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Sea level rise: The New York Times got the story

Filed under: — stefan @ 15 November 2010

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an excellent cover story on sea level rise, together with two full pages inside the paper, fancy graphs and great photographs (online version here). The author, Justin Gillis, researched the piece for months, visited Greenland and talked to most of the leading scientists in the field – many of which he cites in the article. The science presented is correct and up-to-date and the story is a gripping read. That’s how science journalism should be!

What is going on in Greenland? (c) The New York Times.

In the area of sea level rise, science has moved along quite a bit since the last IPCC report was published in 2007 (see for example my commentary at Nature together with that of Jason Lowe and Jonathan Gregory), and Gillis shows that most of the experts now assume a considerably higher rise until 2100 than IPCC: about one meter, potentially even more. I also had to change my position on this – only a few years ago I assumed lower values, too (see for example our book Our Threatened Oceans). By now, several US states use our projections for coastal planning (e.g. California, North Carolina) and Obama’s science adviser John Holdren shows them in his presentations.

For those interested in the projections in metric units and broken down for emission scenarios, please consult the original version. (c) The New York Times

Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of journalists that reported on our work, but seldom was the cooperation so professional and the result so convincing as with Gillis. It is an example for how professional journalism can prove its advantage over the growing competition by blogs – few bloggers could afford such in-depth research to give a broad overview of the state-of-the-art of a particular scientific issue. This is on a completely different level than the standard quickly-cobbled-together pieces based on a press release by Science or Nature, which are so hilariously spoofed by Martin Robbins (who made me laugh out loud).

Naturally, every journalist would love to do a big story like Gillis – it’s up to the editors to grant them time and travel expenses for such a project, and then two pages of the paper. Kudos to the New York Times for making this possible even in times of tight budgets!

231 Responses to “Sea level rise: The New York Times got the story”

  1. 51

    It’s good to see at least some quality reporting. Here in Australia, journalists get fired for fact checking. I went last night to a talk by Naomi Oreskes, based on her Merchants of Doubt book. What I find remarkable about all this is that exactly the same tactics have been used in defence of tobacco and a slew of other industries against science, and journalists still don’t get it.

    You can argue cognitive dissonance in the case of tobacco (many journalists, at least when this was an issue, smoked). To me the most bizarre case of misreporting is the way Bjorn Lomborg was fêted by The Economist for a book he wrote when the only other thing he’d published was an obscure theoretical political science paper. Either the magazine had reporters skilled enough in the science to understand his material, or asked competent scientists to evaluate it, you would think, since they couldn’t accept his views on reputation alone. But there’s no evidence of that. Meanwhile Lomborg has almost completely reversed himself and now writes how the most logical thing is to invest in clean energy rather than whatever else he imagines we are all talking about, and he still gets space in The Australian. To quote Homer Simpson: “D’oh”.

    There’s no logical explanation for any of this. It makes me wonder if I should set myself up as an expert in the Chinese economy and start writing for the popular media. I know nothing about that, but, hey, that’s never been an obstacle.

    Anyone up for a psycho-sociological study of journalism?

  2. 52
    pete best says:

    Still a fair few people posting here as if RC and the NYT were talking complete nonsense. I know that in some peoples eyes RC is a pro ACC site but in reality it is a pro science site and if 100 ppmv of climate forcing along with others (other GHGs, land use changes etc) are the likely culprits to be leading to this glacial behaviour then I do not see an issue with it as long as its the scientific best answer rather than some mere denial based on nothing scientific as some posters appear to be stating here.

    The quote from John Cristy is unfortunate perhaps but its more than compromised by all of the other quotes. Pro ACC people should not feel they need to comment on him being quoted when many more are too on the science side too.

  3. 53
    Steve Metzler says:

    46. beegdawg007 says:

    First, a quick google of “rising sea level” would take anyone really interested in facts to a Wiki page which shows that, based on 20+ global tide guages, the sea has been rising at a steady rate of 1.8MM/yr since 1900 (less than 8 inches a century).

    It always has to be quote mining with you lot, doesn’t it? Because if you take even whole sentences from the original article, let alone paragraphs, then you can’t put your disingenuous spin on it. Let’s see what the entire first sentence said (even though I know you lifted part of what you said from the accompanying diagramme to make a nice contrarian mash-up out of it):

    Wikipedia: Current sea level rise

    Current sea level rise has occurred at a mean rate of 1.8 mm per year for the past century,[1][2] and more recently, during the satellite era of sea level measurement, at rates estimated near 2.8 ± 0.4[3] to 3.1 ± 0.7[4] mm per year (1993–2003).

    Oh… so the *rate* of sea level rise has *increased significantly* recently? Why did you omit that important piece of information?

  4. 54
    Francis says:

    Chris Dudley @ 44: Here in southern California we’ve been building barrier wells for some time now to prevent / reverse salt water intrusion into our vital coastal groundwater basins. There’s actually a pretty rich literature on the topic. Essentially you need to create high pressure zones within aquitards to keep the ocean out.

  5. 55
    Steve Metzler says:

    Sure has gone suddenly quiet here. Either the mods have taken a well-deserved break, or could it be that everyone is busy reading this:

    Replication and due diligence, Wegman style

  6. 56
    Jim Eager says:

    beegdawg @46: However the rate the seal level has been rising has not changed. In fact, the sea has been rising at this rate for thousands of years.

    I’ll take it you didn’t watch the Mitrovica talk on sea level rise, did you?
    Pitty, you would have saved yourself the embarrassment of having relied of true junk science.

  7. 57

    Dan (#45), don’t be too sure that Maslowski was wrong, either–particularly since he didn’t “project the Arctic to be ice-free by 2013,” he said it “could be”–and by 2016, +/- 3 years, not “by 2013.” (Yes, of course 2013 is included at the edge of the uncertainty, but it wasn’t his best estimate.)

    You should also note the definition: “By “ice-free,” Maslowski. . . means more than an 80% drop from the 1979-2000 summer volume baseline of ~200,00 km^3.”

    Having watched the ice melt very closely indeed this year, I for one am convinced we’re in a quite different regime than we have ever seen. It may very well be what a “death spiral” actually looks like.

    Details on what Maslowski actually said are here:

  8. 58
    Chris Dudley says:

    Francis (#54),

    Thanks, that is interesting.

  9. 59
    Susan Anderson says:

    54. Francis on water: Your comment is a good example of why I read right through the comments on RC as much as I can. Good stuff.

    And for anyone interested, Boston had a Sea Level Rise Forum last Tuesday that I was able to attend. A real eye opener – hign mucky-mucks from real estate and developers paying attention, and Rahmsdorf quoted (Partners Health Care taking future into account in developin sites). Good stuff!

    Did anyone see the creative exhibit “Rising Currents” at MOMA, or Venice Biennale? Creativity working at its best. I liked the idea of walking under a glass (plastic?) ceiling at sea level. They promised the material would be on the web soon; you can read about the meeting, and find some of it at MOMA, but I think it will be more complete later.

    Just took a look, and Kairos Shen (what a name!) summation included mention of: (a) being sent to Climate Change boot camp with reps from 15 other cities, and (b) metaphor with WWIII – if climate change were that, we’d find the resources.

    Couple more citations from my notes (time for me to take a closer look and get sorted on this, sorry for sloppy refs):
    Antonio di Mambro, Boston Visions, plan for harbor barrier from 1988 (!)
    Dutch Delta Commission Report mentioned as being very thorough (pour cause)

  10. 60
    Susan Anderson says:

    sorry, Rahmstorf, won’t misspell it again!

  11. 61
    noniono says:

    Interesting that mainstream is now publishing this info.

    It always strikes me how the sea rise predictions assume a steady increase .. but anyone who defrosted any kind of container can easily see that after a slow initial melting phase a catastrofic slide of ice and water ALWAYS happens. I bet Greenland will be not different.

    The past record of melting in North America shows clear proof of catastrofic mega-floods. What was the timescale of these floods? I am not sure, but I bet it was days, not years. Once the floodgate opens, it gets wider quickly as the water and remaining ice escavate.

    What is the status of the greenland ice sheet? how close is it to produce a mega-flood event? How much liquid water is contained in lakes below the ice sheet? How much is added every year? I hope we do know this information, and I hope someone is planning to measure this stuff in some reliable way. There is already an interesting paper that says that water leaking into the ice sheet makes the thermal impulse response go down to a few years.

    If a megaflood happens, we will have 3-5 feet of sea level increase + the megaflood. This does not comfort me very much: how much did the seawater suddently raise as a consequence of the North American mega-flood?

    A megaflood is also likely to happen in autumn, right before refreezing starts: an enormous quantity of meltwater would then go into the ocean, decreasing salinity, suddently stopping the thermoaline circulation and raising the seawater surface freezing temperature. A very sudden and extensive refreezing of sea surface would be likely to follow in the winter, causing a sudden increase in albedo which would compound the stopping of the circulation.

    I hope someone here can answer me and hopefully say that the above is totally unlikely to happen soon . Thanks!

  12. 62
    Alan of Oz says:

    I disagree with Eric’s response to #14, 1-2 centuries is not an unusually long time to ponder for major civil engineering projects such as dams, large bridges, sewerage systems, etc. Reducing our emissions is definitely a major civil engineering project, so whoever is going to do it does need to think past their own lifetime.

  13. 63
    Chris Dudley says:

    Here is an EPA chapter on salt water intrusion barrier wells describing what Francis pointed out:

    It strikes me that Southern California is using out-of-watershed water from the Colorado River to inject while the Potomac is an estuary. If fresh water is taken from up stream to inject along the newly brackish part, then fresh flow is reduced which would then shift the brackish/fresh line further upstream so you would then need some extra injection wells perhaps in Prince George’s County. Perhaps the effect would be less if we stopped using wells and just took the Upper Potomac water for drinking, something that the DC water district has been trying to sell us for some time. But that would encourage completely unrestricted development and the destruction of Mattawoman Creek and other surface water resources needed for the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

    Hum… Sea level rise just makes things worse and worse.

  14. 64

    A few people have been complaining about the false balance provided by the brief inclusion of Christy’s position. I actually liked that part, and I think it served a subtle and valuable purpose. It’s a good example of how to do the narrative correctly.

    It was only two short paragraphs on the second page, sandwiched between more specific, detailed and reasoned comments and descriptions by and about “real” scientists in that specific field of expertise. In comparison, Christy’s nature and position seemed vague, with general statements that stand in sharp contrast to the detailed science discussed to that point, and after.

    I think to any reasonable person (unreasonable people having stopped reading before the end of the first page), it reflects poorly on the entire skeptical position, but without setting off alarms by actually making it seem like that is the position of the author. It leaves the skeptic position as looking like dismissive hand waving lacking in substance.

    That sort of non-argumentative tactic, I think, is better than either ignoring the deniers, or trying to directly refute them (and so giving weight to their arguments by making enlarging the conflict within the story).

    I only wish that the article had mentioned the GRACE measurements, either immediately before or after Christy’s paragraphs, perhaps with the subtle comment that even the low end Wu 2010 figures exceed the most recent IPCC estimates, which means that the melt rate is at best only worse than we thought, and quite possibly (probably) much, much worse.

    I suppose I also wish that they’d explicitly stated Christy’s specialty and role within climatology, rather than merely labeling him as a climatologist (with the false implication that merely being a climatologist qualifies you to authoritatively comment on anything to do with climate, on a par of any other climatologist, regardless of specialty, track record, or standing among your peers).

    Then again, as I said, this position was rather subtly worked into the article merely by what wasn’t said about or by Christy, rather than what was said.

  15. 65
    Lennart van der Linde says:

    I agree with Alan of Oz at #62: we need to think ahead 1, 2 even 3 centuries. If 1 meter of SLR at 2100 seems probable and 2 meters cannot be excluded, what does this mean for SLR and its potential speed at 2200 or 2300? As Jim Hansen and others ask: how is civilization going to adapt to an average SLR of 3 meters (or even more) per century for centuries? Once this process gets going, after a slow start-up, we’re not likely at stopping or slwoing it any time soon.

    It seems we cannot exclude a SLR of 10 meters by 2300 once we have about 3 degrees C of global warming. During the Eemian about 120.000 years ago it was only about 1-2 degrees warmer than now, but SL was on average about 5 meters higher with highs up to 6-9 meters higher. The speed of SLR seems to possibly have been as high as almost 3 meters in 50 years (Blanchon et al) with an average of 1-2 meters per century. But back then the initial forcing was the small and slow orbital change of earth’s position toward the sun, with the ‘slow’ CO2/GHG and albedo feedbacks as the big amplifiers. Now we have a much faster and bigger initial forcing: our CO2/GHG emissions over the past two centuries and probably at least the coming half century.

    So how slow or fast will the CO2/GHG and albedo feedbacks kick in this time? Will it take centuries, or only decades? The ice sheets are starting to melt now, it seems. With more warming and feedbacks in the pipeline this melting will accelerate. But how fast we do not know. We seem to know too little from the past and present to be able to predict with high confidence future melting and SLR. But as Hansen and others stress, on the little we do know it seems we cannot exclude SLR of several meters/century over the coming centuries, with maybe a max of about 10 meters by 2300. And, if we mitigate too little and too late, possibly up to 75 meters over the coming two millennia (the ice free planet).

    These seem too be the risks we’re deciding about in the coming years and decades. So we better think carefully how much risk we’re willing to take on behalf of the generations after us and how much mitigation we need to realise to minimize these risks. The more mitigation the sooner, the better it seems to me. As Stefan said: in 15 years or so we may know some more about the current possible acceleration of SLR and that may give us some more certainty about the potential future SLR. But if we wait with serious mitigation until then our chances to do something about it will be significantly smaller than now.

  16. 66
    Francis says:

    Southern California is hydrologically connected both to northern California via the State Water Project and the Colorado River via the Colorado River Aqueduct. There’s also a surprising amount of water in our local watershed. But the biggest new source of water for the barrier system is treated sewage.

    The larger point is that coastal communities around the world are going to end up following in our footsteps and creating complex (and expensive) conjunctive use systems. It’s still cheaper than desalinating groundwater gone brackish from seawater intrusion.

  17. 67
    Dan H. says:

    Kevin (#57) I have been watching the Arctic sea ice for quite some time also. Temperatures have been slightly below average during the summer months for the last several years, but above average during the rest of the year. 2010 was similar, except that the deviation from the average was less than in previous years. This resulted in a maximum ice extent which was the greatest since 2002, infact, it has been increasing every year since the low recorded in 2006. The minimum this year was similar (although slightly lower) than 2009, it was higher than either 2008 or 2007, and lower than 2005 and 2006. The sea ice has been increasing over the past few years.
    Yes, these are short-term trends, and that is my point. Maslowski made his calculations based on short-term data trends. If we were truly in a “death spiral,” then I would not expect the sea ice to be increasing as measured in the past few years.

    Analysis of the NOAA tide gauge data yield a median SLR of 1.1 mm/yr with no acceleration observed during the 20th century.

    [Response: This link is a good example of why there is professional science, published in peer-reviewed journals. Burton has simply forgotten to correct the station data for glacial isostatic uplift – quite a few stations are subject to land uplift resulting from the melting of the ice sheets of the last Ice Age, which is often bigger than the sea level trend (e.g. in Finland uplift can be over 9 mm/year). This is completely standard with sea level experts. -stefan]

  18. 68
    Crystal says:

    hello there

    Sorry if this is the wrong place to post this but I was wondering if any leading experts really have any solid process of not only reducing further damage but of also reducing the effects? it seems to me that either way we are in for some major changes that can’t really be stopped other then trying to change our habits. Again I apologize if this is the wrong place to ask. Thanks in advance.

  19. 69
    Sir says:

    Dan H #67 Look at the graph of minimum sea ice on Jim Hansen’s web site.
    If you draw a trend line from 1980 to 1996 and one from 1996 to 2010, the trend is definitely steeper 1996 to 2010. Deniers like to talk about the increase since 2007, but you can’t look at the graph and make much of that increase.

  20. 70
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Dan H.
    > Burtonsys
    unpublished; looks similar to this rather old published work:

    Don’t fail to read the last sentences of the Abstract at least, then look at the citing papers to bring yourself up to date.

    Ask yourself, why isn’t something so revolutionary publishable?
    Vast conspiracy? Outdated analysis of data? Fails to consider satellite work?
    Many explanations. YMMV.

  21. 71
    Jim Eager says:

    Dan H wrote @67: “The minimum this year was similar (although slightly lower) than 2009, it was higher than either 2008 or 2007, and lower than 2005 and 2006.”

    Dan must have misplaced the adjectives “lower,” “similar” and “slightly.” He should have written:
    The minimum this year was lower than 2009, higher than 2007 by a similar amount, and slightly higher than 2008.

    Next Dan wishfully wrote: “The sea ice has been increasing over the past few years.”

    Oh really?

    Dan then goes on to admonish Maslowski for using short term data to predict a trend.

    I’ll give Dan H this: he certainly has chutzpah.

  22. 72

    #67 Dan H.

    Take a look at my Arctic monitoring page:

    Please point out the recovery you are speaking of? Ah yes, you recognize short term is natural variation. But you are referring to ice extent, not ice mass or ice volume. If you really want to understand this concentrate on the volume not extent.

    The death spiral is in the loos of ice volume. Around 10% per year. That’s truly a lot of ice loss.

    Take a look at the video here:

    We are losing the Arctic ice and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

    Economics: Balancing Economies
    October Leading Edge: The Cuccinelli ‘Witch Hunt”

    Fee & Dividend: Our best chanceLearn the IssueSign the Petition
    A Climate Minute: Natural CycleGreenhouse EffectClimate Science HistoryArctic Ice Melt

  23. 73

    #68 Crystal

    Check out the Fee and Dividend solution.

    I understand it is difficult for people to get their heads around policy, but this is a really good (and very simple) idea.

    We need a price on carbon. This provides a revenue neutral progressive solution to help move us faster towards a clean energy future.

    Economics: Balancing Economies
    October Leading Edge: The Cuccinelli ‘Witch Hunt”

    Fee & Dividend: Our best chanceLearn the IssueSign the Petition
    A Climate Minute: Natural CycleGreenhouse EffectClimate Science HistoryArctic Ice Melt

  24. 74
    Jathanon says:

    Dan #67 say
    Temperatures have been slightly below average during the summer months for the last several years, but above average during the rest of the year.

    These temperatures graphs are model outputs, with big changes in source data over time. Even the models have changed, so they cannot be used as a year to year comparison, just a relative idea of the “average” temperature in the arctic.
    As for the tide gauge analysis, I don’t see where they corrected for isostatic crustal movement.

  25. 75
    David Miller says:

    Dan H thinks the ice is recovering because 2010 had a higher extent than 2008, and the last years had a higher minimum extent than the record shattering 2008.

    Dan, you need to understand that 2010 set lots of records for the rate at which ice melted, and for how much actually melted out. Hint, 2010 started from a higher extent than 2007 did….

    “extent” is a horrible measure for the amount of ice we have. “extent” is the amount of sea that has at least 15% ice in it. Winds can blow and compact it into a smaller area and ‘poof’ the extent goes way down. Conversely, the winds can scatter the ice and X square km of ice at 50% concentration becomes 2X square km of 25% ice and extent has doubled.

    Area is a better measure than extent. You can find arctic ice area here figures. They’re not terribly different in the ranking: 2007 had an area minimum of 2.9615631 million sq km, 2008 had 3.0035558, and 2010 had 3.0721295. That’s only 65% of the mean for that date, but it’s OK because it’s 2% higher than the area minimum for 2008?

    Volume is the best measure of the health of arctic ice, however, and one can see very clearly from this graph that the ice is not anything like recovering. Citing a 70K sq km increase in area over 2008 while the volume has decreased by several thousand cubic kilometers seems misleading at best.

  26. 76
    Daniel Bailey says:

    Re: Crystal @ 17 November 2010 at 2:45 PM (currently comment 68):

    Welcome to the party. You must have taken the Red Pill. :)

    While I don’t think your question is on-topic, it’s too important to go un-answered. I would suggest going over to this post at Skeptical Science where many informed individuals seek to answer that very question.

    Hope that helps!

    The Yooper

  27. 77

    73 (John P. Reisman),

    I’d actually like to propose a “fee or wager (and dividend)” system.

    It works just like fee and dividend, except that carbon producers also have the option of entering a wager instead of a fee. If they choose to pay the fee, that’s it, that’s what they pay (per unit of carbon). If they choose to wager, however, that wager (per unit of carbon) goes into the books. The amount to be paid will be annual, based on some combination of measurable factors (global temperature and precipitation anomalies, sea level rise, summer Arctic ice extent, etc.) which are exceeded in any particular year, and substantially larger than the flat fee — potentially much larger, depending on the final, total effects on the climate, and how long those effects last. It would be great if this fee could be further supplemented by direct measures of economic impacts (costs of levees and dikes, lost agriculture, displaced businesses and populations, etc.).

    Basically, they get to either admit there’s a problem now, and pay an appropriate fee, or else they get to wager that there is no problem, but if there is, they will pay through the nose (i.e. something to completely offset the expense that their FF profits are costing the rest of us, plus a penalty for playing games with the world, and all of our lives).

    I’m willing to bet that, as loud as the chorus is claiming that climate change isn’t happening and isn’t possible and couldn’t be, none of the big FF corporations would choose the wager instead of the fee.

  28. 78
    Dan H. says:

    Jathanon, the tide gauges analysis does not correct for isostatic crustal movement. That is only necessary for the satellite measurements. The tide gauges are the measure of the sea level at particular coastal sites. This is ultimately the main concern for sea level rise. Only 19 stations had recorded sea level rise above 3 mm/yr during the measurement period, while 14 had drops in sea level of greater than 3 mm/yr. The average rate of sea level rise was only 0.6 mm/yr. This is the concern, after all, that the ocean will rise above its current level and inundate low lying areas.
    Several people seemed to miss my point about using short-term data trends. Extrapolating them into the future is a fool’s venture.

  29. 79
    adrian smits says:

    David A Burton has done an analysis of global mean sea level(cmsl) trend that includes distance weighted averaging. It seems to indicate no increase of sea level in more recent times. Whats up with that?

  30. 80

    I can’t seem to find a scientific paper by David A. Burton on sea level rise on Scholar or anywhere, for that matter, can you give me a link to it please?

    Thanks in advance.

  31. 81
    Pete50 says:

    Its reassuring to see that the MSM recognises the reality of the primitive degree of understanding in the science of glaciology.

    “Climate scientists readily admit that the three-foot estimate could be wrong. Their understanding of the changes going on in the world’s land ice is still primitive. But, they say, it could just as easily be an underestimate as an overestimate.”

  32. 82
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Burton
    copypaste delight; Dan H. beat you to it. See above. It’s an old method known to fail, done using new data, almost as though he wanted it to fail.

  33. 83
    JCH says:

    # 79

    An Admiral testified before congress today. I think he would have mentioned it if somebody had pulled a scam on the United States Navy.

    This is good:

  34. 84
    Wikisteff says:

    To beegdawg007 at #46, in addition to Steve Metzler’s reveal of your quote mining at #53, it appears that your sins include graph chopping as well. In your link to (at, the data plotted shows that the temperature 95 years ago in Central Greenland was ~1.0 C cooler than during the Medieval Climate Optimum. Strangely, recent data doesn’t appear in this analysis. Looking at the Upernavik data from West Greenland at the Danish Meteorological Institute site,, you can see that the smoothed mean temperature has moved from -8.5 C 125 years ago to -6.5 C in 2005. That’s a rise of 2.0 C, or 200% of the gain between preindustrial Greenland and the Medieval Optimum, and would actually be off the top end of chart presented at Might want to check the recent data as well as your allies’ before posting. :)

  35. 85
    flxible says:

    Thomas Lee Elifrit @80 – Maybe you don’t find Dave Burton on Scholar because .. he’s not

  36. 86
    Vincent van der Goes says:

    #62, #65:

    Just the question I wanted to ask. The cutoff at 100 years from now hides the really long-term effects. This is a very interesting question. Do or don’t we care about the consequences of our actions that lie 200, 300 years into the future? A small discount factor reduces the present value of nearly any events that far away from now to practically zero. Therefore, some of the greatest future damages from climate change are hidden away in economic models with discounting to calculate the economic value of climate damage (such as Nordhaus). From a moral point of view, this presents an interesting dilemma.

  37. 87
  38. 88

    The Judith Curry Testimony Highlight Reel

    In a rational discussion of climate change, the question needs to be asked as to whether the framing of the problem and the early articulation of a preferred policy option by the UNFCCC has marginalized research on broader issues surrounding climate change, and resulted is an overconfident assessment of the importance of greenhouse gases in future climate change, and stifled the development of a broader range of policy options.

    The IPCC/UNFCCC have provided an important service to global society by alerting us to a global threat that is potentially catastrophic. The UNFCCC/IPCC has made an ambitious attempt to put a simplified frame around the problem of climate change and its solution in terms of anthropogenic forcing and CO2 stabilization polices. However, the result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate change and societal vulnerability.

    I figured Curry would raise the uncertainty flag and wave it around the room. This I’m sure pleased the Republicans. She also spent some energy on defending herself and her position as well as saying that

    “My own experience in publicly discussing concerns about how uncertainty is characterized by the IPCC has resulted in my being labeled as a “climate heretic”6 that has turned against my colleagues.”

    Nice narrative for/from her.

    The she goes into the benefits of climate change!!!! And shows off how much she has no clue about:

    “A view of the climate change problem as irreducibly global fails to recognize that some regions may actually benefit from a warmer and/or wetter climate. Areas of the world that currently cannot adequately support populations and agricultural efforts may become more desirable in future climate regimes.”

    Then she talks about water resources. hmmm. . . maybe she should get together with Lomborg, they might make a good obfuscation team as they dance between the pluses and minuses as ‘they’ interpret them to be true. . . still of course lacking expertise in the subjects to which they claim to be advantageous.

    On page 3 she focuses on the Himalaya IPCC mistake and the states:

    “The lack of veracity of the statement about the melting Himalayan glaciers has been widely discussed, and the mistake has been acknowledged by the IPCC. However, both of these statements seem inconsistent with the information in Table 10.2 of the IPCC AR4 WG II and the statement: . . .”

    So not she has found an inconsistency between AR4 and AR2.

    Page 5:

    “Climate scientists have made a forceful argument for a looming future threat from anthropogenic climate change. Based upon the background knowledge that we have, the threat does not seem to be an existential one on the time scale of the 21st century, even in its most alarming incarnation.”

    Page 6:

    “At this point, it seems more important to explore the uncertainties associated with future climate change rather than to attempt to reduce the uncertainties in a consensus-based approach.”

    And finally:

    And finally, climate scientists and the institutions that support them need to acknowledge and engage with ever-growing groups of citizen scientists, auditors, and extended peer communities that have become increasingly well organized by the blogosphere. The more sophisticated of these groups are challenging our conventional notions of expertise and are bringing much needed scrutiny particularly into issues surrounding historical and paleoclimate data records. These groups reflect a growing public interest in climate science and a growing concern about possible impacts of climate change and climate change policies. The acrimony that has developed between some climate scientists and blogospheric skeptics was amply evident in the sorry mess that is known as Climategate. Climategate illuminated the fundamental need for improved and transparent historical and paleoclimate data sets and improved information systems so that these data are easily accessed and interpreted.

    Blogospheric communities can potentially be important in identifying and securing the common interest at these disparate scales in the solution space of the energy, climate and ocean acidification problems. A diversity of views on interpreting the scientific evidence and a broad range of ideas on how to address these challenges doesn’t hinder the implementation of diverse megaton and kiloton solutions at local and regional scales. Securing the common interest on local and regional scales provides a basis for the successful implementation of climate adaptation strategies. Successes on the local and regional scale and then national scales make it much more likely that global issues can be confronted in an effective way.

    Economics: Balancing Economies
    October Leading Edge: The Cuccinelli ‘Witch Hunt”

    Fee & Dividend: Our best chanceLearn the IssueSign the Petition
    A Climate Minute: Natural CycleGreenhouse EffectClimate Science HistoryArctic Ice Melt

  39. 89
    Dan H. says:

    You are correct. Nice graph. But did you notice that the temperature in 1940 is the same as today? It is well known that the Arctic had a large warmup in the early part of the 20th century culminating around 1950. Since then, the temperatures dropped almost 1C until bottomming in the 1980s, before rising to the levels of today. Ironically, the satellite data starts near the bottom.

  40. 90

    79 (adrian smits),

    In a quick perusal, I can find any number of flaws with Burton’s analysis.

    Before going anywhere, however, I find it disingenuous for someone to present something like that, in the form of a peer reviewed paper, when it clearly is not.

    Beyond this, because it has not been peer reviewed, and is not on any professional’s radar to refute, no reputable scientist is going to waste their time going through it looking for the flaws. It’s far too easy with this stuff for anyone with a modicum of mathematical training and writing and organizational skills to put together something that looks reasonable and authoritative and conclusive, when there are either glaring or subtle problems which make the entire thing invalid.

    Personally, I have reached a point where I discount things like this out of hand, because so many of them have proven to be fool’s gold. I don’t have time to look into every such claim. I used to, until so many of them turned out to be painfully flawed or maliciously misleading fluff.

    If this were true, don’t you think there’s a scientist or grad student out there that would love to make a name for himself by proving the rest of the field to be wrong? Do you really think it’s this easy?

    To start with, however, to take the most basic approach: Burton uses a set of 159 data points which he himself questions, and then declares to be “representative”:

    Or, first off, is it possible that the IPCC is right? For instance, is it possible that the GLOSS-LTT list of 159 locations is so unrepresentative of the world as a whole, that it drastically understates 20th century global average MSL rise?”

    That seems very unlikely. The 45 NOAA-maintained stations and 114 PSMSL-provided stations represent what appears to be a pretty good geographic distribution (though Africa is noticeably underrepresented), and the best available data on sea level trends.

    A comparison of his map to the map of sea level rise in Figure 3, page 150, of the Cazenave and Llovel review, however, shows that there is a severe dysfunction in that distribution. Specifically:

    1) Europe and North America (particularly the Atlantic) are grossly over represented in the dataset.
    2) All measurements are coastal, and almost all are continental, with only a handful coming from Pacific islands.

    A quick “eyeballing” of the two factors, particularly making use of Cazenave/Llovel Figure 3b, which shows relative anomalies, demonstrates that North America and Europe, and coasts in general, fall on the very low range of sea level changes, so his data set is clearly not representative. It uses low end measurements, and mostly misses those areas with the greatest sea level rise.

    Of course, it probably would come as a shock to him that something as complex as massive, heterogeneous bodies of water covering a moving, heterogeneous sphere, with varying motions, currents, temperatures and gravitational pulls throughout, would not expand anywhere near evenly over space and time.

    Which is why I trust scientists, and not random Internet scientist-wannabees.

  41. 91
    t_p_hamilton says:

    DanH wants somebody to notice:”It is well known that the Arctic had a large warmup in the early part of the 20th century culminating around 1950. Since then, the temperatures dropped almost 1C until bottomming in the 1980s, before rising to the levels of today. Ironically, the satellite data starts near the bottom.”

    It is also well known that this was a regional effect due to AMO, whereas today’s global warming is due primarily to CO2.

  42. 92
    JCH says:

    The internet is full of these claims about seal level either declining right now, or rising at just over 1 mm per year. People like link to a University of Colorado data site on sea level.

    The paper I linked to is pretty current on the subject:

    “We show that for the 1993–2007 time span, the sum of climate-related contributions (2.85 ± 0.35 mm year−1) is only slightly less than altimetry-based sea level rise (3.3 ± 0.4 mm year−1): ∼30% of the observed rate of rise is due to ocean thermal expansion and ∼55% results from land ice melt. Recent acceleration in glacier melting and ice mass loss from the ice sheets increases the latter contribution up to 80% for the past five years. …”

    Not declining. Not a harmless 1.2 mm per year (which is not harmless, but they like to imply it is.)

  43. 93
    Hank Roberts says:

    > DanH
    > “It is well known …”

    Dan H. gives assertions of belief rather than citations. C’mon, Dan.
    Look these up for yourself. It’s pointless to copypaste stuff from other blogs without understanding why it’s bogus, it just makes you look like you’re being duped.

    Try to check the claims you read, rather than just copying and pasting, eh?

  44. 94
    Hank Roberts says:

    For example, for Dan: a reminder to look beyond simple answers — see articles citing Bengtsson: The early twentieth-century warming in the Arctic-A possible mechanism; Bengtsson wrote: “NAO cannot explain why the Arctic rapidly started to warm up from 1920”

    Cautionary — see references to Arctic amplification of warming.

  45. 95

    Dan H 89: But did you notice that the temperature in 1940 is the same as today?

    BPL: So bleeding what? One year doesn’t make a trend, does it?

  46. 96

    More great narrative… there’s a new game out, which apparently pits a player against climate change and its impact on the world. Watts, in his eagerness to insult anything that does not parrot his own world view, is effectively advertising it on his site.

    I haven’t looked at this in detail, so I can say nothing about either the quality or intent of the execution (it could just as easily be done by deniers, to make adaptation look not only feasible but better than mitigation in the context of the game) but IMO this is in theory a great way to approach the narrative. Something like this will give people a much greater and more intimate feel for the complexities and implications of climate change, and how important delay is in the entire process (i.e. no matter what you do, if you wait too long to act, things get out of control).

    Games serve a wonderful teaching role throughout our lives, and the idea of teaching climate through games should have come up much sooner than this (and I’m rather disappointed in myself that I did not have the idea first, since I have a lifelong passion for games myself).

    I’m just reading the reviews that you can find through the Review link on their web site. Looks interesting, although the trailer makes it look a tad too complex for most folks.

  47. 97
    Anonymous Coward says:

    I’d like to return to JCH’s #22. It’s important to get that right and I’d like people to point out any misunderstandings on my part.
    My understanding is that the 3 feet emerging consensus the article talks about does not include the “nonlinear melting”, precisely because it’s “unpredictable”. My understanding is that this 3 feet figure is not based on any agreed-upon temperature scenario (much less aerosol scenario, GHG scenario and so on) and is therefore fanciful given the uncertainties in future emissions, feedbacks and policies.
    The 3 feet guesstimate about the most likely SLR outcome by 2100 is not the figure we need. As outlined in the article, governments and communities need to plan for less likely outcomes as well. And here’s where the “nonlinear melting” matters. So far as I know, no earnest and comprehensive assessment of the low-probability, high-risk SLR outcomes has been published. There was a report prepared for the relevant comission in the Netherlands but, the way I read it, it assumed away many uncertainties. It may be appropriate if you want a figure for a project which is supposed to be able to weather 80% or 90% of possible outcomes but not the >99% of outcomes that we would prefer to be protected against (and that is mandated by law in some places).

    Vincent (#86),
    If you use appropriate valuation methods, distant future events can not be discounted to zero impact (or close). The method you seem to have in mind assumes that “bankruptcy” is OK. It’s appropriate for a business that’s not “too big to fail” but not for the high-impact climate risks. It’s not appropriate to assume an impact-independent discount rates anyway. I don’t know what Nordhaus publication you’re talking about but the one which comes #1 in Google claims it’s going to look at high-impact outcomes but then proceeds to ignore them entierly.

    Bob (#77),
    This wager proposal is not appropriate as long as bankruptcy and limited liability aren’t abolished. Even then, the risks are too high to play these kinds of games. You also need to consider the interaction between your scheme and potential lawsuits in case the wager turns bad.

  48. 98
    Maya says:

    JCH @92 – A minor thing, but the paper you cite has Rahmstorf at ~0.5 to 1.2 m rise by 2100. Going to look at the Rahmstorf paper, the abstract says:

    \A semi-empirical relation is presented that connects global sea-level rise to global mean surface temperature. It is proposed that, for time scales relevant to anthropogenic warming, the rate of sea-level rise is roughly proportional to the magnitude of warming above the temperatures of the pre–Industrial Age. This holds to good approximation for temperature and sea-level changes during the 20th century, with a proportionality constant of 3.4 millimeters/year per °C. When applied to future warming scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this relationship results in a projected sea-level rise in 2100 of 0.5 to 1.4 meters above the 1990 level.\

    So, the top end of the estimate is 0.2 m higher for this source.

    Captcha has a sense of humor: seaby measure

  49. 99
    Rod B says:

    From just a rough scan of this post it seems one can quote almost any extent, volume, trend of Arctic ice they want, other than in the broadest sense. Maybe this has something to do with the difficulty of making precise measurements as mentioned in an earlier RC post. Though I see David Miller’s source can measure extent with 8 significant figures to the nearest 1/10 of a mile; impressive.

  50. 100

    97 (Anonymous Coward),

    …the risks are too high to play these kinds of games…

    The proposal was mostly tongue in cheek. The point was more that the fossil fuel companies themselves know better, and if faced with a flat, definable fee to go towards mitigation now, versus an unquantifiable but certainly larger, later penalty that they must pay themselves, in proportion to the damage done and the cost of late mitigation plus adaptation, then they would undoubtedly choose the fee… effectively admitting to the truth of the current situation.

    Well, all except for a few, who would probably figure that they could get away with paying nothing for a while, then simply dissolve their companies before the payment on the wager comes due and business is therefore no longer profitable.

    But the main difficulty in the problem is that those who stand to gain the most from ignoring the problem (the FF producing companies and countries) are also those who will suffer the least (or not at all) as a result of CO2 emissions. Any solution (cap and trade, fee and dividend, tax and spend, whatever) is an aim to balance that equation and to shift the burden from the victims to the profiteers.

    A “wager” system (not that it would work) would not only shift the burden to the profiteers, but also shift the decision of how much risk to assume to that same party, in effect forcing them to choose their own poison (rather than requiring a divided global populace to find the unity and strength needed to choose their poison for them).