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Earth The Almighty Buck Science

New X Prize Quest: Sensors To Probe Oceanic Acid Levels 91

cold fjord notes that the X Prize Foundation has opened up a new mission: to quantify the acidification of the world's oceans, excerpting from a description on Nature's blog of the project's focus: "Scientists who study ocean acidification must confront a fundamental problem: It is hard to measure exactly how much the ocean's pH is changing. Today's sensors don't work well at depth or over long periods of time, and they are too expensive to deploy widely. That is where the US$2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize comes in. The 22-month competition will award two $1 million prizes, one to the best low-cost sensor and one to the most accurate. The competition's organizers decided to award two prizes because the two goals present different engineering challenges. ... As carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, ocean water takes up some of the gas and becomes more acidic. This can harm shell-building marine life like coral, whose calcium carbonate skeletons dissolve in the increasingly acidic water. All of this research is bedeviled by the simple lack of technology to monitor ocean pH in real time across the world."
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New X Prize Quest: Sensors To Probe Oceanic Acid Levels

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why do they need real-time results? If you can get clean samples and ship them back to the lab, what's wrong with that?

    • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @01:12PM (#44809645)

      The real issue is not real-time but automated data collection and gathering.

      For this to be helpful there would need to be many many of these operating (at a range of depths) worldwide.

      The logistics and costs of gathering the data manually from each would probably be prohibitive.

    • The reaction of carbon dioxide plus H2O is reversible. When you ship them back to the lab, the pH would change.

      You might want real-time monitoring of large areas to see how or if currents and tides are changing to fit into the model, they're unlikely to be linear changes in most areas. Plus, you compare changes in pH to observations of organisms and you can have better graphs to show to politicians who are just going to fucking ignore it anyway and leave future generations without seafood if it means
    • Why do they need real-time results? If you can get clean samples and ship them back to the lab, what's wrong with that?

      Compared to data transmission, shipping is expensive:

      For peanuts, relatively speaking, you can build a little underwater glider style robot [wikipedia.org] (or just a buoy or something) that will autonomously putter about as the currents take it for months to years, depending on how you power it and how lucky you get in terms of system failure.

      If you can put the suitable sensor on such a vehicle, it becomes possible to measure pH at zillions of locations throughout the oceans with relatively cheap and expendable swar

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        The problem is the "suitable sensor".
        This X Prize is to develop the sensor.
        Current sensors are not sensitive enough or durable enough.

        • Indeed. I was answering the question "If you can get clean samples and ship them back to the lab, what's wrong with that?".

          In short, all the cheap-enough-to-actually-be-useful sampling mechanisms can't ship the sample back to the lab, so you are stuck with either getting accurate pH numbers (for a ridiculously tiny number of samples, mostly taken by humans on research ships, which cost considerable money to field) or worthlessly imprecise pH numbers(for the much larger number of chunks of ocean that you
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Argh, stop trying to measure global warming and climate change, us faithful aren't going to let you fix these problems. The world has to die so that Jesus comes faster, stop trying to screw it up!

    • Seriously how much do you get paid to be nearly first in with asinine comments like that to pollute this sort of conversation?

    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      Argh, stop trying to measure global warming and climate change, us faithful aren't going to let you fix these problems. The world has to die so that Jesus comes faster, stop trying to screw it up!

      That unfairly portrays people of a flavor of Christian faith as evil. Let me try a more reasonable and agnostic version:

      Argh, stop trying to measure global warming and climate change. It is inevitable that oceans absorb carbon and increase in acidity, but this has nothing what so ever to do with our negligible carbon emissions or global cooling trend of past decade. Results will only be used as alarmist propaganda, in an attempt to destroy our way of life, and let the communists like Al Gore and EU take ove

      • More agnostic but not more reasonable...the original didn't fly in the face of half the scientific fields out there like yours did. It was actually in-line with our best scientific knowledge, it just had a heaping helping of religious extremism on top of it.

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )

        1. Our CO2 output is not "negligible" - the raw numbers demonstrate that rather well
        2. The cooling trend of the last decade is not true - it has been heating, but at a level which is just under being statistically significant.

        It doesn't help your point to make a couple of nonsensical statements which have been shown to be false time and time again.

        • by Urkki ( 668283 )

          Hmph. I was aiming at "funny" by trying to go well over the top. I see I failed...

    • by Alsee ( 515537 )

      Global Warming is a Hoax, and the ocean's pH isn't changing. The Bible says it's 30. Always has been, always will be. (Until Judgement Day anyhow.)

      Where does the Bible say it's 30? I forget the exact verse, but I know it's in the same chapter that says the Earth is 6000 years old.


  • Paelo History (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pino Grigio ( 2232472 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @01:22PM (#44809753)
    I think animals with shells survived well enough in the past when atmospheric CO2 levels were far, far higher. They'll adapt.
    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      I think animals with shells survived well enough in the past when atmospheric CO2 levels were far, far higher. They'll adapt.

      Do you know what is another way to say "they'll adapt"?

      It is "there will be a mass extinction, and survivors will inherit the Earth after hundreds of millenia of adapting to the changed biosphere."

    • But the CO2 levels have never changed this fast before, there's a good chance evolution is too slow to keep up.
    • Re:Paelo History (Score:4, Insightful)

      by edibobb ( 113989 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @01:48PM (#44810057) Homepage
      The object is to learn what's happening in the ocean, not to change it. Whether something can adapt to changes is a completely different issue. Even if everything can adapt to pH changes in the ocean, it's no reason not to study whether the ocean is changing and why or why not. In addition, developing low cost, accurate remote sensors will undoubtedly have applications several other fields.
    • Show me evidence that CO2 levels changed as rapidly as we are changing them and I'll conclude we have nothing to worry about. Evolution takes time, longer than we're giving it. Even punctuated equilibrium models, the rate of change is still measured in centuries, not years.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think animals with shells survived well enough in the past when atmospheric CO2 levels were far, far higher. They'll adapt.

      Oh, the irony.

      The actual paleobiological literature suggests this statement is wrong in every particular. Not only is ocean acidification implicated in the worst mass extinction in the history of mulitcellular life (see here [stanford.edu] [PDF] or here [gsapubs.org])-- although it may not have been the main kill mechanism-- it may actually be a general cause of mass extinctions (see here [wiley.com]). If it is, that would be very interesting; it would be the only general mechanism for mass extinctions that I am aware of.

      Moreover, natural selectio

  • The oceans aren't acidifying - they are alkaline and there are massive buffers in the oceans chemistry that prevent it changing very much.

    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      The oceans aren't acidifying - they are alkaline and there are massive buffers in the oceans chemistry that prevent it changing very much.

      So... We know this as a fact? No point in measuring actual pH change, or lack of it?

      If only people would take "pumping and digging buried carbon up and turning it into a greenhouse gas will strengthen greenhouse effect directly, and also increase other greenhouse gasses like dihydrogen monoxide as a positive feedback side effect" with that conviction...

      • If you had passed general chem you would have studied buffered solutions. We know how they work, as a fact.

        • First they must pass remedial math

        • by Urkki ( 668283 )

          If you had passed general chem you would have studied buffered solutions. We know how they work, as a fact.

          It's funny how some people think how we have totally insufficient knowledge about atmosphere to make any kind of climate predictions, yet as soon as someone suggests measuring ocean acidity, potentially linked to atmospheric CO2, they happily say that oceans are a buffered solution comparable to stuff in labs, no reason for any research...

          I guess it's understandable. After all we can't see the atmosphere, it's transparent and unfathomable, while we can see all the oceans from satellite photos, plain as day.

          • Buffered solutions are well understood science. We know what's in sea water.

            When they pull the CO2/H2O vapor positive feedback coefficient from anywhere other then a dark place then climate models will approach science. Right now that coefficient is back calculated from the amount of global warming the modelers want their model to produce.

            • by Urkki ( 668283 )

              Wikipedia article on Ocean acidification seems to put some estimated numbers on pH change, with source. Your source is your school chemistry book, which probably predates that particular source anyway. Even if that wikipedia source is wrong, that seems to be enough basis for thinking, that actually measuring this with latest technology seems like a good idea.

              Anyway, the only reason one might not want to measure this is being in some kind of denial, not wanting to hear the result in case it is not the one yo

    • Well then you'll have to explain how the oceans are becoming more acidic (or less alkaline, if you prefer) according to our best measurement methods. Sounds like you have the X-prize here in the bag, I can't wait to see what massive breakthrough in the field of chemistry you'll pioneer next!

      • That's easy - the claimed acidification was between a guesstimate between what it might have been in the 17th Century and today.

        Since the change in pH claimed is nowhere near the range of variation in the oceans, we can safely call bullshit. There are shelled organisms that live right next to carbon dioxide seeps in the tropical oceans that thrive in these supposedly acidified waters.

        As Walter White would say "Always respect the chemistry"

        • Huh so you didn't even hit up the Wikipedia page on the topic. You're ballsy, I'll give you that.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification#Acidification [wikipedia.org]

          How about a measured increase between when Mega Man 3 came out and today?

          And why should a shelled creature be harmed by living near a natural CO2 seep? I don't think just bubbling CO2 through water will create a large, concentrated change in the immediate vicinity. You know how diffusion works right?

    • Compared to how much CO2 we're adding? Citation needed.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Tonite only:
    Oceanic Acid Level

    2 drink minimum

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Send a cylindrical vessel down, close it at depth on both ends, then bring it up. Then measure the pH. Why is this hard.
    /degree chemist

  • by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @01:46PM (#44810021)

    ...any sensors will be measuring ocean *neutralization* as pH moves down towards 7.

    • You're arguing semantics.

      • Of course I am, they're important. While both "braking" and "accelerating in reverse" are changing a car in the same direction, there's a *huge* real difference between going from forward speed to zero, and going from zero to some reverse speed.

        Whatever tiny pH change one asserts is going on in the ocean, it doesn't become "acidification" until you're at pH 7.

        • Actually after doing a little research, it looks like you're wrong:

          http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/lsuatoni/can_we_keep_discussions_about.html [nrdc.org]

          For instance, he plays unproductive semantic games, arguing that because ocean pH is not predicted to fall below the ‘neutral point’ of 7.0, the term ‘ocean acidification’ is a misnomer. This ignores the fact that scientists refer to a drop in pH as ‘acidification’, regardless of where you are on the scale. The term is simply used to describe the direction of change.

          • Yes, and "braking" is officially "acceleration" in "scientific" terms. However, the difference between hitting the brake to lower your speed, and pushing the gas while the gears are in reverse is important in real terms :)

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutralization_(chemistry) [wikipedia.org]

            • How was your holiday?
            • by Pav ( 4298 )
              Perhaps you should look into anoxic environments and hydrogen sulphide... that'll definitely get you an unambiguously acidic environment rather quickly. It gets locked up in swamp muds even under "normal" conditions - in my home town there have been fish kills after eroded runoff has turned sulphuric. During the Permian Extinction parts of the sea started becoming anoxic... probably at least partly to do with atmospheric carbon dioxide stressing phytoplankton. The theory is this caused a feedback loo
              • You've got a massive misunderstanding as to the orders of magnitude here. There simply is *zero* possibility that atmospheric CO2, at any projected level, is going to turn the oceans acidic, even if *every* CO2 molecule in the atmosphere was used up.

                The fact that you have local fish kills due to runoff is perfectly understandable. The thought that such local fish kills could become global in scale completely ignores the massive size of the oceans.

    • But that doesn't sound scary - who will fund a study of ocean neutralization?

      • As the OP points out above, the euphemistic term 'neutralisation' is really just another PR attempt by the fossil industry funded denialist machine to make acidification seem like it isn't an issue. The issue is the effect of acidification on marine organisms, which obviously don't care that the pH drop might bottom out at neutral. And neither to the things that eat them. When you are hungry the distinction seems unimportant.
      • Ocean neutralization sounds a lot scarier to me -- like a [somewhat apt] euphemism for assassinating the ocean.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      According to Wikipedia: Seawater pH is limited to the range 7.5 to 8.4

      According to my friend the professor of Fish-ology (I don't know his actual field, but he is a professor at a big-10 university and he studies fish and we have beers together about once a year), the fish can live at a much lower ph in the lab than in the wild. The fish survive down to ph of 3 in a lab, but in the wild, ph 5 kills them. He thinks the reason for this difference is that in the wild metals leech out of rocks into the water

      • Or it could be, that, like an amateur, you are confusing the pH resistance of fresh water fish versus the resistance of salt water dwelling marine life in general, including invertrbates, crustaceans and the like. Probably worth you pondering where you went wrong before posting on the subject again.
    • by Pav ( 4298 )
      Unless the sea water turns anoxic... which will happen more if phytoplankton is stressed beyond a certain point. Then you'll get suphur dioxide being produced by anaerobic bacteria, which will react with iron in seawater to produce sulphides. These are fine until they flow into a more oxygenated area when they react with the oxygen to produce sulphuric acid - this kills more phytoplankton and creates an anoxic environment for more anaerobic bacteria. That's what's called a feedback loop my friend.
      • Look up the pH variation within the ocean.

        Now compare it to the proposed pH effect of atmospheric CO2 levels.

        Enjoy :)

  • This is one of humanity's greatest challenges?

    I mean for christ's sake this is retarded.

    What is the point of monitoring the ocean acidity. Is there anything you are going to do about it while it rises? Does it really make a difference to see global warming in action.

    Where is the X-Prize to create clean energy? Or the X-Prize to close the carbon cycle by having a process to pull CO2 back out of the atmosphere and turn it back into fuel? If they exist why are they not making news?

    Why is humanity obsessed

    • Yes. Why would we want more accurate and specific knowledge?

      Why not just follow our usual procedure: Ready! Fire! Aim!

      Why would we want any knowledge at all? It makes it so much harder to make up convenient facts.

      "You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

        Daniel Patrick Moynihan

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