Rising seas alert! Watch how science becomes a sensational news story.

Summary: Another day, another interesting study about our changing climate misreported by journalists to ignite fear in their readers. The subject is rising seas from the melting of Antarctica. First we look at the science, then at journalists’ hype. You decide how this news should influence the public policy debate about the best response to climate change.

Greenpeace artwork about sea levels
Example of Greenpeace at work.

Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise

Robert M. DeConto & David Pollard in Nature, 31 March 2016


“Polar temperatures over the last several million years have, at times, been slightly warmer than today, yet global mean sea level has been 6–9 metres higher as recently as the Last Interglacial (LIG, 130,000 to 115,000 years ago) and possibly higher during the Pliocene epoch (about three million years ago). In both cases the Antarctic ice sheet has been implicated as the primary contributor, hinting at its future vulnerability.

“Here we use a model coupling ice sheet and climate dynamics — including previously underappreciated processes linking atmospheric warming with hydrofracturing of buttressing ice shelves and structural collapse of marine-terminating ice cliffs — that is calibrated against Pliocene and Last Interglacial sea-level estimates and applied to future greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100 and more than 15 metres by 2500, if emissions continue unabated. In this case atmospheric warming will soon become the dominant driver of ice loss, but prolonged ocean warming will delay its recovery for thousands of years.”

About the study

Their predictions of rising sea levels

Here is the core of the study’s forecast. Red highlight added to their key finding.

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The New Yorker’s “The Siege of Miami” reveals a serious problem

Summary: Today’s post examines a recent example of climate fear-mongering. Not only is this misleading (at best), but it shows how this propaganda makes it more difficult for us to clearly see the world and respond to its many dangers.

AR5: projections of rising sea level

Today’s fear-mongering: “The Siege of Miami

By Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
“As temperatures climb, so, too, will sea levels.”

The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.

… According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.

“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.

Fear-mongering like this is the path to fame for journalists and scientists in today’s America. Let’s look at Kolbert’s well-written propaganda.

“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century.”

That is the high-end of the range to the worst of the four scenarios considered by the IPCC’s AR5 (RCP8.5; see the graph above).  Professor Wanless forgets to mention that the low-end for that scenario is only 21 inches, that RCP8.5 makes unlikely assumptions about population and technology (e.g., the late 21stC is a coal-burning world like the late-19th), and that the IPCC gives only “medium confidence” to their sea-level projections. See AR5’s conclusions here.

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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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