Far out in North Carolina

On the last day we hold a stakeholder workshop in Nag’s Head. NOAA, the funding agency, requires this type of direct discussion of the project scientists with potential users of the results, e.g. from local planning authorities. Sea-level rise is right now a hot topic in North Carolina: an interest group called NC20 has proposed a rather bizarre piece of state legislation that would ban the use in planning of scenarios of accelerated future sea-level rise (as recommended e.g. by the guidance document of the US Army Corps of Engineers, who assume a “high” scenario of 1.5 metres – about five foot – sea-level rise by the year 2100). And yes – NC20 was represented at our stakeholder workshop. Here is a leaflet that they distribute. The group tries to discredit the credibility of science by propagating the myth that climate science predicted global cooling in the 1970s. In truth this cooling idea was never main-stream but a small minority view also in the 1970s. CO2-induced global warming was in fact correctly predicted in classic papers e.g. in 1972 (Sawyer in Nature) and 1975 (Broecker in Science).

Dark clouds gather over the beach at Jennette’s Pier where we hold our stakeholder workshop. Not long after a thunderstorm strikes. The wide beach is artificial: result of a beach nourishment project for $ 36 million in the previous year. Environmentalists are critical of the beach nourishment. [All photos (c) S.R.]

Of course, global sea-level rise has already accelerated in the course of global warming (as many scientific papers have demonstrated – including the data from the peat cores in North Carolina), and will almost certainly accelerate further as the planet warms. After all, ice melts faster the warmer it gets, and the oceans also heat up faster. In other words, this law would have banned taking reality into account in planning. It was passed recently by the Senate of North Carolina, albeit with some rewording that softens up the central clause, but looks unlikely to become law this year. The Colbert Report has a rather funny comedy piece on the sea level law. This story was topped by a Senator from northern neighbour Virginia, who apparently said that “sea-level rise is a left-wing term”.

Two new papers

Nature Climate Change publishes two new sea-level papers today. One, by Sallenger et al., is an analysis of US tide gauge data. The main finding is that there is a “hotspot” of acceleration in sea level rise over the past sixty years on the US Atlantic coast, with the largest acceleration found between Cape Hatteras and Boston. The authors argue that this pattern is consistent with a weakening of the Atlantic overturning circulation (and hence their first reference is to our 2005 paper where we show this sea-level pattern in our model). In my opinion an intriguing possibility that warrants further investigation. There could be other causes, like interdecadal changes in the wind field.

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