Monday, 18 February 2013

What's the Heartland Institute up to now?

A while ago we had Nils-Axel Mörner and Willy Soon making fools of themselves, claiming that crowds viewing horse-jumping on Atlantic City's Steel Pier had caused temporary subsidence of the pier, and therefore its tide-gauge, easily refuted by reference to other gauges along the north-east coast, which show similar variations. They were trying to show that tide-gauge sites are always unstable, by attempting to show that just one of the 2,000 or more sites worldwide might be unstable. For some reason unknown to me, the Heartland institute thinks that Mörner has something useful to say on sea-levels worldwide. Debunking his outrageous, always changing, and unscientific claims is easier than showing that Bill McKibben can't "do the math". I excoriate Mörner here, here. here, and here.

Now we have James H. Rust, who's
a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, a retired professor of nuclear engineering, and an outspoken critic of unnecessary alarmism over man-made global warming. He funds several scholarships for students majoring in chemical engineering at Purdue University. He currently is delivering a talk titled “America's Failed Energy Policies and The Reason Why.”
.... suggesting that NOAA has "something to explain" about his straw-measurement of sea-level at Fort Jefferson, Florida. What's a "straw-measurement"? It's like a "straw poll" - rough and ready, and you can't get much rougher than a brick, which is how James does his measuring.
Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas of Florida has an ocean-fed moat that surrounds the large fortress constructed from 1846 to 1875 and never finished. At the single entrance to the fort on its Southern side is an entrance surrounded by a border of marble. Around this border is a brick facade. Sea level height and changes can be measured by the number of bricks above the ocean water line beneath the marble border at the bottom of the entrance.
At 2:30 p.m. February 2, 2013, seven bricks were exposed beneath the fort entrance. These bricks appeared dry and this gave reason to believe the observation was made at high tide. Checking tide data for the Dry Tortugas confirmed 2:20 p.m. was high tide for February 2, 2013.
Checking books in the Fort Jefferson bookstore produced a picture of the fort entrance taken in January 1937. This picture showed all dry bricks above the water line and indicated about 7 and 3/4 bricks were above the water line. A brick and one layer of mortar has a height of about 85 mm and it was estimated the change in Gulf of Mexico water level for the 75-year period was 75 mm. This indicates an annual change in water level at Fort Jefferson of 1 mm per year.
Really? A change in the entire Gulf of Mexico water level estimated from a single observation on one day in 1937 compared with another made at high-tide on one day in 2013, and at a single location? Would temperature measurements made at those two moments be able to tell us whether the temperature there was rising, falling, or remaining much the same over that period? Of course not, whatever the trend, that trend doesn't predict what will occur, or indicate what had occurred, on any particular day. He continues
It may be argued the 1937 picture was not been taken at high tide. If this is true, then the change in sea level would have been less than 1 mm per year. It may be argued the fort is sinking due to its extreme weight. If this is occurring, the sea level rise would be smaller than 1 mm per year.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has a map of the world showing sea level changes at hundreds of locations around the world.
The closet [sic] NOAA sea level change data near Fort Jefferson is for Key West, Florida and Cabo San Antonio, Cuba. Both locations are about 70 miles from Fort Jefferson. For the period 1913-2012, Key West has a sea level rise of 2.24 mm per year. For the period 1971-2009, Cabo San Antonio has a sea level rise of 3.30 mm per year.
Sea level rises in both locations reported by NOAA data are considerably greater than rough measurements made at Fort Jefferson. It is left for NOAA to explain this discrepancy on sea level rise for locations so close to each other.
It's not for NOAA to explain anything, as we'll see, and here's a tip from me - don't ever accept an invitation to go sailing in the Gulf with the prof. My Google Maps tracing tool shows Fort Jefferson to be 225 miles NW of Cabo San Antonio, which is the extreme westernmost point on Cuba. His geographical knowledge might be said to be somewhat lacking, in common with Nils-Axel Mörner, as I'll show in a later post (v. soon). Not that geographical knowledge is a real issue here, but a sense of (scientific) direction is.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it's often said, and James has even less than that on this subject. He might have been an excellent professor of nuclear engineering, and he might be "an outspoken critic of unnecessary alarmism over man-made global warming", as I am, but he knows jack sh**, well, you know, about the tides or sea-level in general., and in the Gulf of Mexico in particular. Let's educate him a little.

There are two high tides a day (more accurately every 24h 25.2m), in this part of the Gulf of Mexico, and they follow what is, apparently unbeknown to James, the lunar tidal cycle, dominated by the gravitational pull of the Moon, modulated by that of the Sun. Not all places worldwide have two tides a day; some have only one, and some have two tides during part of the cycle, and one for the remainder. In a few areas, like the central Baltic, there are no tides whatsoever.

NOAA, who he says has "something to explain", has convenient tide data pages for their gauge sites. Here's the one for Feb 2-3 2013 at Key West.

Water level for 2-3rd Feb 2013 at Key West, Florida                                 Source: NOAA
Note that the actual tide was a little over 6" or about 16cm above that predicted. Brick-centric observations by James indicate that there was a rise of some 7.5cm over the 76-year period (2013-1937 = 76, not 75). That means of course, that had the tide followed orders, the 2013 level would have been less than the 1937 picture showed. How so? Is the sea-level here, and at Key West, an excellent proxy, not rising? Indeed it is, as the NOAA plot (thoughtfully not provided in the blog post for our edification) shows
Key West, Florida 1913-2012                                                                     Source:NOAA
This gives the impression that It's not possible for any average monthly level in 2013 to be less than that in 1937, but that's because this chart has had the "average seasonal cycle" removed (top left). It's not raw data, and it's done to make the overall picture clearer. Here's the raw plot

Key West, Florida 1913-2011                                                                Data source: PSMSL
Now it's obvious that many months in the middle-thirties had higher averages than many months in the entire period since. Here's how the data for February varied. I've highlighted Feb. 1937.

Key West, Florida; February average 1913-2011                                Data source: PSMSL
January 1937 was lower at 7055mm, but that's still higher than many months since, January 2009 for example at 7029 mm.

Here's a NOAA plot from 2nd Feb to yesterday, 17th Feb.

Water level for 2nd-17th Feb 2013 at Key West, Florida                            Source :NOAA
It should be clear by now that any single observation is just that, even when compared with another single observation, whether measured in metres, feet and inches or bricks. Rusts's post was titled "A New Sea Level Rise Data Point: Not Too Serious", and it's just that, a data point, but it reveals he's missing the point. He's right - it isn't too serious, but he's not right because of any observations or deductions he's made. He's right because the trend of sea-level rise at Key West, which he's unaware of, but which I already had in my spreadsheet for Key West (as in most others I maintain) shows this

Key West: trend in mm/year from 1913 to year on lower axis           Data source: PSMSL
..... that there's been no change in trend over the last four decades. Also, GPS at Key West Naval Air Station shows that the site is subsiding at about 0.63 mm/year, which means that true sea-level there is rising at about 1.5 mm/year. Subsiding due to crowds flocking to see the 'planes take off and land, maybe? Heavier modern 'planes? The fact that this area of the Gulf eastward including Florida is subsiding? Need any more hints?

I'm "an outspoken critic of unnecessary alarmism over man-made global warming" too, but I make observations on what I know something about, and when I see an erroneous or unscientific analysis or conclusion by anyone I'll make it my business to point out any flaws. Sea-level at any spot is modified by rate of change, wind direction, barometric pressure, and sea temperature. Conclusions by retired professors of nuclear engineering on topics outside their sphere of expertise are clearly modified by preconceived notions, and a total lack of knowledge of what they're writing about.

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