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):


These photo-like images show widespread open water in early August, though patches of ice linger south of Melville Island. Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center cautioned, however, that while the Parry Channel appeared almost entirely free of ice, it was not necessarily open for navigational purposes. Sea ice can be thin enough to avoid detection by satellite sensors such as MODIS yet still thick enough to impede ships.

(2)  A flooded New York City

Bob Reiss speaks of his interview with climate scientists James Hansen (“Stormy weather“, Suzy Hansen, Salon, 23 October 2001; with 2 corrections from his 2004 book The Coming Storm: Extreme Weather And Our Terrifying Future):

While doing research {in 1989} I met Jim Hansen, the {NASA} scientist who in 1988 predicted the greenhouse effect before Congress. I went over to the window with him and looked out on Broadway in New York City and said, “If what you’re saying about the greenhouse effect is true, is anything going to look different down there in {2030}?”

He looked for a while and was quiet and didn’t say anything for a couple seconds. Then he said, “Well, there will be more traffic.” I, of course, didn’t think he heard the question right. Then he explained, “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.” Then he said, “There will be more police cars.” Why? “Well, you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.”

Twenty-two years have passed on Hanson’s 42 year forecast.  How much have the seas risen around New York City?  The Battery Park tidal gauge shows a rise of aprox 181 mm (7 inches).  Only a massive increase in the millenia-long rate of sea level rise will flood the edge of Manhattan.

As for the need for more police “when the heat goes up”, global temperatures have not risen since Hansen made his forecast.  Also, is there a relationship between temperature and crime levels?

Here’s a graph of annual sea level recorded at The Battery in New York City (note: there are other factors affecting these readings in addition to rising seas):

The Battery (NYC), PSMSL
The Battery (NYC), PSMSL

(3)  Some of the key things to remember about global warming!

While cheering madly (ie, irrationally, emotionally, hysterically) for their faction of scientists, laypeople often loose sight of the big picture — the key elements for making public policy.

The major global temperature measurement systems tell — broadly speaking — the same story since the late 1970s: two decades of warming, followed by a pause.

This is consistent with the larger firm conclusions of climate scientists: two centuries of warming, coming in pulses (ie, waves), with anthropogenic factors becoming the largest (not the only) drivers since roughly 1950.

(4)  Other climate forecasts

  1. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle
  2. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century
  3. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses
  4. What can climate scientists tell about the drivers of future warming?
  5. What can climate scientists tell us about the drivers of future warming?  – part two of two
  6. Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future
  7. An optimistic & successful (so far) forecast by an eminent climate scientist

(5)  or More Information

Posts about rising sea levels:

  1. Climate science articles which you might enjoy reading!, 18 January 2009 — About melting sea ice and rising sea levels
  2. An example of important climate change research hidden, lest it spoil the media’s narrative, 22 May 2009 — About rising sea levels
  3. About that melting arctic ice cap, 17 April 2010
  4. Fear or Fail: about the melting Greenland ice sheet, 24 May 2010
  5. Today’s good news, about rising sea levels, 3 June 2010 — Esp note the links to articles and studies!
  6. Climate Armageddon postponed (again): the melting polar ice, 9 October 2010
  7. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century, 16 October 2010
  8. About the coming sea ice Armageddon!, 19 June 2012
  9. Shaping your view of the world with well-constructed propaganda, 21 June 2012 — About rising sea levels.
  10. Run from the rising waves! (The latest climate catastrophe scare), 27 June 2012
  11. The seas are rising, and have been over ten thousand years. What comes next?, 27 December 2012



6 thoughts on “Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future”

  1. Pingback: Africa's Road To COP18 - Checking up on past forecasts about climate change, a guide to the future – Fabius Maximus (blog)

  2. The tropical fossils under both poles and on all the continents proves( even with continental drift )that this climate of today is NOT unique and has happened billions and billions of times before. We are not gods with powers to melt planets. We are mortals, get over it.

    1. “We are not gods with powers to melt planets.”

      True (but not yet, at least). But we have the power to destroy Earth’s biosphere. Nuclear warfare, chemical pollution, and (eventually, possibility) climate change.

    1. Sera,

      The Washington Times is IMO little more than a propaganda outlet. Anything there should be regarded with caution.

      But this article is by a eminent scientist. See Nils-Axel Mörner’s Wikipedia page. He is, however, an outlier in expert opinion about sea level rise. I’ve read much of his non-technical work, and it seems impressive. But I cannot judge its validity.

      More important, we now have satellite measurement of sea levels. And its getting more accurate as methods and technology improve. So we can move beyond the controversial and messy surface instrument measurements of climate.

      The studies cited in the 14 posts here about sea level show that there is only weak evidence that the millenia-long rise of sea levels has accellerated. But data and theory provide a strong basis for concern that this might happen in the 21st century if warming continues at the two-century-lnog rate, and more so if warming accellerates.

  3. Pingback: Imagine the horrific fate of the losers after the climate policy debate ends | Watts Up With That?

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