Sealevelgate

Imagine this. In its latest report, the IPCC has predicted up to 3 meters of sea level rise by the end of this century. But “climate sceptics” websites were quick to reveal a few problems (or “tricks”, as they called it).

First, although the temperature scenarios of IPCC project a maximum warming of 6.4 ºC (Table SPM3), the upper limit of sea level rise has been computed assuming a warming of 7.6 ºC. Second, the IPCC chose to compute sea level rise up to the year 2105 rather than 2100 – just to add that extra bit of alarmism. Worse, the IPCC report shows that over the past 40 years, sea level has in fact risen 50% less than predicted by its models – yet these same models are used uncorrected to predict the future! And finally, the future projections assume a massive ice sheet decay which is rather at odds with past ice sheet behaviour.

Some scientists within IPCC warned early that all this could lead to a credibility problem, but the IPCC decided to go ahead anyway.

Now, the blogosphere and their great media amplifiers are up in arms. Heads must roll!

Unthinkable? Indeed. I am convinced that IPCC would never have done this.

The North Sea (see Stefan’s photostream on Flickr)

But here is what actually did happen.

In its latest report, the IPCC has predicted up to 59 cm of sea level rise by the end of this century. But realclimate soon revealed a few problems.

First, although the temperature scenarios of IPCC project a maximum warming of 6.4 ºC (Table SPM3), the upper limit of sea level rise has been computed for a warming of only 5.2 ºC – which reduced the estimate by about 15 cm. Second, the IPCC chose to compute sea level rise up to the year 2095 rather than 2100 – just to cut off another 5 cm. Worse, the IPCC report shows that over the past 40 years, sea level has in fact risen 50% more than predicted by its models – yet these same models are used uncorrected to predict the future! And finally, the future projections assume that the Antarctic ice sheet gains mass, thus lowering sea level, rather at odds with past ice sheet behaviour.**

Some scientists within IPCC warned early that all this could lead to a credibility problem, but the IPCC decided to go ahead anyway.

Nobody cared about this.

I mention this because there is a lesson in it. IPCC would never have published an implausibly high 3 meter upper limit like this, but it did not hesitate with the implausibly low 59 cm. That is because within the IPCC culture, being “alarmist” is bad and being “conservative” (i.e. underestimating the potential severity of things) is good.

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