Tag Archives: Sea level rise

The IPCC is not alarmist because it understates sea level rise (while using words like “endgame” and “5 minutes to midnight”)

Almost three weeks ago, I wrote a post on the “climate myth” that the “IPCC is alarmist”. I then focused on how an actual statement from Dr. Roy Spencer was changed beyond recognition before it was “debunked” in a skepticalscience article. The climate myth “the IPCC is alarmist” is tackled in their article by the use of four examples. The subject of this post will be the argument of the second example:

[…] By 2100 sea-level rise was predicted by the IPCC to be in the range of 18-59 cm. It is now believed that figure may be far too low, because estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded from AR4 because the data was not considered reliable. (This omission hardly supports the notion that the IPCC seeks to exaggerate global warming trends).

I heard similar claims before. The IPCC is excluding things that it is not sure about, so their predictions could be much more alarmist if they wanted to. Therefor the IPCC is considered “conservative”, “cautious” or “to err on the side of the least drama”.

In this case, if estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded because “the data was not considered reliable”, then it is likely that the sea level rise is going to be faster than projected and then the IPCC isn’t exactly alarmist if they report this number that is too low. At least when it comes to sea level rise.

Well, yes … and no.

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Global warming is here already right now: is it about the facts or presentation of the facts?

A couple days ago I found a link to a news item about how we already feel the effects of global warming in Flanders. Apparently, this is how we, Flemish people, feel global warming already right now (according to the MIRA report):

  • The 18 warmest years since 1833 all occurred in the last 25 years.
  • All seasons became warmer: 3.0 degrees in Spring, the other seasons saw an increase between 1.9 and 2.1 degrees.
  • Flanders got one heatwave per three years in the 1970s. Now we get one every year.
  • De average precipitation per year increased with 13 percent since 1833.
  • The average sea level increases fast: for example, the sea level in Ostend is 11.5 cm higher than at the beginning of the 1950s.
  • The wind speed decreased since the 1960s by 10 to 15%.

I could agree with all of those points (although the third one is stated in a very misleading way). If we look at the warmest years since the measurements in Uccle, then we indeed see the last 25 years popping up. That all seasons are getting warming is an obvious result of that. We indeed got more heatwaves now than in the 1970s. There is on average more precipitation since the beginning of the measurements. The average sea level is rising and the wind speed dropped since the 1960s.

If this is true what is not to like? Well, it is brought very one-sided and no context is given. This is a typical example of how information is presented in a way that the public would perceives it as a problem. A problem that doesn’t arise from the facts, but how the facts are presented.

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Accelerated sea level rise out of thin air

Yesterday I learned from the vrt news site that sea level rise is accelerating. The last two weeks I was absorbed by a project, so it took me a bit off guard. Since I had a little bit more time now, I was curious what was really said and decided to take a closer look.

Looking at their article Sea level rise accelerated in last decades (Dutch) it became quickly clear that what was found was not an accelerating of the rise in the last decades, as the title suggests, but a different estimation of sea level rise in the the period 1900 – 1990s. It could be traced back to a study published in Nature (abstract here) by Carling Hay (a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences), Eric Morrow (a recent Ph.D. graduate of Earth and Planetary Sciences) and their colleagues at Harvard University.

Their study allegedly shows that calculations of global sea level rise from 1900 to the 1990s had been overestimated by as much as 30 percent. It was assumed that sea level rise in the period between 1900 – 1990s was 1.5 – 1.8 mm per year. But after their reassessment they came to a smaller figure of 1.2 mm per year, therefor the current rate of 3 mm per year is higher than one would expect.

That didn’t impress me by a bit. I think those scientists are seriously overstating their case and/or underestimating the uncertainties.

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The carbon dioxide trap

mtrap

It is a statement that I heard many times before: “What’s wrong with cleaning up CO2 emissions? Even if science of CO2 is not correct, we will end up with a cleaner environment”. I have to admit that is also what I thought until some years before, but came back from it.

Let me first say I am not against cleaning up pollution, on the contrary. But I think CO2 is not necessary a “pollutant” in the way we think of harmful substances. CO2 is an essential part of life. Plants need it for photosynthesis and if they would have a vote, they would go for more emissions. On the other hand we, as humans, don’t have to fear toxic effects of it. It becomes only toxic for us in very high concentrations. If we would burn all fossil fuel we would not even come close.

The reason why a rising CO2 concentration is feared is because it is a greenhouse gas. But as a greenhouse gas it is not particularly powerful, also not the most abundant. More, its effects are logarithmic, so the effects are decreasing with higher concentrations. Even the IPCC, after overstating it for many years, had to downgrade the warming effects of CO2 (they didn’t tell it with that many words).

But these are not the reasons why I came back from the statement cleaning up CO2 from the atmosphere. Yes, I think its effects on the climate are much overstated as more scientists seem to come to this conclusion, but there are deeper issues. If we declare a problem and it is in fact not (much of) the problem, then people will get creative to try solving it even if it doesn’t need solving. It can prevent us from looking at the real problems and find a real solution.

An example that I have recently read on the Climate Etc blog (on the paper of John Pethick and Julian Orford): the World Bank stated in a press release that human caused global warming will cause significant sea level rise and Bangladesh will be affected. But according to Judith Curry this line of thinking may spell danger to the population of Bangladesh because its sea level rise problem is not really driven by climate change, but by land subsidence.

Policies targeted at trying to help this situation through emissions reductions seem futile. But of even greater concern are WorldBank and other adaptation strategies for Bangladesh will not be adequate if they are targeted only at the global warming piece of the problem. This is a very large geo-political issue with regards to the substantial international (UN, WorldBank) funds targeted at climate change adaptation. Bangladesh’s sea level rise problem is not really driven by climate change – the risks here are that UN/WB adaptation solutions will be inadequate to help them deal with their sea level rise problem, or that Bangladesh will find itself ineligible for international climate adaptation funds.

Might Bangladesh become a tragic victim of the UNFCCC/IPCC oversimplification of the climate change problem and its solutions?

Another example is the Kiribati/Tuvalu story from last post. If their problem is attributed to rising sea level caused by increasing CO2 levels, then there is no need to find a solution. This attitude makes them basically powerless. Therefor hoping for the funds of those countries that feel guilty and are eager to compensate. Ignoring the real problems like increasing pressure on the fresh water lenses because of overpopulation and increasing tourism, destruction of the protective reef for building material, more paving,…

That’s the real danger: that we will not necessarily have a cleaner environment after dealing with a non-problem, how altruistic the intention might be, and that the problem still exists. Leaving us with less resources to face it. CO2 being very expensive to tackle, that might not leave much.

Taking sea level rise in Kiribati for granted

This week I read a story about a Kiribati man that seeks asylum because of sea level rise. This is how it goes: a man from Kiribati came to New Zealand in 2007, had 3 children born there and asked asylum. He was fleeing “rising seas and environmental risks caused by global warming”. There was no land he could safely return because of the sea level rise. Asylum was refused on the grounds his claim fell short of the legal criteria, such as fear of persecution or threats to his life. He then appealed the decision.

What struck me in the article was the obviousness with which sea level rise in Kiribati was taken for granted. A lawyer said that what’s happening to Kiribati in the next 30 years is a catastrophe. Does he have some kind of crystal ball? Also the “New Zealand’s Immigration and Protection Tribunal accepted the genuineness of Teitiota’s [the asylum seeker] claims”. Sure, but did they check the background of this claim somehow? Neither of them thought of doing a basic check to find how much the sea level actually had risen in Kiribati. They just took it for granted that it increased, even dangerously increased.

Luckily sea level data is available online. When looking for Kiribati, I found four sets with recent data:

Source: psmsl

Source: psmsl

Sea level stayed basically the same in all four. In one the sea level was a somewhat higher at the end, in another somewhat lower. Compared with European or American sea level rise, all these Kiribati graphs are remarkably stable. Was this a surprise? Well, yes … and no, depending how deep I thought about it.

Yes, because this is not what the mainstream media is telling us for many years now. They are telling us that Kiribati (and also the more known Tuvalu) are a bunch of “islands” that are under treat of being flooded by the sea because of the rising sea level caused by global warming/climate change. This is even how their president stated it:

More recently, President Tong has spoken of climate-change induced sea level rise as “inevitable”. “For our people to survive, then they will have to migrate. Either we can wait for the time when we have to move people en masse or we can prepare them-beginning from now …”

All quite dramatic. If you only listen to what the media tells us about it, you would think this is a island group that is going to be flooded soon. Until one looks at the data. But very few do.

But in a way it shouldn’t be a surprise because these are not “islands”, but atolls. There is a huge difference between the two, they have different properties. An island is a static piece of land in a sea or an ocean. When sea level rises the island will be flooded.

An atoll is of a different kind. They are not made of solid material, but of sand and coral rubble. There is an interaction between building up sand and removing it by the tides. This means there is a dynamics going on with the sea level: atolls rise and fall with it. When the sea level falls, more of the atoll is exposed to wind. Because of the erosion the atoll lowers. When sea level rises the flow of sandy material will increase and the atoll will grow.

In the last decades Kiribati indeed grew. Even according to the Kiribati wiki:

However, sea-level rise may not necessarily inundate Kiribati. Paul Kench at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and Arthur Webb at the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji released a study in 2010 on the dynamic response of reef islands to sea level rise in the central Pacific. Kiribati was mentioned in the study, and Webb and Kench found that the three major urbanized islands in Kiribati -Betio, Bairiki and Nanikai- increased by 30% (36 hectares), 16.3% (5.8 hectares) and 12.5% (0.8 hectares), respectively

But if the sea level is not rising, how come they have these problems with contaminated fresh water, lost crops and floodings? The ability to grow and fall according to sea level is not unlimited. The problem arises when the natural dynamics get disturbed. An atoll is a delicate ecosystem that can’t sustain an unlimited population. Increasing population and tourism will put more stress on the the fresh water lenses and they will be contaminated with salt water. Also paving a part of the atoll will end up with rainwater not flowing into the soil and the fresh water lens.

Also, using coral as the local building material is a nice thing, but with a larger population this could mean a breach in the natural protection of the atoll. With flooding of those areas as a result. Both are definitely caused by humans, but they have nothing to do with “global warming” or “climate change”. Fighting global warming/climate change will not help with any of these.
But it can help if you are hoping for money from the Western countries that are admitting being the cause of “global warming” and are very eager to pay for it. Or when applying for asylum due to global warming…

This is how the momentum is kept being build. The mainstream media only one-sidedly reports that Pacific “islands” are in danger of flooding by global warming and subsequent sea level rise because that is the most dramatic story. People read it and without checking pass the message. More of it will be communicated in flyers, magazines, newspapers, TV,… unchecked. People will start to believe that this is true because the message is being repeated…one-sided and unchecked…over and over again.