Sea level rise “greatest lie ever told”

I am frankly getting sick of hearing phrases like “Pacific island nations are already struggling with rising sea levels” on the news and other places – never backed up by any real data. Now Dr Nils-Axel Mörner, a sea-level expert, has come out and said the whole thing is a scam. A few excerpts:

But if there is one scientist who knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world it is the Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Mörner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story.

Despite fluctuations down as well as up, “the sea is not rising,” he says. “It hasn’t risen in 50 years.” If there is any rise this century it will “not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm”. …

The reason why Dr Mörner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on “going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world”.

There is a lot of aid money to be had in claiming your country is at risk of a natural disaster:

When running the International Commission on Sea Level Change, he launched a special project on the Maldives, whose leaders have for 20 years been calling for vast sums of international aid to stave off disaster. Six times he and his expert team visited the islands, to confirm that the sea has not risen for half a century. Before announcing his findings, he offered to show the inhabitants a film explaining why they had nothing to worry about. The government refused to let it be shown.

The Islamic government of the Maldives is particularly dodgy (I had a Maldivian flatmate once & it was an eye-opener, stories of aid being sold instead of given away etc, you can’t even take a Bible into the country), so this doesn’t surprise me much. Not everyone’s motives are pure…

Now the last thing I would suggest you do is blindly believe this scientist, or to blindly believe anyone else. Just note that there is debate on this issue, so the next time someone claims any island is struggling with rising seas, make sure they back it up with actual measurements.

If they can, please comment, it would be interesting to look at the data.

20 Responses to “Sea level rise “greatest lie ever told””

  1. david w Says:

    Wow, you’re really on a roll, first the graphs now you’re happily quoting a guy that believes in dowsing on sea level rise! There really is no ‘debate’ on whether the sea is rising (how could it not with the earth warming?)

    A recent article on the things we know and how we know them and the things we don’t know:
    http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/03/scientists-track-the-oceans-rise-as-the-globe-warms.ars

  2. ZenTiger Says:

    How interesting David.

    On the very first page they acknowledge that the historical records would prove them liars, but then they happily explain that away by saying sea level measurements via gauges are probably wrong, and if we allow a margin for error on the measurements, then our own estimates are correct.

    Maybe they are, but I’m still left wondering if they are actually being “scientific” about this. What are the levels we are talking about? 1cm or less? If so, hardly conclusive proof when the rise equals the margin for error.

    I recall one report talking about rising sea levels being attributable to sea level rises, when it turned out to be more mud in the estuary. Doesn’t inspire confidence.

  3. ZenTiger Says:

    Sorry:

    I recall one report talking about rising sea levels being attributable to global warming, when it turned out to be more mud in the estuary. Doesn’t inspire confidence.

  4. david w Says:

    That’s a very unique reading of that article. Tide guages record sea level rise as well:

    As for the margin of error on their readings I’m sure they used one of the bevy of statistical tests that allow you to test the significance of a result against the instrumental error.

  5. ZenTiger Says:

    That’s an interesting graph. Pity it doesn’t go back further. Although the Holocene sea level graph puts it in perspective – no big deal from what I can tell.

    Based on the first graph, looks like whatever increase due to man-made global warming kicked off strongly in the 1920’s and ties in with general warming of global temperatures. However, making the cause out to be man-made versus a cyclical review is a bigger call, especially if only looking at 100 years at a time.

    From the first article:

    various measurements have shown that the oceans have been rising for at least the last century…that the average change over the years from 1950 to 2000 was about 1.8mm per year. Over the last 16 years, however, she said the average was 3mm a year. [Although I note that accepting the 3mm per year require validation. For example, this snippet from Douglas himself:

    VLBI/GPS/absolute gravity measurements of crustal motions can be employed to correct many long (60+ years) tide gauge records not now usable because of vertical crustal movements, improving the geographic coverage of sea level trends. Direct altimetric satellite determinations of global sea level rise from satellites such as TOPEX/POSEIDON and its successors can provide an independent estimate in possibly a decade or so, and thereby ascertain whether or not there has been any recent change in the rate of global sea level rise.

    And from the second link: For comparison, the recent annually averaged satellite altimetry data [1] from TOPEX/Poseidon are shown in red. These data indicate a somewhat higher rate of increase than tide gauge data, however the source of this discrepancy is not obvious. It may represent systematic error in the satellite record …[blah blah blah we don’t actually know].

    And of course, this is all basically IPCC data being propagated. Nils pops up with a counter opinion and you write him off because he apparently believes in “dowsing”.

    Apparently, for example, the IPCC relied on gauge readings from Hong Kong, choosing the best of 6 in the area, and the one they chose has the issue of geological subsidence. In other words, the land is sinking, not the tide rising.

    Didn’t he review the IPCC report, and note that none of the 22 authors on the report for sea level rises were actually sea level experts?

    I don’t think Nils is stating that temperatures are not slightly warmer, just that the sea level rises based on his review of the actual readings do not appear to be anything like the output from computer models being feed by suspect data.

    In one report I see he said we might get a 10cm rise (+/- 10cm) in 100 years. He also predicted the warming phase might turn into a cooling phase over the next 40 years, not sure why he thought that.

    The satellite approach might yield many benefits. I had a read of the work in this area, and it looks very promising.

    Until then, I’m keeping a very open mind.

  6. david w Says:

    Well, the tide guages and the satellite readings are direct measurements, not outputs from a computer model. Nils, who really does think water has a mystical force that can be detected by holding plastic rods, claimed that “the sea is not rising”. He is wrong. It’s quite possible that the current rate of rise is actually faster than the computer models.

    Of course recent rise isn’t on the order of the rise after the ice age, sea level has risen ~ 120m since then. But in the last few thousand years the rate had dropped to ~0.1mm/year. We know now that it’s going a lot faster, are pretty certain human emissions are the main driver behind that and there is growing evidence the rate may be accelerating further (more satellite data will sort that out). Surely the key question is not “is this rise within the range of what earth has experienced in the past” but “does the rise endanger people lives and livelihoods (and how much will it cost to mitigate the effects of it)”?

  7. ZenTiger Says:

    Sorry, my italics didn’t switch off making the comment above confusing. Hopefully, people will work out the non-quoted bits.

    “He is wrong”

    I suppose he could be. His article explained why he thought the base data that “proves otherwise” was wrong. Seemed reasonable statements to me, and he didn’t once resort to dowsing.

    Either way, your point is correct. We need to decide if we can handle a 10cm or 20cm sea level rise and prepare for that, based on the current projections.

    Or we could take on board the more fantastical projections of 1 metre to 20 metres in the next 50 years, and think about what that would mean. I suspect Al Gore is working on a new video to capitalize on those projections. It’s sure to sell well. There’s a few papers out talking about this already, looking suitably grim. And you think dowsing is unscientific….

  8. Mr Dennis Says:

    David:
    Thanks for that article, the satellite data is very interesting. It seems to show little change prior to around 1996, a rapid rise in the late ’90’s, followed by little change since 2003. This is consistent with thermal expansion from real measurements of mean temperature, which showed a rise in temperature during the 90’s followed by no rise since around 2002 I believe.

    In other words, if the temperature turns out to be cyclical, and we are now going down again, we’ve got little to worry about – sea levels may well be steady or decrease for the next while. If temperatures and sea levels do increase, it probably won’t be to the apocalyptic level the panic merchants are spouting. It will be very interesting to see the satellite data over the next few years.

    Can you refer me to a peer-reviewed publication presenting this data so I can confirm its accuracy?

    I presume you too have heard the claims that individual island nations are already struggling with sea level rise. Do you know of a peer-reviewed publication outlining the actual data behind this claim for a particular set of islands, such as Tuvalu or the Maldives?

    P.S. Sorry for the late reply, I was away for a few days.

  9. Cedric Katesby Says:

    Climate Denial Crock of the Week – All Wet on Sea Level rise

  10. Mr Dennis Says:

    Video summary – He said this, she said that, let’s just believe Hollywood’s fancy pictures of tidal waves flooding major American landmarks…

  11. Cedric Katesby Says:

    …let’s just believe Hollywood’s fancy pictures of tidal waves flooding major American landmarks…

    Perhaps a better idea would be to follow the scientific literature?
    Nobody is making the argument that you should believe Hollywood movies. That’s just for illustration.🙂

    The problem with global warming deniers is that they have no science behind them. They fail to follow the scientific process.
    There is science and there is pseudo-science.
    Deniers cannot accurately distingush between the two.

    They fail to ask the basic question.
    Where is your peer-reviewed research?

    The scientific community has it.
    ***All of it.***
    The global warming deniers do…nothing.
    They are work-shy.
    This video spells it out clearly enough…
    The American Denial of Global Warming

  12. Mr Dennis Says:

    Cedric, as a scientist I too believe in the peer review process – but I also accept it is not foolproof. One drawback with it is that if your research shows results that question the mainstream view, you may have difficulty getting it past the reviewers and the journal editor, regardless of its scientific validity. Conversely, if your research fits the popular views it is more likely to be published. So I am not surprised if there are a greater number of peer-reviewed papers on one side of the debate than the other, one of the side-effects of the peer review process is that you can expect this.

    Note too that there is a lot of funding available for research to prevent global warming at the moment, but less funding to disprove it. This also has an effect on the volume of papers produced.

    Science is not decided by popularity, not even by the popularity of a view among scientists, but by facts. And the fact that the globe is currently cooling certainly throws a lot of the panicky projections made in the ’90s into disarray.

  13. Cedric Katesby Says:

    “…but I also accept it is not foolproof.”

    Certainly, no system developed by man is ever going to be foolproof. Occasionaly, a flawed paper will slip through.
    However, the peer-review system does do an otherwise excellent job of weeding out the crack-pots.

    One drawback with it is that if your research shows results that question the mainstream view, you may have difficulty getting it past the reviewers and the journal editor, regardless of its scientific validity.

    Not really much of a drawback. The filter of peer-review should not be a cake-walk. It’s supposed to be difficult. It’s a gauntlet that the scientist must run through.
    Recent science history has quite a few examples of dedicated scientists who were initially rejected by the mainstream.
    They persevered. They produced more evidence. They wrote more papers. They won over the mainstream.
    They then went off and collected their Nobel Prize.

    So I am not surprised if there are a greater number of peer-reviewed papers on one side of the debate than the other…

    Greater number? No. That won’t do.
    Please watch the video.
    It makes it very clear that there has been a wealth of peer-reviewed scientific papers released that demonstrate the science of global warming.
    It also makes it very clear that there has been none forthcoming from the other side.
    Not some. None.
    Nobody has written a paper refuting the science of global warming.
    Global warming deniers do no work.
    They fail to submit to the peer-review process.

    … but less funding to disprove it. This also has an effect on the volume of papers produced.

    Well, firstly, this doesn’t explain why scientists who are global warming deniers haven’t produced even a small volume of peer-reviewed research. Not even a tiny amount.
    Secondly, there are plenty of wealthy business interests that would happily throw money at a scientist who could deliver peer-reviewed research debunking the “myth of global warming”.

    Science is not decided by popularity, not even by the popularity of a view among scientists, but by facts.

    Certainly. Which is why the first port of call is to demand peer-reviewed research. In black and white.
    Global warming deniers produce none.
    The scientific community, however, produces plenty.

    Excuses as to why there is no peer-reviewed research is not a substitute for peer-reviewed research.
    Leave the excuses to the crack-pots.

    Please watch the video. Tell me what you think.

  14. Cedric Katesby Says:

    Oops, I should qualify my statement a bit.
    In the past, when there was genuine uncertainty on global warming, there were indeed papers that came out disputing the emerging theory of global warming. However, that changed after the scientific community accepted the new dominant theory.

  15. Ken Livingston Says:

    “The problem with global warming deniers is that they have no science behind them. They fail to follow the scientific process.
    There is science and there is pseudo-science.
    Deniers cannot accurately distingush between the two.”

    There is plenty of both science and pseudo-science on both sides of this argument. Take a look at Lawrence Solomon’s book, “The Deniers,” for plenty of actual data from serious scientists who have a very detailed and nuanced perspective on these issues.

  16. anoniab Says:

    What they forget about sea levels is that land also rises and sinks due to tectonics.

  17. Cedric Katebsy Says:

    As I said…
    Deniers cannot accurately distingush between the two.
    They fail to ask the basic question.
    “Where is your peer-reviewed research?”
    Case in point:
    Take a look at Lawrence Solomon’s book…

    Wow. I’m prescient.
    It’s uncanny.

    What they forget about sea levels is that land also rises and sinks due to tectonics.

    By Gosh! That’s it. Tectonics! Of course.
    The scientists have forgotten about tectonics!
    The fools.
    Those mad, careless fools. They have forgotten about tectonics.
    Quickly now. There is not a moment to lose.
    Contact NASA. Or maybe…just maybe…the US Geological Survey?
    Let them know the truth.
    This has Nobel Prize written all over it.
    Boy, will their faces be red when you tell them.

  18. What Worry – About The Sea | What Worry Says:

    […] did a quick search and found some interesting stuff. The latest worry is about rising sea levels. Is it really rising? Then there is the fear of Sea Sickness. Simple don’t go to sea, (and […]

  19. David Says:

    As a sailor – actually sailing a boat that draws 6 feet of keel depth – I am intensely aware of the distance between the bottom of my boat and the bottom of the sea. NOAA and our US Coast Guard puts out revised chart data every year so mariners can make minute correction on coastal charts.

    I have not heard anyone in our sailing community discussing any change in depth. There have been terribly little revised depth notices – other than tidal and storm sandbar shifts or an adjusted or missing channel markers and similar mundane channel maintenance issues.

    The adjusted charts I still use to high confidence are over 25 years old. One would expect bridge clearances to decrease as well and be so noted on up coming chart revisions – have they?

    Pollution and coastal run off is an entirely different matter – but if you are really wondering about the sea level why don’t you all pull yourself away from the computer models and go ask the people that really need to know the sea depth to prevent serious death and damage.

  20. Lois Barrett Says:

    You have done it once more! Amazing read!


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