Saturday, 24 November 2012

Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines? Extreme metaphors from someone who calls himself a scientist

Benjamin Strauss and Robert Kopp write in an op-ed in the NY Times:
Rising Seas, Vanishing Coastlines 
The oceans have risen and fallen throughout Earth’s history, following the planet’s natural temperature cycles. Twenty thousand years ago, what is now New York City was at the edge of a giant ice sheet, and the sea was roughly 400 feet lower. But as the last ice age thawed, the sea rose to where it is today.
I can't argue with that statement, but I can argue about "Vanishing Coastlines" - they don't vanish, they move (doh!) and also with this
Now we are in a new warming phase, and the oceans are rising again after thousands of years of stability. As scientists who study sea level change and storm surge, we fear that Hurricane Sandy gave only a modest preview of the dangers to come, as we continue to power our global economy by burning fuels that pollute the air with heat-trapping gases.
"Thousands of years of stability"? Where did they get that from? I thought they were "scientists who study sea level change". Global sea level has been rising at a relatively low rate over the last few centuries, but rising it has been, rising currently at about the same rate as between the 1930s and the 1960s - the last short-term "warming phase" which many, including "scientists who study sea level change" conveniently forget. "pollute the air with heat-trapping gases" - now that's really an extreme metaphor, and unbecoming a scientist, even those who only "study sea level change".
More than six million Americans live on land less than five feet above the local high tide. (Searchable maps and analyses are available at for every low-lying coastal community in the contiguous United States.) Worse, rising seas raise the launching pad for storm surge, the thick wall of water that the wind can drive ahead of a storm. In a world with oceans that are five feet higher, our calculations show that New York City would average one flood as high as Hurricane Sandy’s about every 15 years, even without accounting for the stronger storms and bigger surges that are likely to result from warming.
A storm surge is a "thick wall of water"? Have you ever seen a picture of one? Extreme metaphors don't help sell your case in the long run, and where's the scientific evidence for "the stronger storms and bigger surges that are likely to result from warming"? No-one knows what the climate will do next year, let alone decades from now. No-one knows what changes in sea-level will occur over the decades and centuries to come. Models provide "best guesses" only. and are continually being revised and "tuned" to improve their hind-casting of reality, let alone improve their "projections" of the future.

The paper (pdf) the op-ed refers to is "Long-term sea-level rise implied by 1.5°C and 2°C warming levels" by Michiel Schaeffer, William Hare, Stefan Rahmstorf (yes, that one) and Martin Vermeer, 2012. It states in it's conclusions "Projecting sea level into the future is still associated with large uncertainties", but of course still predicts armageddon.

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