Claims that coral reefs are doomed because human CO2 emissions are making the oceans more acidic have been exaggerated, a review of the science has found.
An “inherent bias” in scientific journals in favour of more calamitous predictions has excluded research showing that marine creatures are not damaged by ocean acidification, which is caused by the sea absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It has been dubbed the “evil twin of climate change” and hundreds of studies have claimed to show that it destroys coral reefs and other marine life by making it harder for them to develop shells or skeletons.
The review found that many studies had used flawed methods, subjecting marine creatures to sudden increases in carbon dioxide that would never be experienced in real life.
“In some cases it was levels far beyond what would ever be reached even if we burnt every molecule of carbon on the planet,” Howard Browman, the editor of ICES Journal of Marine Science, who oversaw the review, said. He added that this had distracted attention from more urgent threats to reefs such as agricultural pollution, overfishing and tourism.
Dr Browman, who is also principal research scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, found there had been huge increase in articles on ocean acidification in recent years, rising from five in 2005 to 600 last year.
He said that a handful of influential scientific journals and lobbying by international organisations had turned ocean acidification into a major issue.
“Such journals tend to publish doom and gloom stories . . . stated without equivocation,” he said. The bias in favour of doom-laden articles was partly the result of pressure on scientists to produce eye-catching work, he added. […]
Dr Browman, a marine scientist for 35 years, said he was not saying that ocean acidification posed no threat, but that he believed that “a higher level of academic scepticism” should be applied to the topic.