Clams do fine in acid water

I was reading this article on WUWT about extinction events that included some claims that ocean acidification would have caused the shellfish to have their shells dissolve. Yes, that old canard.

Never mind that CO2 was several THOUSAND PPM when shellfish evolved. Never mind the megaTONS of metal nodules and carbonates on the ocean bottom that will cause it to stay mildly alkaline against stronger acid insults than CO2. Never mind the tanks of the aquarium hobby where folks do CO2 enrichment to make things grow better, including shell fish… No, all of that is to be ignored in favor of a groundless panic that even a tiny bit less alkaline conditions, and Clams are going to be history…

And I pictured clams… and thought “acid”… that turned into “Acid Rain” and got me thinking about the acid rain (and natural forest floor acid leachate) and, well, Freshwater Clams.

As a kid we would find these in the Sacramento River and contributories. Great fish bait. I don’t know if any of them are ‘natives’ but at least one variety is an introduced one. The Asian Freshwater Clam.

So, I thought, could I find a map of the distribution of Freshwater Clams and one for River pH and see where was the limit on Clams? At just what pH did Clams Die Out? Some lakes and rivers can have a pH down in the 5 ish and even into the 4.x range; so I figured there would be some kinds of limits on range, as that is a significantly acid condition.

Well, I found my maps. I could put a whole lot of words around it, but really is just comes down to one point:

There is no visible limit to clams based on water pH. Even down into that 4.x range.

The limit has more to do with where they have been introduced and perhaps some cold limits up in the Montana / Dakota freezer… So just look at these two maps, ponder, and consider that this sure looks to me like a pretty good “existence proof” that shellfish just don’t give a damn about acidity in water well up into the 4.x range. As crawfish are also found all over those areas too, I think it’s pretty clear that even that kind of shellfish doesn’t care much about pH.

USGS map of Surface Water pH

USGS map of Surface Water pH

Original USGS article on pH

I know, it’s a small map. Just notice that the blue parts are a pH of about 5 to 5.5, while the red / orange areas range down to a pH of 4.1 and in all cases the pH is significantly acid when compared to neutral at 7.0 or the ocean in the low 8.x range which is actually alkaline. And the clams?

Asian Fresh Water Clams USGS

Asian Fresh Water Clams USGS

Original USGS article on Asian Clams

Another interesting article on Asian Clams with a slightly different version of the same map.

There are a bunch of different crayfish species, and the USGS has maps for each kind, but I didn’t see a map of “all species” (most likely as it would just be a map of ALL U.S. states). So here’s map, chosen at random, of one species:

USGS Crayfish Map - Calico Crayfish

USGS Crayfish Map - Calico Crayfish

You can check out the other species at the USGS maps here:

In Conclusion

I wish I could say more about it, but not much more needed. Just: Can you say “existence proof”? Ocean acidification just is not going to cause problems for clams, lobsters, crabs, or any of those like critters. If they don’t mind a pH of 4.3 nothing the ocean does will matter.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW Science and Background, Science Bits and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Clams do fine in acid water

  1. A. C. Osborn says:

    I just love it when real world data trumps these stupid stupid Model guesses.
    Have you posted a link to this on WUWT?

  2. A. C. Osborn says:

    Ignore my question, I see that you did do the link.

  3. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.: It has nothing to do with Al Baby´s “Climate Change”. There is a broader relation of many water species with the SUN (“It´s the Sun”…again, more specifically with the LOD-Length of the day-), and, though is hard to believe, the source is the UN´s FAO, and it is followed by all fishing industries as a reliable source:
    This document presents the results of a study undertaken under contract to FAO by Professor
    Leonid B. Klyashtorin of the Federal Institute for Fisheries and Oceanography, Moscow, Russian
    Federation (e-mail:

  4. H.R. says:

    But… but… but… the models say… ;o)

    Outsmarted themselves on this issue. Sometimes, all you have to do is go down to the creek and take a look. Nice one, E.M.

  5. H.R. says:

    Oops! Typo. In my neck of the woods, you “go down yonder t’ the crick.”

  6. adrianvance says:

    Tony Haymet, PhD. in Chemistry, Director of Scripps Institute had a virtual nervous brreakdown at the podium delivering his finding that the sea’s pH had fallen from 8.4 to 8.2 which is a change of 2 X 10^-9 moles, 2 billionths, of hydrogen ion, a quantity difficult to accurately detect, saying “…this will dissolve all the reefs and kill all the sea life in ten years!” Utter nonsense, but I am sure it pulled a few more big checks from wealthy San Diego widows of mega-titans who were “rolling in their graves” at this stupidity as many made their billions in science, weapons and killing inferior people.

    The Two Minute Conservative at for political analysis, science and humor. Daily on Kindle.

  7. Andrew says:

    I try to have tolerance for ignorance, but it is tougher when it comes to stupidity…

    I really don’t care if you believe in some Divine interference or a pure Darwinian view of life, stuff evolves over time. If a species cannot adapt, eventually they die off. Introduce new species to an established ecosystem, bad things might happen.

    Those Asiatic clams, I first noticed them in Lake Chelan about 10 years ago. Chelan is the largest natural lake in Washington. It’s big, deep and long; and it is about 200 river miles upstream from where the clams were originally dumped back in the 30’s. Clearly, they clams can adapt. Atlantic Salmon have been intentionally released worldwide for over 100 years, with very poor results. Millions have escaped fish farms, lots mature and have been observed spawning in rivers, but no second generation shows up.

    Pacific salmon fare much better, heck the Great Lake region is worried those Asian jumping carp will decimate the ecosystem if they are allowed to enter the lakes. Too bad we messed things up and connected the Mississippi to the Great Lakes. So it is likely fait accompli.

    Clams are a rather sedate creature, not known for their migratory tendencies. Something tells me that from a genetic standpoint, clams must be able to tolerate environmental changes better than most species. It is not as if they can decide…’It sucks here, lets move!’

    However, clams do make lots of babies, and the babies float off in the current, hoping to land somewhere hospitable. The question is…can they adapt? I think they can.

    If bivalves and other shellfish can thrive next to hydro thermal vents, my money is on the clams ability to adapt to pH changes. However, I have been wrong before.

  8. Pascvaks says:

    It ain’t the clams they’re worried about. It’s the trees. Went through the Black Forest back in the early 70’s. Grizzly, real grizzly looking trees from all that acid rain. Have you ever seen a Tree Hugger hug a clam? I’d love to see a few million clams hug a Tree Hugger though. Well, maybe one day it’ll happen but I ain’t gonna’ hold my breath. Ain’t life a beach? (That’s the way folks in New England say it;-)

  9. George says:

    Most “modern” mollusk species evolved when atmospheric CO2 levels were much higher than today. When “modern” corals first appear, CO2 levels were about 5x today’s levels. So all of this worry about CO2 and “ocean acidification” is pretty much a bunch of hooey if you stop to think that even today’s post industrial CO2 levels are still nearly a record low atmospheric CO2 level. We have less CO2 in the atmosphere during the Pleistocene and Holocene than ever before in the history of the planet. Our burning of fossil fuels might give an additional million years or so of life to some species but in the end, most are doomed as CO2 will eventually continue depleting as we stop burning fossil fuels and the next great mass extinction due to lack of CO2 begins.

    First the plants will become less productive, and then the animals that feed on them will become less productive until both die. Earth’s life will die long before the sun gets too hot due to CO2 depletion unless we can figure out a way to return that atmospheric CO2 locked up in limestone, marble, chalk, shale, coal, and oil back to the atmosphere.

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    Nature has done a pretty good job of CO2 recycle with volcanic plate recycle, driven by Uranium decay heat… For the first 4.5 Billion years, we had excess U to work with. Best estimate I’ve seen says the nuclear reactor in the core of the planet is running out of fuel about now. Maybe already has. It takes a few million years for the decay heat to drop, but during that time volcanic recycle slows…

    So as soon as the rate of volcanoes and plate subduction is demonstrably slower, we know we’re on our way to extinction.

    Wasn’t there a whole lot more volcanoes and lava flows back in the Triassic? …

  11. Andrew says:

    @ E.M.

    btw… your premise, shellfish are just fine lower pH levels…has been peer reviewed.

    “risk of botulism from seafood cocktails could be completely eliminated by using a cocktail sauce at a maximum pH of 3.70 “

  12. tckev says:

    As soon as I saw this I thought about your earlier piece about lake of CO2 found on the ocean floor. –

    So how do those shelled creatures pictured survive all that CO2 acidification?

  13. Duster says:

    The two principle native Genus [Geniii?} in norther California are Margaritifera species (fresh water pearl mussels) and Anodonta species. They respectively prefer faster rockier streams and slower muddier bottoms. They are still around though the Japanese clam (did your folks also call them cherry clams?) are pretty wide spread and like irrigation canals too.

  14. George says:

    Nature has done a pretty good job of CO2 recycle with volcanic plate recycle

    Continental land does not recycle, it just floats on top of the mantle. It never subducts. And add gypsum to the list, too.

  15. In 1987 I set up a company called “Sea Street Salmon” in Eastport, Maine. The objective was to raise Atlantic salmon smolts.

    As we were using recirculated water our main problem was to control the build up of ammonia that is a constituent of fish pee. Everything was fine as long as the pH was 7 or below (neutral or acid). If the pH strayed into the alkaline range the ammonia was converted into the un-ionized (toxic) form.

    Even if it were true that acidic water harms shellfish, pelagic fish do much better when the pH is close to neutral or slightly acid.

    The trouble with those academics who write dumb papers about the disadvantages of low pH is that they only look for problems and fail to realize that there are benefits too. When it comes to fish, the universities that have a clue are North Carolina State (Tom Losordo, Jim Easley and Ronald Hodson), Virginia Tech (George Libey) and Louisiana State (Ronald Malone).

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ve even seen oysters swimming in lemon juice! (on the 1/2 shell ;-)


    Yes, “Cherry Clams” or maybe “Cherry Stone Clams” … Something like that….

    Next time I’m out digging in muddy river bottoms I’ll have to see if I can identify some natives, now that I know what to look up in the field guide. Thanks!


    The clams around the black smokers are the amazing ones. Boiling hot water saturated with minerals and CO2… wonder if they have kevlar genes ;-)


    Two things amaze me in that… First, that so many academics on the Warmer side are so willing to indulge incredible fantasies in public. Second, that there are so many Average Folks who see things that just shout how silly the first folks are being… Yet the first feel there is nothing they could learn by listening to the fish farmers and truckers of the world… Sigh.


    But continents do erode. If you look at a coal map of the USA it’s pretty clear that there had been large areas of coal beds that have eroded away post uplift and pre-mining.

    Lots of oil sands too.

    Also plate collisions remodel a lot of the edges of continents. As I recall it, the oldest parts of the crust, the cratons, are not that large an area. This link has a decent map:

    It also has a detailed description of the various ages and melt profiles of the different cratons and presents the theory that they might be due to impact events. If so, some of them were really large impacts! (Suggesting the early 1/2 billion years or so were pretty wild…)

    The key thing to realize about the continents, though, is that on historical geologic time scales, they do change, are eroded away, and then volcanically reformed, with only the cratons still surviving… yet even THEY have ages from different geologic times. Not all are 4.5 Billion years old! Some of the younger ones are in the 1 to 2.5 Billion year range. (And even at that, they are a minority of land area).

    Oh, and there isn’t a lot of carbon found in those craton rocks either. It tends to be in the sedimentary type rocks. And those get much faster recycle.

    So yes, continents are more stable than ocean bottoms; but they still recycle most of their carbon on geologic time scales… until the Uranium runs out…

    BTW at the bottom of that page on alternative views of cratons they have an interesting bit of skeptical viewpoint on the reliability of many of our dates on rocks. It’s an interesting question to ask of “do we really know how old rocks are?” I thought we knew until I read that bit… Now I’m wondering. This has implications for other radiological isotope dating also (that is, we need to look at non-decay modes of transmutation and rule them out).

    Artificial radioisotope ages
    Referring to work by Dr. Melvin Cook, physical chemist and former professor of metallurgy at Utah University, science writer Richard Milton wrote that Uranium decays to lead 207 and 206, and thorium to lead 208. “There is another, and quite separate, mechanism by which common lead 204 can be transmuted into a form which… will be indistinguishable from “radiogenic” lead. This can occur through the capture of free neutrons”… from “a radioactive ore deposit such as uranium, where they occur through spontaneous fission.” So the radioactive decay process not only produces radiogenic lead, it also provides particles to turn common lead into radiogenic lead. This makes it appear that the process has been going on for much longer than it has. “Lead 208 usually constitutes more than half the lead present in any given deposit. This is normally interpreted as meaning that thorium… was very common in the deposit.” However, “the world’s largest uranium ore deposits,” in Zaire and Canada, “contain practically no Thorium 232.” The lead 208 “could have been derived only from lead 207 by neutron capture.” “All the so-called radiogenic lead can be accounted for on the same basis.” Rubidium-strontium “is subject to exactly the same neutron capture process as uranium-lead.” Strontium 86 can be transformed to strontium 87. Strontium 87 occurs both as a daughter product of radioactive decay and as a common element in rocks. “Typically, rocks contain ten times more common than radiogenic strontium 87.” Similarly, “Potassium 40 decays by capturing an electron and turning into the gas argon 40, with a half-life of 1.3 billion years.” “Argon 40 is a very common isotope in the atmosphere and the rocks of the Earth’s crust. Indeed, argon is the twelfth most abundant chemical element on Earth and more than 99 percent of it is argon 40. The possibility of inclusion of common argon with radiogenic “argon is not merely conjecture but is borne out by numerous studies of volcanic rocks that have resulted in false dates.” Lavas from volcanic eruptions in recent historical times in Hawaii as well as in New Zealand with wood inclusions datable by radiocarbon show that the potassium-argon dates are off by hundreds of thousands to millions to billions of years. “There is no truly independent means of verifying the age of any given sample” other than a few exceptional cases with historical records.29, pp. 42-50

    Interesting, that…

  17. Pascvaks says:

    I’m less and less impressed by how much we know and more and more impressed by how much we don’t know. I look over the history of our kind and see a tall, ice crystal staircase. Small, narrow steps of warm, carefree interglacials; high risers of torturous glacials. I look behind at the few steps we have ascended, and turn to look up at the countless many before us. I may very well be ‘assuming’ too much for us, we may not have the will or stamina to continue the climb up the tall slippery slope. Assuming can be dangerous I’ve learned. We’re about to once again begin the rise to the next level, a long slow and dangerous process. We assume that in 90-100 thousand years something of us will still be here to welcome the break up and move out of the arks of survival and repopulate the world with our kind. It seems to me that what we will ‘retain’ of the last 14 thousand years of experiment and error through the next glacial will not be significant in quantity, but that if we survive, it will have much of quality about it, and the next landing may be all the better because of this one. At least that’s the impression one gets by looking back at the improvements our predecessors achieved. Let’s also hope that we once again evolve into a species more advanced, a little smarter, a little better at whatever it is we’re supposed to be in the grand design of the universe, and that they stand on our shoulders and make us proud by their reach and achievements before they too climb the stairs.

  18. Matthew W says:

    Just the simple variation in the natural cycles (that are proven) show that the clams will be more than happy with more or less “acid”.
    This applies to basically the entire planet and all water critters !!

  19. Pascvaks, 9 March 2,
    You imply that even with our much vaunted technology, humanity may not survive the next glacial era. IMHO, your fears are well founded as most of the world will become uninhabitable as it was when the Laurentide glacier was 5,000 feet thick where New York now stands.

    I imagine a few millions of humans surviving in the low latitudes with just a sprinkling of people living an Inuit life style in the higher latitudes.

    That gets me wondering how anyone who professes to be intelligent could be in favor of a cooler world unless they hate humanity and most of the animal kingdom.

  20. Jason Calley says:

    @ gallopingcamel “That gets me wondering how anyone who professes to be intelligent could be in favor of a cooler world unless they hate humanity and most of the animal kingdom.”

    Remember that these are the people who make “humorous” videos of children and adults being murdered by the simple press of a red button. These are the people who fill little children’s minds with nightmares of growing up in a world destroyed by catastrophic sea level rise and drought.

    These are the Luddite descendents of Bosch.

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    Per a Glacial:

    Don’t forget that as the ice builds in the N.H., the continental shelves of the world are exposed. Get get back a huge area of land in some of the most desired places. Florida, for example, roughly doubles in size.

    Over the course of 1000 years, barely a first start of a glacial, folks could move a bit more south and not notice. As I’ve pointed out many times, you can walk faster than the ice advances if all you do is walk one weekend a year…

    So in 10,000 years of the glacial advance, when the ice is present, but not very deep, we’d have some issues (as northern farm lands in Canada and Russia would be lower in production, but the oceans not much lower yet) yet it’s pretty clear that the entire population of Canada could move to the USA and wouldn’t really notice. Heck, California has gone from something like 11 million to 37 million in my lifetime (IIRC the very early numbers ;-) which a quick check says I did:,_1950

    So Canada is about the same population as California. It would be about a 10% increase in the overall US Population (or about the same as the Hispanics that have moved in over the last few decades).

    By the time you’re into it 100,000 years and the ice is a mile thick at N.Y.City, we’ll all be living happy lives in places from Iowa to Brazil an on the broad new plains of Florida… IFF we’re still the same species… at the rate of advance of genetic manipulation we most likely would be able to make a ‘green fur’ version of us that was comfortable living on snow and did photosynthesis in the ‘green stuff’ so didn’t need to eat plants… At a minimum we will have changed significantly just by natural processes. 100,000 years ago primitive modern humans were living next to Neanderthals and just starting the ‘crossing’ that resulted in us, today.

    As I’ve pointed out before, we could put the entire global population in Texas and Oklahoma at the population density of common urban areas today. Now compare that to the size of Brazil…

    So it’s just not all that hard, over those kinds of time scales, to move everybody closer to the equator. Heck, most of the ‘far north’ is pretty low population density as it is. In 12,000 years or so of the Holocene, we have stayed pretty much in the ‘temperate to tropical’ zones.

    Per the inevitable food worries:

    Right now I could draw up a nuclear powered green house / farm / aquaculture facility that would produce food at reasonable prices in a high rise structure. We don’t do it because prices are lower and profits higher using natural dirt, but nothing prevents it if desired.

    On another thread someone posted a link to a “saltwater greenhouse” as another example:

    In Saudi Arabia they are already growing food in greenhouses with water from desalinizing sea water, so this stuff is NOT hypothetical. (In the USA large percentages of salad greens are grown in hydroponic green houses – because the quality is better and folks will pay extra for zero dirt / bugs / leaf defects.)

    If that’s what we can do now, what will be do doing in even just 500 years? (Think 1500 AD to now…)

    And since we can extract Uranium from sea water at reasonable prices today (about $100 ish vs $40 from land for energy worth thousands…) and in enough quantity to power the world for millions of years, there just isn’t much of a limit here.

    (Heck, I could even imagine a small ‘flotilla’ approach. Have ocean going ULUM Ships extracting the uranium that powers it all, a ‘factory ship’ making it into fuel rods, another making the other odds and ends of life – from plates to socks, and then a few “ocean going barges” growing plants and with some towed fish pens … All the people living on the Party Boat… Thinking “land” is just so limiting ;-)

    Or maybe I’m just naturally a ‘techo-optimist”…

  22. Pascvaks says:

    I trend to the pessimist branch of the family – The Murphy Branch: “If people can screw things up, even the most simple, basic, and essential things, they well”. Chaos breeds chaos and that which is very possible is highly unlikely when the climate turns cold or _______ (insert any excuse). I still expect dear old Mother Nature to do a little more than just turn down the thermostat. California – The Big One. Mexico – El Volcanoes. Europe and South West Asia – More La Big Ones. Hula and Hibachi Tsunami Galore. And ‘Impacts’ – just a matter of time. Droughts, deluges, pests, plagues, famines, tooth decay, bad tan days, and nothing good on TV for months days, etc. (And I didn’t even have to mention “religion”;-)

  23. Andrew says:

    @ E.M.

    You said “@Andrew:
    I’ve even seen oysters swimming in lemon juice! (on the 1/2 shell ;-)”

    If I can get back onto speaking terms with an recent ‘ex-girlfriend’…in lieu of hitting Paypal tip jar, I might be able to Fed Ex you a big box of your preferred sized oysters so you could form your own swim team. An advantage of living on Hood Canal, property owners don’t have the same bag limits, and I could fill a BIG box in minutes, lol. Gathering the oysters will not be the difficult part of my hypothetical…

    @ Everyone else that may care…

    Just a thought from a ‘mathematically handicapped’ Science Major drop out…failed Chem 121, retook it and barely got a C…Poli Sci…no math…just reading and arguing with liberal professors, my kinda degree!

    But to my Chem question…hypothesis if you will…

    I dump lime on my grass to sweeten my soil. Pac NW, we get lots of rain, the soil is typically acidic. Dead clams and corals make up limestone…so I am thinking…when a bed of clams is faced with changes in pH, does it not in fact have a built in natural defense? The shell…and the shells of all the dead relatives…would they not actually form a defense shield from pH changes?(“Shields Up Captain, Hippies from Berkeley on some acid trip are approaching”)

    I wonder if the pH of the clam beds are compared with deeper water samples. Does my question make any sense?

    As mentioned earlier, sometimes the average folk can figure stuff out that the ‘academics’ don’t get. If you ever shucked an oyster or tried to dig up a 3 foot long 10 pound Geoduck out of the mud…I am just saying…do Gavin and the boys even know how to pronounce Geoduck?

  24. E.M.,
    It does you credit to still be an optimist even though your eyes are wide open.

    Probably my old age grumpiness is shaping my attitudes.

  25. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, it comes from being in the “Can Do!” department and then doing several “impossible” things. After a while you realize it’s not that hard ;-) For about a decade I regularly did ‘impossibles’ at Apple (and later another tech company). Then for about another decade I did them from time to time as a contractor. (Some contracts didn’t require “impossibles” …)

    It just starts to be second nature after a while….

    Once was stuck by the side of the road with a bent valve push rod on an air cooled VW. At a 13 mm wrench, 10 mm wrench, pliers, and a screwdriver. Converted the engine to run on 1/2 of the cylinders and shut off fuel to one of the carbs. Didn’t want to go over 55 much, but worked fine. About a week later bought the needed parts and converted it back ;-) Stuck middle of nowhere, sun dropping to the horizon, pre-cell phones… “No worries!”

    One night at a client site had their main router die. Built up a replacement from “left overs” in their junk room (they had no spare and no maintenance contract … ‘we talked’…) and had them running before start of business next morning.

    We bid $50,000 to disassemble and move a giant robot (about the size of a small hut). The vendor, with suitable “inducement” from me came up with a no-disassembly required approach for nearly no money… (Giant ‘air hockey puck’ and we floated that sucker).

    and so many more…

    Besides, it’s no fun being pessimistic and nay-saying everything. I’d rather invent a new future than cry about the problems of the past…


    While I appreciate the offer, it’s probably not practical. Only the spouse and I to eat them and I don’t have a good way to store them…

    And we have Gooy-Ducks out here, too … (memories of mud head to toe…)

    While it is generally true that life has a load of built in buffering systems, these guys are not just dealing with an occasional pulse. They are living IN the effluent and as close as possible so the bacteria get the most nutrients. It’s got to be some kind of of active ion pumping…

    If it were just shell based moderation, the shells would dissolve after enough time…

    FWIW, on one of the “Science” TV shows they had a story about a proposal to rebuild New Orleans as a floating city. Interviewed a major ship builder too. Everyone pretty much agreed it could be done, and at low cost, relative to storm proofing. The Dutch are doing more floating homes too. The N.O. idea used hexagonal barges in a large ‘mat’ with what looked like about “one city block” on each.

    There is one heck of a lot of water in the world suitable for floating cities…

  26. Jason Calley says:

    @ Andrew and E.M.

    What you say about natural buffering and biological ion-pumping makes sense.
    See I have found their site of great help in understanding the issue. They point out several reasons (including both the buffering and the biological aspects) why the ocean acidification is very much overblown.

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