Don’t buy into the hype: Sea levels aren’t rising
By Nils-Axel Mörner
For the past decade, an international team of sea-level specialists has undertaken serious and multi-environmental studies of what is happening to the sea levels, and the verdict is strong and clear: There is no alarming sea-level rise.
There has been particular concern in the island nation of the Maldives (which might have the most to lose — their homes! — if the sea levels were rising), and President Mohamed Nasheed has spoken out in the past about the rising sea level. He believes future generations will have no choice but to seek new homes on higher ground to avoid flooding, and in fact the government has already undertaken a search for a new homeland. Our findings imply no real threat for their future, but people don’t want to hear this — I participated in an interview for Maldivian TV in 2000, discussing my view that the sea levels weren’t rising, but the government refused to air it.
I’ve been to the Maldives six times during three-month-long expeditions. My team has been diving, offshore coring, and studying coastal morphology on open coasts and in lee-side positions, lagoons, fens and lakes. After applying detailed bio-ecology and radiocarbon dates, we have established a very detailed sea curve for the past 5,000 years: After a drop of 20 centimeters in the 1970s, the sea levels have in fact balanced out over the past 30 years.
Those who believe the oceans are rising base that belief on computer models alone and aren’t taking into account observational facts. Take for example the infamous tree in the Maldives, which sits in a very vulnerable location on the shore. Climate change apologists claimed its position along a barren shore was proof that sea levels were rising; I posited that if this were true then the tree would have been swept away, and that its existence proved there was no evidence of an effect of a rising sea level in the past 50 years. According to locals, in 2003 the tree was pulled down by a group of Australian scientists who were there for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Our findings of a stable sea level in the past 30 years seem incontestable with respect to observational facts. It’s not just the Maldives — similar results were found in Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Bangladesh, Venice and other parts of the world. The Bangladesh material that was published recently in Energy & Environment might be of special interest, because it challenges yet another misconception in sea-level dialectics: Even there we have recorded a consistent sea-level stability for the past 40 years. We have solid observational facts to free the world from the threat of an alarming ongoing sea level rise.
Our records have been published in peer-reviewed international journals, and in 2008, I was awarded the Golden Condrite of Merit from the University of Algarve in recognition for my contribution to understanding sea level change — I have credited expertise on my side. The world is so full real threats, problems and disasters. We shouldn’t waste time, money and efforts on fabricated issues such as this.
Nils-Axel Mörener was the head of Paloegeophysics & Geodynamics at Stockholm University and has been the leader of the International Maldives Sea Level Project since 2000.
Sea-level rise has arrived
By Marah Hardt
When Dr. Carl Safina visited Palau last year, he told me how many residents were already noticing impacts due to sea level rise: High tides reaching farther inshore, seawater seeping into the ground and ruining centuries-old taro fields, and larger storm surges. For these islanders, sea-level rise was not a concept subject to debate — it was, and remains, reality.
Misinformation in the media during the past two years has fueled confusion regarding changing sea levels, mostly through misrepresenting scientific research that sought to refine the estimates. A recent article on www.realclimate.org shows that, in contrast to media claims that sea-level rise was in doubt, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consistently underestimated the rate of change in its 2007 report. The science is clear: The waters are rising, by about 3 mm per year, and they are rising even faster than we thought.
How do we know the sea level is rising? Data from tidal gauges and satellites are based on average readings taken over extended periods of time to eliminate the natural variability due to tides, weather patterns and other factors. These instruments show that on average, sea level has increased by about 15 to 20 cm over the past century, with almost a doubling rate of increase since 1993.
The first cause of sea-level rise is thermal expansion — a term describing the fact that warmer water takes up more space than colder water. So, as the oceans warm up, they expand. Sea-level rise is also the result of more water entering the oceans through melting glaciers and ice sheets. As land temperatures rise, more ice melts and more water flows into the ocean. Greenland alone has been losing 179 gigatons per year since 2003. The loss of sea ice is the third contributor. When sea ice melts, it does not increase ocean volume because the ice is already floating on the surface. But, without the sea ice, the ocean warms up faster, thus increasing the affect of thermal expansion.
Even if sea levels don’t rise enough to completely cover a country, the increase might make formerly habitable land unfit to support its people. The seas need rise just enough to taint fresh groundwater supplies or render the soil too salty to grow food, forcing the relocation of a population. This has already happened in the Carteret Islands.
Sea-level rise is a result of basic thermodynamics, but its consequences are anything but simple. At risk are the cultural heritage and national identity of dozens of countries — if New York City goes under, at least New Yorkers can still live in America. What happens to the citizens of the Maldives, Tuvalu or Bangladesh when their entire nation slips beneath the seas? It’s time to face the facts and take action to help turn this rising tide before it’s too late.
Marah Hardt, founder of OceanInk ( www.oceanink.org ) and a coral reef ecologist by training, is a research scientist, writer and consultant with a focus on ocean conservation and climate-change issues.