Royal Society gives us nightmare without the terror

a nightmare vision

UPDATED 30 Sep 2010, 16:00

New graph comparing predictions from RSNZ and IPCC. Eye-opening!

The Royal Society of New Zealand just published a paper, Sea Level Rise – Emerging Issues. It reports new, more alarming predictions of sea level rise around New Zealand during the rest of the century. Or does it?

The paper warns us to expect the sea to rise several metres by 2100. Or does it?

Actually, it doesn’t and it doesn’t. We can all go home.

On a careful, sensible reading, the paper says very little but, by employing phrases such as “increasingly rapid melting”, “recent estimates of future rise are greater” and “global sea levels rose by around 120 metres”, among others, the casual reader gains the impression of dangerous rises to come. The story imparts grave concern.

But it’s all air kissing, candy floss and nonsense. They say nothing that would scare a butterfly. The only substantial statement in the entire paper is the very last one:

… the magnitude and rate of rise is poorly known, as is the way in which our coastline may respond [sic] these changes.

Which, I am sure you’ll agree, dear reader, is distinctly underwhelming. True it is, yet mild and unthreatening as the morning dew.

Search in vain for guidance

Elsewhere the paper drags us through such turgid passages as these (emphasis added to show the absence of anything worth saying or the saying of anything worth nothing):

Climate change may cause several metres of sea level rise over the next thousand years. For the decades and centuries that are important for planning purposes, we cannot yet state the likelihood of a given rate of sea level rise. However, our uncertainty is mostly one-sided, with more possible effects that might hasten sea level rise than might slow it.

New research has generated a range of projected rises that are considered reasonable, and rises considered plausible. Risk management is becoming important as a way of combining the range of potential future changes with the cost of their impacts and this provides a clear basis for taking account of the upper side of estimated ranges. This approach can allow for planning that does not lock in vulnerability, should an extreme scenario occur.

I pity a planner or civic leader combing this document for clues to a practical formulation of policy, for he searches in vain.

It tells us so little while saying so much. The paper tells us, by the figures in Table 2, that sea levels could rise from anywhere between 300 mm and 2200 mm, but Table 3 tells us that, “relevant to coastal planning” the range could be from 120 mm to 1900 mm.

“We don’t know what it will be, but we’re quite sure it will be bigger than we previously said. It’s worse than we thought!”

This is not a drill — they appear to be serious. So it could be small, or it might just be gigantic. Have these scientists made the slightest effort to refine their predictions for us? For there is something here for everyone. My daughter’s pregnant; I wonder will she have a kitten, a fox or an elephant?

Pity the student who emulates this paper

I wonder what fate would befall the Form 4 (year 10) science student who wraps his paper up in as many imponderables and unknowns (in other words, obscures the science he hasn’t done) as we see here yet attempts to provide practical guidance? Do these men have any idea how unhelpful their statements are?

Rather more pertinently, just how stupid do they think WE are?

I wondered what Professor Willem de Lange, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Waikato, might think of all this, so I asked him.

The real risk to coastal properties

His response was, as usual, short and simple. He said the following and gave a list of probabilities:

To give some perspective, the following plot summarises the probability of experiencing different events with a magnitude of at least 1 metre over the next 90 years around the New Zealand coast. The corresponding values are:
Storm waves – 100%
Tsunami – 100%
Storm surge – 60%
Earthquake subsidence – 11%
Sea level rise – <<1%

This is the graph depicting the relative strengths of the various risks.

Coastal events probable

Dr Manning, the IPCC and the RSNZ paper all avoid saying what the probability might be of a sea level rise of 1 metre by 2100. But Willem is prepared to give an assessment. In his expert view, the likelihood is much, much less than 1 per cent.

To put that risk into perspective, the probability of a tsunami exceeding 10 metres striking New Zealand in the next 90 years is about 84%. Considering which one is more likely, which future threat worries you more: a tsunami or a global-warming-induced rise in sea level?

These assessed risks are all based on published information, apart from Willem’s opinion on the probability of extreme sea level rise caused by global warming.

These are the conclusions of the latest research. Our civic leaders should be preparing to protect us and our property from the most likely adverse events and on this informed assessment those most certainly do not include sea level rise.

They should promptly stop wasting our resources investigating climate change as a source of extra coastal hazards. Concentrate instead on the perils that are much more likely.

There is more material on sea levels rebutting the RS paper and Manning’s comments but this will do for now. It’s taken too long to get these comments published; let’s see the reaction to them.

UPDATE 30 Sep 2010, 16:00

A most helpful member of the NZ Climate Science Coalition (we shall call him Rupert) provided this graph superimposing the levels predicted by the Royal Society of NZ and the IPCC on the current rate of rise.

I’d be interested in your comments, but, simply put, I suggest it’s obvious that the RS have provided a bunch of maverick data points. They might have followed others in their predictions, rather than creating their own, but of course they take responsibility for the predictions as soon as they repeat them. It’s difficult to accept there is credible evidence for such outlandish projections.

Projected NZ sea levels

18 Thoughts on “Royal Society gives us nightmare without the terror

  1. Yet nowhere do they even entertain the possibility of the world getting cooler. Cold kills more than heat, but this is never considered in the risk assessments.

    Scotland has had early snow, indicating another possible cold winter on the horizon.

    Peter Taylor, in his book “Chill” has some very interesting things to say on this subject. In particular, that we need to build resilient systems that can cope with all weather extremes. So, I completely agree, this kind of arm-waving nonsense from the RS is a complete waste of taxpayers money.

    Isn’t is obvious that you try not to build a state highway 1m above sea-level, if there are other possibilities?

  2. David White on September 30, 2010 at 11:17 am said:

    Form 4 = Year 10
    Tsunami v Global Warming Sea-level Rise = No Contest

  3. Given that the NI is rising on the east and sinking on the west due to geological influences (not BS sea levels)…..which side, according to the idiots at RSNZ, is going to rise between 120 and 1900mm ????
    And, in respect of The RS….look for a seismic shift in The RS’s AGW stance tomorrow NZ time!!

  4. Richard C on September 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm said:

    “Considering which one is more likely, which future threat worries you more: a tsunami or a global-warming-induced rise in sea level?”

    Having been ordered off Mt Maunganui beach during a tsunami alert and living in sight of White Island, I’m with David White.

    As a risk assessment resource this report is less than helpful as RT and Andy point out. Where is the cooling alternative in the risk scenario? They are completely wedded to a CO2 forced “warming world” that guarantees continued thermal expansion of the ocean.

    “The rise will depend upon the magnitude of warming that occurs, which in turn depends upon global emissions of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gas emissions have been in the upper end of the range of IPCC emissions scenarios over the last decade. Even with a halving of global emissions by 2050, there is still a substantial chance of warming above 2°C by 2100. Thus the world is already committed to substantial warming and a consequent future sea level rise due to thermal expansion.”


    I spoke to a Port of Tauranga hydrologist who described how they are uninterested in the long-term MSL at Moturiki but monitor short-term tides and dredging is undertaken to allow ship movement at low tide. Moturiki here: The “From” selection can be changed to start at 1974.

    Two things: ships are getting bigger and Ocean Heat Content (OHC) has been falling since 2004 ( The latter has escaped the attention of Beavan et al because they say:

    “Thermal expansion of the oceans makes a simpler contribution”

    A reduction in delta MSL as a result of ocean thermal contraction and less ice melt due to solar/CRF/cloudiness activity (planetary albedo dropped in the 90’s until 1997 – the ocean warmed and delta MSL spiked in 1998) rather than GHG warming would mean more dredging for harbour operators like PoT than would be the case in a warming scenario.

    No comment made on the effect of floating ice on MSL (none) and few negative feedbacks – apparently.

    “Researchers are only starting to quantify the processes that change the rates of loss from ice sheets as temperature rises. Floating ocean ice shelves can hold back on-shore ice but are susceptible to sudden disintegration. Thinning ice at the margins of ice sheets allows warmer water to penetrate under ice sheets where the bedrock is below sea level. These processes are difficult to model with numerous possible positive feedbacks (and few negative feedbacks).”

    We also have yet another dataset splice, this time land-satellite and they jump to the conclusion that:

    “Tidal records from many sites around the globe provide clear evidence that sea levels have risen over the last century by an average of 1.7 mm/yr (± 0.5 mm/yr). Over the period of satellite observation, altimetry and tidal records confirm that the rate has increased, as shown in Figure 1. The rise over the past fifteen years has been 3.3 mm/yr (± 0.4 mm/yr).”

    They immediately add the qualification:

    “The rise around New Zealand has been close to the global trend. However, evidence of an accelerating rate has not yet been seen in the New Zealand tidal record.”

    Which deflates their case somewhat.

    The satellite plot looks like this:
    A. The trend line is not guaranteed to go on forever.
    B. A reduction in ice melt and ocean thermal contraction would introduce a deviation in the delta MSL trend line possibly at 2006

    At 3.3 mm per year we should have observed a 6.6 cm (2 1/2 inch) MSL rise over the last 20 years. Anecdotally, has anyone noticed?

    I suspect the estimates of Bell, Goring, de Lange 2000 and Hannah 2004 are more realistic; 2.6 cm (1 inch) and 3.2 cm (1 1/4 inch) local MSL rise respectively over the last 20 years (yawn).

    A key research goal is to abandon traditional science in favour of model simulations now that NIWA has a new supercomputer:

    “A key research goal is to develop models that properly simulate the important physical processes and supersede the semi-empirical approaches”

    Rating this report using my quick and dirty Alarm Uncertainty Indicator (AUI) – totaling occurrences of the words “could” and “may”, leaving out the month of May, I give it an AUI score of 11 indicating a high degree of Alarm Uncertainty (could 3, may 8). Accordingly, I suggest that the title should be amended to read “Sea Level Rise Surmise”

    For comparison, the Greenpeace report “How The Palm Oil Industry Is Cooking The Climate” (last post) yeilded a very high AUI score of 27 (could 11, may 16).

    Extreme AUI is exhibited in the IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report ( Insert [could may] into the search box on that web page!

  5. “The rise will depend upon the magnitude of warming that occurs…” Debatable.

    Debatable? I’d like to know the correctness of “Greenhouse gas emissions have been in the upper end of the range of IPCC emissions scenarios over the last decade.” Mind you, I’d also like to know the relationship between anthro emissions of CO2 and actual atmospheric concentrations of the stuff.

    I love your “Alarm Uncertainty Indicator”!!!!!
    Although shouldn’t you weight the results according to the total number of words in the article? That is, the longer the article, the more coulds and mays you must find before declaring a ranking.
    But you’re the statistician (I think!).
    Thanks, anyway. Always interesting.

  6. Richard C on September 30, 2010 at 8:21 pm said:

    The “substantial chance of warming above 2°C by 2100” is based entirely on the calculation of Radiative Forcing (RF) from the emissions dataset. The actual level of emission in ppm is secondary

    What is really in question is the IPCC RF methodology that (generally – see AR4 Glossary) defines a forcing in respect to the year 1750, with levels above that year considered a forcing and that ACO2 is assumed to be the major forcing (with a little help from water vapour). The models however do not adhere rigidly to the general definition.

    “Radiative forcing (AR4 Glossary of terms)
    Radiative forcing is the change in the net, downward minus upward, irradiance (expressed in Watts per square metre, W/m2) at the tropopause due to a change in an external driver of climate change, such as, for example, a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide or the output of the Sun. Radiative forcing is computed with all tropospheric properties held fixed at their unperturbed values, and after allowing for stratospheric temperatures, if perturbed, to readjust to radiative-dynamical equilibrium. Radiative forcing is called instantaneous if no change in stratospheric temperature is accounted for. For the purposes of this report, radiative forcing is further defined as the change relative to the year 1750 and, unless otherwise noted, refers to a global and annual average value.”

    For model simulations, all CO2 emissions (natural+anthro) are lumped together and model algorithms allocate Wm2 forcing as calculated from ppm values. The CO2 spin-up dataset starts at 1832 and the solar spin-up dataset starts at 1880. These dates vary across models and simulations. So unless you know each algorithm for each allocation in every model, you will be in the dark as to how ACO2 emissions are transformed into temperature change (CS) in terms of the models.

    The anthropogenic factors, CO2 in particular, earn their major climate driver status by default because the AGW proponents can’t think of any other natural climate driver possibilities to explain post 1970 warming. This shows in the AR4 Table of Radiative Forcings. The only Natural Category forcing is solar (no natural albedo, CRF, Milankovitch cycles etc).

    The forcing in Wm2 can be calculated externally to the models as described previously in the “New UNFCCC climate chief no worse than the old” post:-

    For example, the table of Radiative Forcings (figure 2.4) in AR4 was compiled for 2005 where the ACO2 forcing is quoted as 1.66 Wm2 (1.49 to 1.83).

    To arrive at that value we select a corresponding empirical value from the Mauna Loa dataset
    MLO 2005 06 382.14 (this is concentration in ppm)

    GISS ModelE uses 379.800 for 2005 A1B and I’ll use GISS from now on to get Wm2.

    TAR provides Table 6.2: Simplified expressions for calculation of radiative forcing

    For CO2 F= (g(C)-g(C0)) which expanded looks like this:-

    F= 3.35 *( ln(1+1.2C+0.005C2 +1.4 x 10-6C3) – ln(1+1.2C0)+0.005C0)2 +1.4 x 10-6C0)3))

    This is Hansen’s “tweaked” formulation to try to make the RF methodology results closer to the observed condition. ModelE does not actually use this formulation but it can be used to readily calculate a forcing for any year. By my calcs for 2005:-

    B1 1.70 Wm2 (B1 is basically a no-change scenario)
    A1b 1.72 Wm2
    AR4 1.66 Wm2 (1.49 to 1.83)

    Although what goes on inside the models is a little more mysterious. See “4×3 ATMOSPHERE-OCEAN MODEL FORMULATION” Unfortunately the symbols don’t come across on the web.

    Problem being that time is showing up the miss-attribution of the CO2-major climate driver assumption just at the time we start paying for the non-problem via ETS.

    The CO2-forced warming world fixation is bizarre. I’ve just read Chapter 1 of the 2009 NIPCC Report prepared by Craig D. Idso Ph.D. and S. Fred Singer Ph.D
    ( from the reading list I posted in comments.

    Chapter 1 Global Climate Models and Their Limitations deals with Radiation, Clouds and Precipitation. The deficiencies and uncertainties in each separately are enough to overwhelm CO2 in the 2xCO2 scenario, let alone in combination.

    I’ve started Chapter 2 Feedback Factors and Radiative Forcing that deals with :-
    2.1. Clouds
    2.2. Carbonyl Sulfide
    2.3. Diffuse Light
    2.4. Iodocompounds
    2.5. Nitrous Oxide
    2.6. Methane
    2.7. Dimethyl Sulfide
    2.8. Aerosols

    So far, 2.1 and 2.2 have been equally instructive

    I’m glad you like my Alarm Uncertainty Indicator (I”ve only just invented it), I’m inclined not to weight the results according to the total number of words because that would imply that quantity equates to quality; a mode of operation that the IPCC seems to follow as you will discover if you try the test above i.e. the higher the score the greater the degree of desperation

    My only statistics is what I’ve forgotten from a couple of economics papers but I may have opened up a whole new sub-discipline.

  7. Richard C on September 30, 2010 at 9:26 pm said:

    Re UPDATE 30 Sep 2010, 16:00

    So now they’ll be searching for the “missing water” as well as the “missing heat”.

  8. Richard C on October 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm said:

    Pielke on ground water extraction causing sea level rise


    Y. Wada, L.P.H. van Beek, C.M. van Kempen, J.W.T.M. Reckman, S. Vasak, and M.F.P. Bierkens (2010), Global depletion of groundwater resources, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2010GL044571, in press.

    This is yet another paper that shows the interconnection among the components of the climate system. The attribution of a climate effect (in this case sea level rise) to just one cause (e.g. ocean warming and glacial melt due to positive radiative forcing from anthropogenic greenhouse gases) is too narrow of a perspective.

  9. This comment, as so many of yours are, is excellent. You’re well informed and generous in telling us what you know, thanks. I look forward to your conclusions from Chapter 2.

    The AUI: I think you should use a weighting, because, if a passage of 300 words scores 12, it indicates a far higher level of alarm uncertainty than a passage of 3000 words that scores 12. Do you agree?

  10. Form 4 = Year 10

    Fixed, thanks.

  11. Richard C on October 2, 2010 at 3:01 pm said:

    Sea Level Falling In 2010

    Okay, it’s only one third of the year but…….

  12. I compared the mass of extracted groundwater thought to be contributing to rising sea levels with the estimated mass from melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet. The groundwater totals about 78% of the ice caps’ contribution.

    That’s a significant proportion — and although it’s anthropogenic, it won’t be reduced by penalising CO2 emissions.

  13. Richard C on October 3, 2010 at 11:59 am said:

    This is an eye opener. I had not given groundwater extraction any thought until reading that report and your comment triggered some clarity in my normally befuddled thinking.

    The groundwater extraction in combination with increased run-off from massive urbanisation (plus the other factors) is probably overtaking the rate of evaporation from the ocean, so inevitably MSL will rise. O.8mm from groundwater extraction alone is 50% of the 1.6mm per yr MSL rise that Hannah 2004 found around NZ; what is the contribution from increased run-off due to anthro activities?.

    Urbanisation decreases the run-off coefficient significantly (roofs, sealed surfaces, stormwater systems) so that rainwater is transported to the rivers and ocean far more quickly than from a rainforest say. Even grassed farmland has a faster run-off than forest.

    And, as you say:

    Nothing to do – with C O 2.

    [BTW, worked on stormwater system design years ago, most of which I had forgotten – until it all came flooding back (Ha!)]

  14. Clarence on October 6, 2010 at 1:05 am said:

    You’d think that spending $180 million of NZ taxpayer’s meagre funds on climate change research over the past 10 years might have knocked off a few “mays” and “coulds” and produced at least one hard fact!

    The Royal Society paper reminds me of Peter Sellars’ masterly account of political speech in “Balham”. Something like:

    “All things being equal, and taking one consideration with another, I do think on balance that one could say, without any fear of contradiction, that existing conditions are likely.”

  15. Australis on October 6, 2010 at 1:15 am said:

    The 3.xx mm/yr sea-level increase that the Royal Socity speaks of is a NOTIONAL global average based on recent satellite radar altimetry.

    It has no application in NZ at all, where coastal policy needs to be based on the ACTUAL tide gauge records from ports like Auckland, Napier and Dunedin – which show a steady, UNACCELERATING rise through the 20th century at about 1.5 mm/yr – this is close to the worldwide average from tide gauges.

    If the local sea level rise hasn’t accelerated during the last 110 years, what is the Royal Society evidence that all the trends will reverse themselves during the next 90 years? Is this science or feng shui?

  16. Australis on October 6, 2010 at 1:27 am said:

    The Royal Society is dead unlucky in its timing. Profs Manning and Hunter have slogged away for weeks preparing a theoretical paper that says nothing new but manages to impart an ominous feeling. But, at exactly the same time, NASA put out a media release (dealing with real observed phenomena) declaring that ice sheets are melting at only half the rate the Royal society thought!

    “Using the new methodology, the researchers, led by Xiaoping Wu of JPL, calculated new estimates of ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica that are significantly smaller than previous estimates.

    According to the team’s estimates, mass losses between 2002 and 2008 measured 104 (plus or minus 23) gigatonnes a year in Greenland, 101 (plus or minus 23) gigatonnes a year in Alaska/Yukon, and 64 (plus or minus 32) gigatonnes a year in West Antarctica. A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds.

    The smaller but significant ice loss estimates reflect the revised role that post-glacial rebound was found to play in relation to current ice mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica. Post-glacial rebound (known as glacial isostatic adjustment) is the response of the solid Earth to the retreat of glaciers following the last Ice Age. After the weight of ice from the land surface was removed, the land under the ice rose and continues to slowly rise.”

  17. Quentin F on October 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm said:

    They (RSNZ) should read this from C3
    “Working with stalagmite SV1 from Grotta Savi — a cave located at the southeast margin of the European Alps in Italy…..This work revealed — among several other things — the occurrence of the Roman Warm Period and a Medieval Warm Period…..the five researchers say they were “characterized by temperatures that were similar to the present,” while with respect to the Roman Warm Period, they say its “temperatures were similar to those of today or even slightly warmer…..we have here yet another example of the millennial-scale oscillation of climate that has characterized the earth throughout glacial and interglacial periods alike; and we note that it provides three good examples of times when temperatures were equally as warm as they are presently, or even warmer, in spite of the fact that the air’s CO2 content was much lower at those earlier times than it is today.”

  18. Richard C on October 14, 2010 at 3:01 pm said:

    Jo Nova has a new post on this:

    “Shock! Climate models can’t even predict a linear rise”

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