Tag Archives: sea level

Assigning blame for the flooding of Pacific atolls

Summary: Polar bears and pacific atolls (flooded by rising seas) are the poster children for climate change. Oddly, both are weak examples. Previous posts discussed polar bears. Here Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech) discusses the effect of rising sea levels on coral atolls.

Fanning Island, Kiribati

Fanning Island, Kiribati

Kiribati crisis: the blame game

Small atoll islands may grow, not sink, as sea level rises.
Judith Curry, posted at Climate Etc, 1 November 2015
Reposted under her Creative Commons License

Recent headlines highlight the plight of Kiribati:

Can we blame climate change, or more specifically sea level rise, for the problems of the atoll islands?  From a June 2 article in the New Scientist Small atoll islands may grow, not sink, as sea level rises, we find:

Rising seas are eating away at small islands and will eventually turn their inhabitants into climate refugees, right? Not so for some of the world’s most threatened islands, which have grown despite experiencing dramatic sea level rise.

After poring over more than a century’s worth of data, including old maps and aerial and satellite imagery, they conclude that 18 out of 29 islands have actually grown. As a whole, the group grew by more than 18 hectares, while many islands changed shape or shifted sideways. “There is still considerable speculation that islands will disappear as sea level rises,” says Kench. “Our data indicates that the future of islands is significantly different.”

Storms and other disturbances that churn up the sea seem to be more important than sea level in influencing stability, says Kench. Storms break up coral, which then gets deposited on the atolls. He says other coral reef islands are likely to evolve in the same way, and that the Maldives seem to be showing a similar effect.

“There will be less emphasis on external migration of ‘environmental refugees’ from atoll nations that has gained such prominence in the last few years,” he says. But he notes that the atoll-building sediment comes from productive coral reefs, which face a range of threats such as warming oceans and pollution.

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News! Journalists doing their job, critically reporting on rising seas & the bee-pocalypse.

Summary: In their desperate race for survival in a world with too many journalists, they’ve given a warm reception to all kinds of doomsters. Events this week suggest that at least some journalists have realized that they have no competitive advantage at clickbait, but that there will always be a market for good journalism — especially when challenging the conventional wisdom.

Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in "Psycho" (1960).



  1. The bee-pocalypse.
  2. The sea rise over our cities.
  3. For more information.


(1)  The coming bee-pocalypse

The story of the bee-pocalypse shows why we’re so poorly misinformed despite the massive growth of the news media, both professional and amateurs. The story has run for years, but with little debunking in the major news media. That they don’t grapple with major stories, especially such easily debunked ones, shows one reason they’re in decline.

For 8 years we’ve heard about death of honey bees (probably due to pesticides) and the resulting wreck of agriculture, told with varying degrees of hysteria by a wide range of publications. Some examples are “Better Planet: Beepocalypse. Can we save honey bees from Colony Collapse Disorder?“ by Josie Glausiusz in Discover (July 2007),  “Honey bee apocalypse may not be caused by evil corporations after all” by George Dvorsky at io9 (June 2012) and “The New Silent Spring: America is one bad winter away from a food disaster, thanks to dying bees“ by Todd Woody at Quartz (May 2013).

Feeding the hysteria, Bryan Walsh wrote incendiary articles at the once-great Time magazine…

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A massive melting problem in Antarctica!

Summary:  Today we have yet another example of climate science reported like game of telephone, with the last and least accurate version being the most sensational and getting the most attention. It need not be like this. Finding accurate reporting of the source material takes only a little work and rewards us with more reliable information. It will get better only if we stop rewarding those that mislead us.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Truth in science

Graphic designed by IdeaTree Company.

(1)  Start with the science

Here is an new study on an important frontier of climate science, one consistent with and expanding on previous research: “Accelerated West Antarctic ice mass loss continues to outpace East Antarctic gains“, Christopher Harig and Frederik J. Simons, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 1 April 2015 — From the abstract…

We determine the geographic pattern of ice mass change in Antarctica between January 2003 and June 2014 … Applying those to the latest time series of monthly GRACE solutions we map Antarctica’s mass loss in space and time as well as can be recovered from satellite gravity alone. Ignoring GIA model uncertainty, over the period 2003–2014 … {we} estimate the overall mass losses from Antarctica since January 2003 at −92±10 Gt/yr.

The total rate of Antarctica melting increased by 6 gigatons per year per year during the 11-year period examined, with the west losing ice while the east gained. Antarctica has a total mass of aprox 26.5 million gigatons. Still it is a worrisome trend for the long-term, especially if part of the ice sheet destabilizes. Note that most of it is firmly anchored and cannot slide into the ocean. Also, if sustained this acceleration would melt the ice sheet over hundreds of thousands of years.

This study uses data from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (the GRACE satellite) launched in March 2002, which gave the first data on Antarctic ice mass. A decade tells little about normal fluctuations, but will eventually provide a valuable new perspective on these key dynamics of the global climate.

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Good news: rising seas might not cover these Pacific islands

Summary: The press reports often and in detail about climate and climate science, with two exceptions. They tend to hide from the public the exciting progress in understanding climate (they stick to the myth that “the science is settled”). Equally sad, they ignore the (too rare) good news about climate and the environment. Many posts here have covered the former; today we look at some of good news.

The science is telling us it is already too late for us.  And so we have been asking the global community to say, OK, think about the future, the speculation of what will happen.  But don’t forget those who are already affected, those for whom it is already too late, we are working together collectively with the countries in the like situation, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, where the impact of climate change is about total annihilation of our nations.

— Anote Tong (President of Kiribati), interview on CNN, 8 June 2014


Kiribati, only 1-2 meters above sea level


  1. “Warming may not swamp islands”
  2. Some of the supporting peer-reviewed research
  3. Rising sea levels, past and future
  4. For More Information

(1)  Good news!

Warming may not swamp islands“, Christopher Pala (writer), Science, 1 August 2014 — Gated. Excerpt:

… a song blasting over Kiribati’s state radio envisions an apocalypse for this fishhook-shaped atoll halfway between Honolulu and Fiji: “The angry sea will kill us all.”

… Many scientists quietly demur.

No doubt, the sea is coming: In a 2013 report {AR5}, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that global sea levels will rise up to 1 meter by 2100. But recent geologic studies suggest that the coral reefs supporting sandy atoll islands will grow and rise in tandem with the sea. The only islanders who will have to move must do so for the same reason as millions of people on the continents: because they live too close to shore.

Paul Kench, a geomorphologist who now heads the University of Auckland’s School of Environment in New Zealand, was the first to question the dire forecasts for Kiribati and similar island nations. In 1999, the World Bank asked him to evaluate the economic costs of sea-level rise and climate change to Pacific island nations. Kench, who had been studying how atoll islands evolve over time, says he had assumed that a rising ocean would engulf the islands, which consist of sand perched on reefs. “That’s what everyone thought, and nobody questioned it,” he says. But when he scoured the literature, he could not find a single study to support that scenario.

So Kench teamed up with Peter Cowell, a geomorphologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, to model what might happen. They found that during episodes of high seas—at high tide during El Niño events, which raise sea level in the Central Pacific, for example — storm waves would wash over higher and higher sections of atoll islands. But instead of eroding land, the waves would raise island elevation by depositing sand produced from broken coral, coralline algae, mollusks, and foraminifera. Kench notes that reefs can grow 10 to 15 millimeters a year — faster than the sea-level rise expected to occur later this century. “As long as the reef is healthy and generates an abundant supply of sand, there’s no reason a reef island can’t grow and keep up,” he argues.

It’s not new news. New Scientist wrote about this four years ago: “Shape-shifting islands defy sea-level rise“, 2 June 2010 — Excerpt:

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Have we prepared for normal climate change and non-extreme weather?

Summary: The climate always changes, with or without our intervention. The political struggle over climate-related public policy has left much of America not only vulnerable to anthropogenic extreme climate change, but also to normal climate variations. Another in our series about how America sees the world, and prepares for change.

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), comment posted to “UK floods in context” at Climate Etc

Greenpeace artwork about sea levels

Greenpeace is not helping with its silly propaganda


  1. Normal climate change
  2. The long rise of global sea levels
  3. The rise continues, at roughly the same rate
  4. Projections of future sea levels
  5. Preparing for the future
  6. For More Information

(1)  Normal climate change

The climate has changed endlessly since the day the Earth was born, and will until the day it dies. Alarmists advocate radical public policy changes changes in the hopeless quest to freeze the world’s climate in its status quo (quite different than the advice of the IPCC and major climate agencies).

While the Left and Right quarrel over equally specious visions of the future, we make inadequate preparations for the inevitable. We build cities in the Southwest, ignoring  the region’s history of mega-droughts. We build suburbs on fragile Atlantic barrier islands, sand bars destined to be swept away by storms. And, the subject of today’s post, cities like New York and New Orleans lie like sleeping dogs on the highway, to be wrecked by quite ordinary storms.

The world has been warming since the early 19th century, and the the average sea level has been rising since the late 19th century. Global warming will accelerate this, a little or a lot — depending on the amount of warming during the 21st century. Here we look at this creeping danger. It’s a slow threat, but one we can prepare for.

(2)  The long rise of global sea levels

Here is a graph showing the long rise of the oceans: the yearly average global mean sea level (GMSL) from various sources — Figure 13.3 from Chapter 13 of the IPCC’s Working Group I of AR5:

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Good news about climate change!

Summary: To start your week on a pleasant note, here are articles giving good news from climate scientists. It’s easily lost amidst the predictions of apocalypse soon. At the very least, these suggest that we have more time to prepare than commonly expected.

Good News!



  1. Update on the rising seas
  2. New research about the effect of more CO2
  3. The big picture about climate change
  4. For More Information

(1) Update on the rising seas

Many experts have disputed claims that rising sea levels were affecting Pacific islands, attributing the damage to their inhabitants wrecking their ecosystems. Slowly the news media takes notice: “Shape-shifting islands defy sea-level rise “, New Scientist, 10 June 2010 (gated) — The full article is gated. For more details see “Pacific islands growing, not sinking“, ABC News. Opening:

For years, people have warned that the smallest nations on the planet – island states that barely rise out of the ocean – face being wiped off the map by rising sea levels. Now the first analysis of the data broadly suggests the opposite: most have remained stable over the last 60 years, while some have even grown.

Even better news comes from new research that shows the oceans continue to rise at the same rates as during the past several centuries, although forecast to accelerate. See “Seas will rise no more than 69 centimetres by 2100“, New Scientist, 14 May 2013

A comprehensive study of the behaviour of ice sheets suggests that … sea levels will rise by 16 to 69 cm {7″ – 27″} by 2100. That’s not too far off the best estimate in the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007: it predicted 18 to 59 cm {7″ – 23″} by 2100.

See the actual research for details:

(2) Important new research about the sensitivity of global temperature to rising CO2 levels

One of the active fronts in climate science is research to determine the effect of rising CO2 on global temperatures, with several high-profile papers published this year.

(a) The news media reports the debate (updated)

Climate slowdown means extreme rates of warming ‘not as likely’“, BBC, 19 May 2013 — Excerpt:

Since 1998, there has been an unexplained “standstill” in the heating of the Earth’s atmosphere. Writing in Nature Geoscience, the researchers say this will reduce predicted warming in the coming decades. But long-term, the expected temperature rises will not alter significantly.

A second chance to save the climate“, New Scientist, 19 May 2013 — Opening:

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Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future

Summary:  While we quake in fear at the stream of apocalyptic forecasts fed us by the news media, let’s look back at two previous forecasts about rising sea levels and melting sea ice. Perhaps we’d get better forecasts from our experts if we more often held them accountable for them.




  1. The opening of the NorthWest Passage
  2. A flooded New York City
  3. Key things to remember about global warming!
  4. Other climate forecasts
  5. For More Information

This is an update from Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010.


(1)  Opening the NorthWest Passage to shipping

Arctic Meltdown“, NASA press release, 27 February 2001:

… in 10 years’ time, if melting patterns change as predicted, the North-West Passage could be open to ordinary shipping for a month each summer.

These predictions come in a recently declassified report of a meeting of American, British and Canadian Arctic and naval experts in April last year, organised by Dennis Conlon of the US Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Virginia. Entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” …

Peter Wadhams of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge agrees that the Arctic could soon open up. “Within a decade we can expect regular summer trade there,”he predicts.

Eleven years later the “within a decade” prediction has proven false, with little (no?) commercial traffic yet on the NW Passage.

In 2012 the arctic ice melt was unusually extensive, beating the previous minimum in 2007 (see the data here).  NASA reported that satellites show that the key chokepoints of the Northwest Passage were mostly open in early August, and reached its minimum in mid-September. But NASA mentions an important detail about satellite data usually ignored by the news media (red emphasis added):

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