Sea level raises funding hopes

A worrying story surfaced recently of yet another proclamation that global warming grows and grows. The headline was “Rate of Sea Level Rise Increasing“.

That’s scary, and it sounds like a new result, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. It raises fears only as a means to raise funds.

It appeared at SciencePoles, the web site of the International Polar Foundation.

It said a new study in Nature announces that global mean sea-level change has increased from a few centimeters per century over recent millennia to a few tens of centimeters per century in recent decades. Moreover, quoting the abstract, they say: “This tenfold increase in the rate of rise can be attributed to climate change through the melting of land ice and the thermal expansion of ocean water.” The mere mention of “climate change” means it’s our fault, and it’s there to alarm us.

If you examine the paper itself you discover that both those statements are just parroted from elsewhere without supporting evidence (so it’s not news): SciencePoles just presents them in a new and alarming way.

Even a casual knowledge of sea level trends tells you that the sea level goes up and down all over the place all the time. But not very much. It’s accepted that, as the oceans warm, or as land-borne ice melts, sea levels will rise. But other recent papers have shown ocean heat content static or declining in the last few years and very little contribution from ice melt, so rises have been small, within natural limits and unalarming.

And this very paper is proof of that, since it estimates the “mean rates of sea-level change over the period 1950-2003 estimated from observations of ocean temperature”. In other words, they calculate the net rise due just to ocean warming and cooling in the period, displaying the results in a handy diagram they label c:
Estimated sea level rise, 1950 - 2003

Peruse it carefully. Note the dominant colour is yellow, which you can see from the scale means a sea level rise of between -0.5 mm/yr and 0 (in other words, a slight fall!). The next most-prevalent colour is light orange, meaning a slight rise of between 0 and 0.5 mm/yr. Both ranges are trivial quantities. The third most-prevalent colour is light blue, which also means a falling level. On balance, the diagram indicates a slight fall in sea levels over half a century.

These are not alarming results and they seem to contradict other papers showing sea level rise. Still, there is no evidence that the changes are caused by anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. Not surprising, since we don’t detectably affect the climate.

Increased temperature is not the only contributor to sea level rise, but it’s the important one when investigating global warming, because, if warming is significant, we are told it will make sea levels rise “dangerously”. In fact, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it will displace 50 million people by next year. Amazing, eh? There are zero climate refugees right now. To reach 50 million by 2010, starting soon there must be 1 million of them each and every week. How this will be achieved is anybody’s guess.

The statement is obviously a stupid mistake (nobody needs to malign the UN, it continues reliably to blemish its own reputation), still, it illustrates that the single most damaging feature of global warming is the rise of the oceans. No other predicted peril matches it for damage, disruption and hardship.

So when this paper tells us that global warming over 53 years caused a contribution to sea level of between -27 mm and 27 mm (about an inch up or down), equivalent to between -50 mm and 50 mm per century, is it not completely underwhelming? Why are we bothering to tax ourselves to prevent this non-event?

The abstract contains a clue to the real purpose of the paper. After expressing the possibility that the IPCC’s estimate of future sea-level rise could be understating the case by perhaps half a metre, the authors say: “We conclude that improving estimates of the spatial variability in future sea-level change is an important research target in coming years.”

In other words, keep funding us to investigate more scary global warming mysteries.

But they’ve given no reasons to be afraid — none that survive scrutiny.

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