite the predictions of carbon cycle/climate models3. The implications of this have yet to be assimilated by the modeling community. This does not mean that CO2 proportion is not rising but rather that the proportion not being assimilated has not changed since 1850. Importantly, it means that the rate of CO2 cycling increases as it becomes more concentrated, and does not decrease as assumed in climate models. The rate of projected growth in CO2 appears to be greatly exaggerated.

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