Urban Flooding: The Philadelphia Story

A previous post (reprinted further on) took issue with climatists exploiting fear of flooding in Philly. This post adds more context disputing these attempts to blame urban flooding on sea level rise and to claim reducing CO2 emissions provides some sort of protection.

Background

Hydro engineers know that urban flooding is a complex problem with multiple factors beyond the effect from sea level. This paper by James Andrew Griffiths et al. presents the situation faced by all coastline cities: Modelling the impact of sea-level rise on urban flood probability in SE China. Excerpts in italics with my bolds

Estimating the likelihood of flooding in urban areas poses a greater challenge than in natural landscapes as land-surfaces are more heterogeneous and consist of many more runoff pathways. Data acquisition and process identification are also more difficult in urban areas as networks undergo more frequent and rapid change. To reduce complexity therefore, a lumped-parameter model can be used to represent hydrologically connected areas, rather than individual streets.

This diagram presents the typical situation.

The drainage systems of cities on China’s East coast generally consist of networks of channels or canals that are fed by streams from the surrounding catchments. The canal network is protected from tidal intrusion by a combination of sluice-gates, weirs and large flood-gates. Water is released from the system between high tides until a minimum water level is reached. If catchment runoff exceeds the rate of drainage from the system (for example during extreme rainfall) there is a risk of canal capacity exceedance and flooding. During normal operating conditions, a minimum water-level is preserved in canals to ensure sufficient water for irrigation, recreation or commercial use.

In summary, Urban drainage systems in coastal cities in SE China are characterized by often complex canal and sluice-gate systems that are designed to safely drain pluvial flooding whilst preventing tidal inundation. However, the risk of coastal flooding in the region is expected to increase over the next 50–100 years, as urban areas continue to expand and sea-levels are expected to rise. To assess the impact of projected sea-level rise on this type of urban drainage system, a one-dimensional model and decision support tool was developed. The model indicated that although sea-level rise represents a significant challenge, flood probability will continue to be most influenced by rainfall. Events that are significant enough to cause flooding will most likely be minimally impacted by changes to the tidal frame. However, it was found that a sea-level rise of up to 1.2 m by 2010 would result in increased drainage times and higher volumes of over-topping when flooding occurs.

Philadelphia is a Career Flood Fighter

Just like Rocky Balboa atop the Art Museum steps, Philadelphia has long contended with flood events and has always to be prepared.  There have been 65 Philly floods since 1769, most recently in 2014. The city floods when water level in the Schuylkill basin goes over 11 feet, according to Historical Floods: Schuylkill River at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from NOAA.

The table below shows the most severe events, 15 in all from 1869 to 2014, along with the crest level in feet and the measured streamflow in cubic feet per second.

Date of Flood  Crest (ft)  Streamflow (cfs)  Category CO2 ppm
10/04/1869 17.00 135,000 Major 287.5
3/1/1902 14.80 98,000 Moderate 296.6
8/24/1933 14.70 96,200 Moderate 308.9
7/9/1935 14.10 82,000 Moderate 309.7
8/9/1942 13.10 71,500 Moderate 310.7
6/2/1946 14.57 94,600 Moderate 310.3
11/25/1950 14.32 89,800 Moderate 311.3
8/19/1955 14.32 90,100 Moderate 313.7
 9/13/1971 13.28 70,300 Moderate 326.4
6/23/1972 14.65 103,000 Moderate 327.5
1/19/1996 13.36 79,000 Moderate 362.6
9/17/1999 14.10 92,500 Moderate 368.4
10/1/2010 13.05 76,300 Moderate 389.2
8/28/2011 13.56 83,900 Moderate 391.2
5/1/2014 13.91 88,300 Moderate 397.2

I have also provided the CO2 atmospheric concentrations for the flood dates, as reported by NASA. Climatists advocate reducing CO2 emissions as a policy to prevent urban flooding. However, the correlation between CO2 in ppm and Philly flood crests is -.58 and -.42 with streamflow. So the severity of Philly flooding has decreased while CO2 has risen. Perhaps burning more fossil fuels would be the prudent action.

Why Philadelphia is Prone to Flooding

BillyPenn explains Why Philadelphia floods so easily when it rains. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Mahbubur Meenar, a professor of community and regional planning at Temple, says that much of the flooding we see happens because of the city’s drainage system. In about 2/3 of the city, stormwater and wastewater — whatever comes out of your house or office building — drains through the same system. This happens because, well, the city is old. It’s so old, and so ingrained in the city’s infrastructure that it would be prohibitively expensive, if not impossible, to change.

On normal days, the drainage system works fine. Wastewater goes through and is treated before making its way to one of the rivers. But rain throws a wrench into the process. It flows into the same drains and mixes with the wastewater. The extra water can rise and flow onto the streets. Litter and fallen leaves don’t help, either. They can gather in the drains and make it more likely for flooding.

Another variable: Especially around Center City there are few natural resources that can capture water, i.e. streams and creeks. Nearly all of them have been filled in and turned into sewers. Dock Street is probably the best known example. That brick street in Society Hill used to be a creek. Dozens more have experienced the same fate, mostly in Center City and the neighborhoods closest to it. Check it out. The red lines indicate former bodies of water that have been filled in:

Creeks Flood Philly PHILLYH2O.ORG

If those creeks were still around, they could collect rainwater. Without them, stormwater lingers on the streets and has to go somewhere else — and in Philadelphia that’s through the drains where wastewater is already going.

“Depending on all these things,” Meenar said, “the road gets flooded.”

To some extent, there’s not much the Water Department can do. It can’t restore all of Philadelphia’s creeks or overhaul the city’s infrastructure, particularly in the oldest parts of the city where stormwater and wastewater drain together. But the Water Department is working on green stormwater infrastructure to combat the problem. There have been some inroads throughout the city’s neighborhoods — things like green roofs, rain gardens and even man-made wetlands. They are designed to collect stormwater.

The primary purpose of these measures actually has to do with keeping our rivers clean. Stormwater that hits Philly’s streets can pick up chemicals harmful to our rivers and to us if it ends up in our drinking water. By storing the stormwater for a while, it can be released into a system where it will be properly treated, rather than flowing directly into the Schuylkill or Delaware.

The secondary effect for green stormwater infrastructure is that it helps prevent flooding. Not all of the water is rushing into drains at once.

“They try to store water as long as possible and then slowly release it to the drain,” Meenar said.

So that’s how the City is dealing with flooding from rainstorms. Besides rain and severe storms, of course, Philadelphia’s 3,000 miles of leaky pipes can cause flooding, too. That’s an entirely different problem, though.

Previous Post:  Philly Under Water?  Not so Fast.

A previous post explained how local TV weatherpersons are being recruited to stoke public fears about global warming/climate change.  See Climate Evangelists Are Taking Over Your Local Weather Forecast

For example, just today Philadelphia NBC TV affiliate aired a segment declaring Climate Change Studies Show Philly Underwater. Previously Philly CBS station had their piece shown below.

All of this fearmongering over sea level rise is a coordinated campaign to terrorize coastal dwellers and landowners. UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) together with Climate Central are collaborating to do a drip, drip, drip water torture treatment exploiting the public addiction to television.

Philadelphia, PA – Station ID: 8545240

What They Are Not Telling People

From NOAA Tides and currents comes this long record of service by the tidal guage at Philadelphia.

Climate Central in 2016 published Pennsylvania and the Surging Sea, including this forecast:

In records running back to 1900, Philadelphia has never seen waterfront flooding that reaches 4 feet above the local high tide line. But under a mid-range sea level rise scenario, floods within the Delaware Estuary exceeding 4 feet are more likely than not to take place by 2040, less than one 30-year mortgage cycle away. Under a low-range scenario, chances are just below even; and under a high-range scenario, they reach 3 in 4. At the other end of the spectrum, under high-range projections, there is roughly a 4 in 5 chance of floods above 9 feet by the end of the century.

Putting the projections together with the observational record gives this graph.
Both the record and projection are zero at year 2000.  If the past trend continues, a further rise of 30 cm would be observed by 2100.  If Climate Central model-based projection is true, the red line shows 122 cm rise by 2040, and 274 cm by 2100.  So alarmists are projecting in 20 years, Philadelphia will get four times the rise that occurred in the last 100 years.  Even now, in 2019, the projection is off by 50 cm, and observations are going down.

Not to worry, UCS provides this Disclaimer:

Neither the authors nor the Union of Concerned Scientists are responsible or liable for financial or reputational implications or damages to homeowners, insurers, investors, mortgage holders, municipalities, or other any entities. The content of this analysis should not be relied on to make business, real estate or other real world decisions without independent consultation with professional experts with relevant experience. The views expressed by individuals in the quoted text of this report do not represent an endorsement of the analysis or its results.

None of that uncertainty appears in the TV clips.  And even worse, computing technology and desktop publishing are being exploited not to empower people, but to terrify them.  An entire web page is devoted to Google Earth images photoshopped to show chunks of Philadelphia under water. Here’s what Philly could look like in 2100 if sea levels rise

Conclusion

More and more, the media are pushing people into the Hobbesian Choice.  Thomas Hobbes (1544–1631) believed that man must choose between living in a state of nature (a life which is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”) or suffering under an arbitrary and absolute government.  And the media content forces another awful decision:  Either believe nothing (or the opposite) of what you read or see on TV, or go into full panic mode.

Footnote

The hottest temperatures ever reported in Phoenix came in January 2015, when Fox 10 weatherman Cory McCloskey faced a malfunctioning temperature map on live television. “Wow, 750 degrees in Gila Bend right now,” he said, without breaking a sweat. “And 1,270 in Ahwatukee. Now, I’m not authorized to evacuate, but this temperature seems pretty high.” More than 6 million people have watched the blooper on YouTube.

 

 

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Philly Under Water? Not so Fast.

Context

A previous post explained how local TV weatherpersons are being recruited to stoke public fears about global warming/climate change.  See Climate Evangelists Are Taking Over Your Local Weather Forecast

For example, just today Philadelphia NBC TV affiliate aired a segment declaring Climate Change Studies Show Philly Underwater. Previously Philly CBS station had their piece shown below.

All of this fearmongering over sea level rise is a coordinated campaign to terrorize coastal dwellers and landowners. UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) together with Climate Central are collaborating to do a drip, drip, drip water torture treatment exploiting the public addiction to television.

What They Are Not Telling People

From NOAA Tides and currents comes this long record of service by the tidal guage at Philadelphia.

Climate Central in 2016 published Pennsylvania and the Surging Sea, including this forecast:

In records running back to 1900, Philadelphia has never seen waterfront flooding that reaches 4 feet above the local high tide line. But under a mid-range sea level rise scenario, floods within the Delaware Estuary exceeding 4 feet are more likely than not to take place by 2040, less than one 30-year mortgage cycle away. Under a low-range scenario, chances are just below even; and under a high-range scenario, they reach 3 in 4. At the other end of the spectrum, under high-range projections, there is roughly a 4 in 5 chance of floods above 9 feet by the end of the century.

Putting the projections together with the observational record gives this graph.
Both the record and projection are zero at year 2000.  If the past trend continues, a further rise of 30 cm would be observed by 2100.  If Climate Central model-based projection is true, the red line shows 122 cm rise by 2040, and 274 cm by 2100.  So alarmists are projecting in 20 years, Philadelphia will get four times the rise that occurred in the last 100 years.  Even now, in 2019, the projection is off by 50 cm, and observations are going down.

Not to worry, UCS provides this Disclaimer:

Neither the authors nor the Union of Concerned Scientists are responsible or liable for financial or reputational implications or damages to homeowners, insurers, investors, mortgage holders, municipalities, or other any entities. The content of this analysis should not be relied on to make business, real estate or other real world decisions without independent consultation with professional experts with relevant experience. The views expressed by individuals in the quoted text of this report do not represent an endorsement of the analysis or its results.

None of that uncertainty appears in the TV clips.  And even worse, computing technology and desktop publishing are being exploited not to empower people, but to terrify them.  An entire web page is devoted to Google Earth images photoshopped to show chunks of Philadelphia under water. Here’s what Philly could look like in 2100 if sea levels rise

Conclusion

More and more, the media are pushing people into the Hobbesian Choice.  Thomas Hobbes (1544–1631) believed that man must choose between living in a state of nature (a life which is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”) or suffering under an arbitrary and absolute government.  And the media content forces another awful decision:  Either believe nothing (or the opposite) of what you read or see on TV, or go into full panic mode.

Footnote

The hottest temperatures ever reported in Phoenix came in January 2015, when Fox 10 weatherman Cory McCloskey faced a malfunctioning temperature map on live television. “Wow, 750 degrees in Gila Bend right now,” he said, without breaking a sweat. “And 1,270 in Ahwatukee. Now, I’m not authorized to evacuate, but this temperature seems pretty high.” More than 6 million people have watched the blooper on YouTube.

 

 

Self-Serving Global Warmism

 

To believe humans are dangerously warming earth’s climate, you have to swallow a bunch of unbelievable notions. You have to think the atmosphere drives temperature, instead of the ocean with 1000 times the heat capacity. You have to disregard the sun despite its obvious effects from summer to winter and longer term. You have to think CO2 drives radiative heat transfers, instead of H2O which does 95% of the radiative work. You have to think rises in CO2 cause temperatures to rise, rather than the other way around. You have to forget it was warmer than now in the Middle Ages, warmer still in the Roman era, and warmest of all during Minoan times.  And on and on. The global warmist narrative is full of ideas upside down and backwards, including many reversals of cause and effect.

It is like a massive hot air balloon, so why doesn’t it deflate? Answer:  It is because so many interests are served by keeping it alive and pumping up public fears. In this brief video, Richard Lindzen explains how it serves politicians, NGOs and the media to be on the global warming bandwagon.

In addition, there are businesses and industries that can and do contribute to global warming fears to further their own interests.  For example,Terence Corcoran explains how the insurance industry benefits by promoting global warming in his Financial Post article Why insurers keep hyping ‘climate risks’ that don’t materialize  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Insurers are urging the government to invest in natural, green infrastructure even though engineers call it ineffective

For more than two decades, insurance firms facing rising property damage costs in Canada and abroad have sought some kind of salvation in the environmental movement’s climate change crusade.

The latest insurance industry initiative wanders even deeper into the quagmire of green policy advocacy. Combating Canada’s Rising Flood Costs, a new report from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), urged governments across the country to adopt “natural infrastructure” to limit escalating climate change risks.

The report continues the insurance industry’s 20-year practice of hyping climate risks. At an industry conference in 1999, one executive warned: “The increase in extreme weather events (in Canada) is part of a global trend in which climate change has played a significant role.”

The evidence was non-existent then, and not much has changed in the interim, despite the industry’s claim that climate-driven flood risk is escalating. According to the insurers, Canada needs all levels of government to turn to natural and “green” infrastructure before installing traditional “grey” infrastructure.

The first priority is to retain existing ponds, streams, trees and other natural infrastructure systems, according to the report. The second is to rebuild and replace natural infrastructure that has been lost. And the third — building new and replacing old sewers, pipes, concrete drainways, diversions, improved building techniques — should be undertaken only on a “build what you must” basis.

However, that’s not what the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers recommends. In an April report for provincial officials it said: “Numerous studies have demonstrated that green infrastructure does not provide a flood risk reduction benefit.” The engineers advised that protective plumbing, pump-station modifications and sanitary-sewer improvements are among the measures that should be taken to control urban flooding.

Insurers have an understandable self-interest in promoting infrastructure spending and government policies, laws and regulations that would protect their businesses from rising insurance claims. But the report reads like a document from the World Wildlife Fund. It was sponsored by the IBC and “generously supported” by Intact Financial Corp., Canada’s largest insurance company. The University of Waterloo-based Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (funded by Intact, which has given millions to the centre) was also involved.

Despite the heavy corporate involvement, the CBC opened up about 10 minutes of The National, it’s flagship news show, to the industry report when it was released last month. Would The National give the pipeline, mining and telecom companies 10 minutes to promote their views?

The stars of The National that night were Blair Feltmate, head of the Centre on Climate Adaptation, and CBC News meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe. Both repeated the insurance industry’s 20-year-old claims that climate devastation is ravaging Canada through extreme weather events — and warned the public to look out for rising insurance premiums if nothing is done. Here’s a sample:

Wagstaffe: “Every single extreme weather event is connected to a warming climate because… as we see longer and hotter summers, we see more moisture being held in our atmosphere, we see higher water levels, that means every single event is amplified by climate change.”

Feltmate: “I totally agree. So all the modelling on climate change that’s been done over the last many years by groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a group of several hundred climate scientists… their predictions are that, yes, climate change has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. And we’re seeing the expression of extreme weather events as a result of that.”

Feltmate added the magnitude of flooding, which is the No. 1 cost due to climate change in the country, is increasing.

Such climate warnings have been official insurance industry mantra since the 1990s. Flooding and extreme weather are becoming more frequent, the industry said again and again.

Not true, according to the latest IPCC science report released this month. The impacts chapter said: “There is low confidence due to limited evidence, however, that anthropogenic climate change has affected the frequency and the magnitude of floods.” Furthermore, from 1950 to 2012 “precipitation and (fluvial) runoff have… decreased over most of Africa, East and South Asia, eastern coastal Australia, southeastern and northwestern United States, western and eastern Canada.”

Despite a lack of evidence, the industry recently claimed conditions are so bad in Canada that “weather events that used to occur every 40 years now happen every six years” — a factoid attributed to a 2012 IBC-commissioned report by veteran Western University climatologist and climate-policy activist Gordon McBean. He cited an Environment Canada report to support the 40-to-six claim, but in 2016 Canadian Underwriter magazine published a note quoting an Environment Canada official who said studies “have not shown evidence to support” the 40-to-six year frequency shift. The claim has since been scrubbed from the insurance industry’s communications on climate issues.

The insurers have a newer warning widget in the form of a graphic that appears to show a dramatic rise in catastrophic insurance losses due to climate change. A trend line rises from the mid-1980s to 2017 to a $5-billion peak with the 2016 Fort McMurray fire (see first accompanying chart). The new IBC flood report said these numbers illustrate the financial impacts of climate change and extreme weather events that are being felt by a growing number of homeowners and communities. These losses “averaged $405 million per year between 1983 and 2008, and $1.8 billion between 2009 and 2017.”

The graphic contains three dubious elements as a source for a flood report. First is an inconsistency in the source of data, a problem identified by Robert Muir, a professional engineer and member of in infrastructure task force at the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. The 1983–2007 data set was collected through informal industry surveys, while the 2008–2017 data are tabulated systematically by an independent agency.

Data inconsistency may explain the bizarre result that the insurance industry had zero losses due to floods, water, rain and storm perils in four of 17 years between 1983 and 2000.

Second, the IBC graph also counts fire losses, including the Fort McMurray fire of 2016 — an event unrelated to flood risk. Removal of fire losses significantly flattens the curve (see the second accompanying chart). If the 2013 floods in Alberta and Toronto are treated as possible one-off freak events, the average insurance losses come to $182 million in the 1990s, $198 million during the 2000s and $268 million over the past nine years, which is not a dramatic shift considering there are many other explanations for insurance losses, including increasing individual wealth beyond mere per capita GDP values, urbanization, failure of governments to maintain decaying ancient water infrastructures, and the risks people take by moving into flood-prone areas.

The insurance industry has an obvious motive in highlighting flood risk. It is part of a concerted climate campaign by NGOs, governments and sustainable development advocates. As one executive put it at a 2016 conference the objective is to “monetize” the flood risk, an idea the IBC is pushing with the help of a relatively new “flood model” that identifies high-risk areas.

When risks are real, people should of course take steps to avoid them or get protection, including taking out insurance. But the industry seems to be heading in a questionable direction by promoting insurance for climate risks that may not exist and at the same time advocating for green protective infrastructure (see below) that will cost more and may — if the engineers are right — increase the risk.

Calif. Dials Up Sea Level Alarm

The graph displays three projections of mean sea level at San Francisco CA. The tidal gauge trend adds 0.2 meters (0.7 feet) by 2100. California Ocean Protection Council (COPC) has issued 2018 guidance on sea level rise along the California coastline.  COPC takes IPCC models as gospel truth and projects future sea levels accordingly.  The orange line represents COPC Medium-High risk aversion and produces 1.75 meters (5.7 feet) rise by 2100.  The red line represents COPC Extremely High risk avoidance (worst case) resulting in 3.1 meters (10.2 feet) rise by 2100.

In SF Examiner is this article San Francisco studies impacts of sea level rise as state projections double Excerpts below with my bolds.

In the wake of the city’s losing lawsuit against Big Oil companies, new model projections are going for more scary numbers.

Sea level rise projections from the state Ocean Protection Council were increased earlier this year from a maximum of 66 inches to as high as 122 inches by 2100. That projection includes both sea level rise, which will account for 11 to 24 inches by 2050, and coastal erosion and shoreline flooding.

Planning Department Director John Rahaim said at a Planning Commission hearing Thursday that certain areas of The City will likely see “routine flooding” by 2030.

“Some of the numbers… are in big ranges and there’s this tendency to think of sea level rise as so far in the future that it’s hard to get people’s attention,” Rahaim said. “There are things that are happening in the short term that we really have to start thinking about. It’s not something we can put off to the next generation.”

The commission was briefed Thursday on the progress of efforts to curb the impacts of inundated shorelines since the publication of the 2016 Sea Level Rise Action Plan, which directed city agencies to assess the impacts of sea level rise on San Francisco.

State projections for how high the ocean could rise this century have as much as doubled, giving new urgency to efforts to plan for mitigation efforts, San Francisco planning officials said this week. Sea level rise projections from the state Ocean Protection Council were increased earlier this year from a maximum of 66 inches to as high as 122 inches by 2100. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

“We have been working with our public infrastructure agencies to really understand, ‘What does this mean for MUNI? What does this mean for our Public Utilities Commission, for our parks?” Maggie Wenger, an adaption planner with the department. “And then what does it mean if those systems face impacts, for the people who live here, work here and come to visit.”

Preliminary findings suggest that between 17 and 84 miles of streets, 242 to 704 acres of open space, 335 acres to 1,203 acres of public land and 2 to 20 schools will be affected by flooding between 2030 and 2100.

The assessment found that roughly 6 percent of land area along San Francisco’s coastal areas is vulnerable to sea level rise.

“Not all areas in this zone are equally vulnerable,” said Wenger, adding that some are likely to see flooding impacts “in the next decades, others in the next century.”

Along with the assessment, The City is currently rolling out a its Port Seawall Earthquake Safety program and has adopted the Islais Creek Southeast/Southeast Mobility Adaptation strategy which focuses on design solutions to strengthening the area and improving the resilience of transportation assets.

A more than $400 million bond proposal to repair San Francisco’s seawall will go before San Francisco voters in November.

Here is the 2018 update document on State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance

Table 1 is  Projected Sea-Level Rise (in feet) for San Francisco
Probabilistic projections for the height of sea-level rise shown below, along with the H++ scenario (depicted in blue in the far right column), as seen in the Rising Seas Report. The H++ projection is a single scenario and does not have an associated likelihood of occurrence as do the probabilistic projections. Probabilistic projections are with respect to a baseline of the year 2000, or more specifically the average relative sea level over 1991 – 2009. High emissions represents RCP 8.5; low emissions represents RCP 2.6. Recommended projections for use in low, medium-high and extreme risk aversion decisions are outlined in blue boxes below.

Summary

Note that the Medium High projection adds 5 feet on top of the tidal gauge trend of 0.7 feet, a multiple of  8 times greater based upon climate models. By 2030, both COPC projections already exceed the end of century tidal gauge rise. Note also they project actual sea level rise may be only on the order of 1 or 2 feet by 2050, with rise from erosion on top.  This compares to 0.3 feet estimated by 2050 from the tidal gauge including land movements.

By all means repair the sea wall to resist an additional foot or two.  But the rest of it is coming from Puff the Magic Dragon.

Islands Adapting to Change: Tuvalu

H/T Brett Keane for pointing to research by Paul Kench regarding viability of Pacific islands. Paul S. Kench, Murray R. Ford & Susan D. Owen published: 09 February 2018 Patterns of island change and persistence offer alternate adaptation pathways for atoll nations Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Sea-level rise and climatic change threaten the existence of atoll nations. Inundation and erosion are expected to render islands uninhabitable over the next century, forcing human migration. Here we present analysis of shoreline change in all 101 islands in the Pacific atoll nation of Tuvalu. Using remotely sensed data, change is analysed over the past four decades, a period when local sea level has risen at twice the global average (~3.90 ± 0.4 mm.yr−1). Results highlight a net increase in land area in Tuvalu of 73.5 ha (2.9%), despite sea-level rise, and land area increase in eight of nine atolls. Island change has lacked uniformity with 74% increasing and 27% decreasing in size. Results challenge perceptions of island loss, showing islands are dynamic features that will persist as sites for habitation over the next century, presenting alternate opportunities for adaptation that embrace the heterogeneity of island types and their dynamics.

Examples of island change and dynamics in Tuvalu from 1971 to 2014. a Nanumaga reef platform island (301 ha) increased in area 4.7 ha (1.6%) and remained stable on its reef platform. b Fangaia island (22.4 ha), Nukulaelae atoll, increased in area 3.1 ha (13.7%) and remained stable on reef rim. c Fenualango island (14.1 ha), Nukulaelae atoll rim, increased in area 2.3 ha (16%). Note smaller island on left Teafuafatu (0.29 ha), which reduced in area 0.15 ha (49%) and had significant lagoonward movement. d Two smaller reef islands on Nukulaelae reef rim. Tapuaelani island, (0.19 ha) top left, increased in area 0.21 ha (113%) and migrated lagoonward. Kalilaia island, (0.52 ha) bottom right, reduced in area 0.45 ha (85%) migrating substantially lagoonward. e Teafuone island (1.37 ha) Nukufetau atoll, increased in area 0.04 ha (3%). Note lateral migration of island along reef platform. Yellow lines represent the 1971 shoreline, blue lines represent the 1984 shoreline, green lines represent the 2006 shoreline and red lines represent the 2014 shoreline. Images ©2017 DigitalGlobe Inc.

Under these environmental scenarios, conjectures of habitability and mobility become entwined and have driven an urgency in socio-political discourse about atoll nation futures and human security. Strategies for adaptation to changing biophysical conditions are coupled with narratives of environmentally determined exodus. Such persistent messages have normalised island loss and undermined robust and sustainable adaptive planning in small island nations. In their place are adaptive responses characterised by in-place solutions, seeking to defend the line and include solutions such as reclamation and seawalls, potentially reinforcing maladaptive practices. Notwithstanding the maladaptive outcomes of such approaches, such dialogues present a binary of stay and defend the line or eventual displacement. There is limited space within these constructs to reflect on possibilities that a heterogeneous archipelago (size, number and dynamics of islands) may offer in terms of sustained habitability, beyond the historic imprint of colonial agendas and entrenched land tenure systems that may constrain novel adaptation responses at the national scale.

Summary data of physical island change of islands in Tuvalu between 1971 and 2014. a Absolute changes in island area in hectares with respect to island size. b Percentage change in islands per decade with respect to island size. Raw data contained in Supplementary Data 1. Note: square symbols denote reef platform islands; solid circles denote atoll rim islands; and light blue circles enclosing symbols denote populated islands

We argue that indeed there are a more nuanced set of options to be explored to support adaptation in atoll states. Existing paradigms are based on flawed assumptions that islands are static landforms, which will simply drown as the sea level rises4,23. There is growing evidence that islands are geologically dynamic features that will adjust to changing sea level and climatic conditions. However, such studies have typically examined a limited number of islands within atoll nations, and not provided forward trajectories of land availability, thereby limiting the findings for broader adaptation considerations. Furthermore, the existing range of adaptive solutions are narrowly constrained and do not reflect the inherent physical heterogeneity and dynamics of archipelagic systems.

Here we present the first comprehensive national-scale analysis of the transformation in physical land resources of the Pacific atoll nation Tuvalu, situated in the central western Pacific (Supplementary Note 1). Comprising 9 atolls and 101 individual reef islands, the nation is home to 10,600 people, 50% of whom are located on the urban island of Fogafale, in Funafuti atoll. We specifically examine spatial differences in island behaviour, of all 101 islands in Tuvalu, over the past four decades (1971–2014), a period in which local sea level has risen at twice the global average (Supplementary Note 2). Surprisingly, we show that all islands have changed and that the dominant mode of change has been island expansion, which has increased the land area of the nation. Results are used to project future landform availability and consider opportunities for a vastly more nuanced and creative set of adaptation pathways for atoll nations.

Updated: Pacific Sea Level Data

 

PSLMPThis post is about the SEAFRAME network measuring sea levels in the Pacific, and about the difficulty to discern multi-decadal trends of rising or accelerating sea levels as evidence of climate change.

Update July 9, 2018

Asked a question today about sea levels and Pacific islands, I referred to this article.  Realizing it was posted 2 years ago, it seemed important to check the most recent project report.  Thus at the bottom there are now results through May 2018.

Update May 10 below, regarding recent Solomon Islands news

Pacific Sea Level Monitoring Network

The PSLM project was established in response to concerns voiced by Pacific Island countries about the potential effects of climate change. The project aims to provide an accurate long-term record of sea levels in the area for partner countries and the international scientific community, and enable the former to make informed decisions about managing their coastal environments and resources.

In 1991, the National Tidal Facility (NTF) of the Flinders University of South Australia was awarded the contract to undertake the management of the project.  Between July 1991 and December 2000 sea level and meteorological monitoring stations were installed at 11 sites. Between 2001 and 2005 another station was established in the Federated States of Micronesia and continuous global positioning systems (CGPS) were installed in numerous locations to monitor the islands’ vertical movements.

The 14 Pacific Island countries now participating in the project provide a wide coverage across the Pacific Basin: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

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Each of these SEA Level Fine Resolution Acoustic Measuring Equipment (SEAFRAME) stations in the Pacific region are continuously monitoring the Sea Level, Wind Speed and Direction, Wind Gust, Air and Water Temperatures and Atmospheric Pressure.

In addition to its system of tide gauge facilities, the Pacific Sea-Level Monitoring Network also includes a network of earth monitoring stations for geodetic observations, implemented and maintained by Geoscience Australia. The earth monitoring installations provide Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) measurements to allow absolute determination of the vertical height of the tide gauges that measure sea level.

Sea Level Datasets from PSLM

Data and reports are here.

Monthly reports are detailed and informative. At each station water levels are measured every six minutes in order to calculate daily maxs, mins and means, as a basis for monthly averages. So the daily mean sea level value is averaged from 240 readings, and the daily min and max are single readings taken from the 240.

 

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A typical monthly graph appears above. It shows how tides for these stations range between 1 to 3 meters daily, as well variations during the month.

According to the calibrations, measurement errors are in the range of +/- 1 mm. Vertical movement of the land is monitored relative to a GPS benchmark. So far, land movement at these stations has also been within the +/- 1 mm range (with one exception related to an earthquake).

The PSLM Record

March SL range

In the Monthly reports are graphs showing results of six minute observations, indicating tidal movements daily over the course of a month.The chart above shows how sea level varied in each location during March 2016 compared to long term March results. Since many stations were installed in 1993, long term means about 22 years of history.

This dataset for Pacific Sea Level Monitoring provides a realistic context for interpreting studies claiming sea level trends and/or acceleration of such trends. Of course, one can draw a line through any scatter of datapoints and assert the existence of a trend. And the error ranges above allow for annual changes of a few mm to be meaningful. Here is a table produced in just that way.

Location Installation date Sea-level trend (mm/yr)
Cook Islands Feb 2003 +5.5
Federated States of Micronesia Dec 2001 +17.7
Fiji Oct 1992 +2.9
Kiribati Dec 1992 +2.9
Marshall Islands May 1993 +5.2
Nauru Jul 1993 +3.6
Papua New Guinea Sept 1994 +8.0
Samoa Feb 1993 +6.9
Solomon Islands Jul 1994 +7.7
Tonga Jan 1993 +8.6
Tuvalu Mar 1993 +4.1
Vanuatu Jan 1993 +5.3

The rising trends range from 2.9 to 8.6 mm/year (FSM is too short to be meaningful).

Looking into the details of the monthly anomalies, it is clear that sea level changes at the mm level are swamped by volatility of movements greater by orders of magnitude.  And there are obvious effects from ENSO events. The 1997-98 El Nino shows up in a dramatic fall of sea levels almost everywhere, and that event alone creates most of the rising trends in the table above.  The 2014-2016 El Nino is also causing sea levels to fall, but is too recent to affect the long term trend.

Picture17revUpdate July 9, 2018

Here are the sea level records updated to May 2018.

Pacific Sea Levels May 2018

The records are dominated by two Major El Nino events in 1997-8 and 2015-6.  When Westerly winds pick up, warm surface water is pushed from western (Asian) Pacific toward eastern (American) Pacific.  Thus sea levels decline temporarily during those periods, as seen in the blue deficits in the charts above.  Below the updated sea level trends.
Seaframe trends May 2018
Summary

Sea Level Rise is another metric for climate change that demonstrates the difficulty discerning a small change of a few millimeters in a dataset where tides vary thousands of millimeters every day. And the record is also subject to irregular fluctuations from storms, currents and oceanic oscillations, such as the ENSO.

On page 8 of its monthly reports (here), PSLM project provides this caution regarding the measurements:

The overall rates of movement are updated every month by calculating the linear slope during the tidal analysis of all the data available at individual stations. The rates are relative to the SEAFRAME sensor benchmark, whose movement relative to inland benchmarks is monitored by Geosciences Australia.
Please exercise caution in interpreting the overall rates of movement of sea level – the records are too short to be inferring long-term trends.

A longer record will bring more insight, but even then sea level trends are a very weak signal inside a noisy dataset. Even with state-of-the-art equipment, it is a fool’s errand to discern any acceleration in sea levels, in order to link it to CO2. Such changes are in fractions of millimeters when the measurement error is +/- 1 mm.

For more on the worldwide network of tidal gauges, as well as satellite systems attempting to measure sea level, sea Dave Burton’s excellent website.

May 10 update Regarding recent news about Solomon Islands.

As the charts above show, there is negligible sea level rise in the West Pacific, and receding a bit lately at Solomon Islands.  So it was curious that the media was declaring those islands inundating because of climate change.

Now the real story is coming out (but don’t wait for the retractions)

A new study published in Environmental Research Letters shows that some low-lying reef islands in the Solomon Islands are being gobbled up by “extreme events, seawalls and inappropriate development, rather than sea level rise alone.” Despite headlines claiming that man-made climate change has caused five Islands (out of nearly a thousand) to disappear from rising sea levels, a closer inspection of the study reveals the true cause is natural, and the report’s lead author says many of the headlines have been ‘exaggerated’ to ill-effect.

http://www.examiner.com/article/sinking-solomon-islands-and-climate-link-exaggerated-admits-study-s-author

 

 

 

USCS Warnings of Coastal Floodings

Be not Confused. USCS is not the US Coastal Service, but rather stands for the Union of Super Concerned Scientists, or UCS for short. Using their considerable PR skills and budgets, they have plastered warnings in the media targeting major coastal cities, designed to strike terror in anyone holding real estate in those places. Example headlines include:

Sea level rise could put thousands of homes in this SC county at risk, study says The State, South Carolina

Taxpayers in the Hamptons among the most exposed to rising seas Crain’s New York Business

Adapting to Climate Change Will Take More Than Just Seawalls and Levees Scientific American

The Biggest Threat Facing the City of Miami Smithsonian Magazine

What Does Maryland’s Gubernatorial Race Mean For Flood Management? The Real News Network

Study: Thousands of Palm Beach County homes impacted by sea-level rise WPTV, Florida

Sinking Land and Climate Change Are Worsening Tidal Floods on the Texas Coast Texas Observer

Sea Level Rise Will Threaten Thousands of California Homes Scientific American

300,000 coastal homes in US, worth $120 billion, at risk of chronic floods from rising seas USA Today

That last gets the thrust of the UCS study Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate (2018)

Sea levels are rising. Tides are inching higher. High-tide floods are becoming more frequent and reaching farther inland. And hundreds of US coastal communities will soon face chronic, disruptive flooding that directly affects people’s homes, lives, and properties.

Yet property values in most coastal real estate markets do not currently reflect this risk. And most homeowners, communities, and investors are not aware of the financial losses they may soon face.

This analysis looks at what’s at risk for US coastal real estate from sea level rise—and the challenges and choices we face now and in the decades to come.

The report and supporting documents give detailed dire warnings state by state, and even down to counties and townships. As example of the damage projections is this table estimating 2030 impacts:

State  Homes at Risk  Value at Risk Property Tax at Risk  Population in 
at-risk homes 
AL  3,542 $1,230,676,217 $5,918,124  4,367
CA  13,554 $10,312,366,952 $128,270,417  33,430
CT  2,540 $1,921,428,017 $29,273,072  5,690
DC  – $0 $0  –
DE  2,539 $127,620,700 $2,180,222  3,328
FL  20,999 $7,861,230,791 $101,267,251  32,341
GA  4,028 $1,379,638,946 $13,736,791  7,563
LA  26,336 $2,528,283,022 $20,251,201  63,773
MA  3,303 $2,018,914,670 $17,887,931  6,500
MD  8,381 $1,965,882,200 $16,808,488  13,808
ME  788 $330,580,830 $3,933,806  1,047
MS  918 $100,859,844 $1,392,059  1,932
NC  6,376 $1,449,186,258 $9,531,481  10,234
NH  1,034 $376,087,216 $5,129,494  1,659
NJ  26,651 $10,440,814,375 $162,755,196  35,773
NY  6,175 $3,646,706,494 $74,353,809  16,881
OR  677 $110,461,140 $990,850  1,277
PA  138 $18,199,572 $204,111  310
RI  419 $299,462,350 $3,842,996  793
SC  5,779 $2,882,357,415 $22,921,550  8,715
TX  5,505 $1,172,865,533 $19,453,940  9,802
VA  3,849 $838,437,710 $8,296,637  6,086
WA  3,691 $1,392,047,121 $13,440,420  7,320

The methodology, of course is climate models all the way down. They explain:

Three sea level rise scenarios, developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and localized for this analysis, are included:

  • A high scenario that assumes a continued rise in global carbon emissions and an increasing loss of land ice; global average sea level is projected to rise about 2 feet by 2045 and about 6.5 feet by 2100.
  • An intermediate scenario that assumes global carbon emissions rise through the middle of the century then begin to decline, and ice sheets melt at rates in line with historical observations; global average sea level is projected to rise about 1 foot by 2035 and about 4 feet by 2100.
  • A low scenario that assumes nations successfully limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (the goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement) and ice loss is limited; global average sea level is projected to rise about 1.6 feet by 2100.

Oh, and they did not forget the disclaimer:

Disclaimer
This research is intended to help individuals and communities appreciate when sea level rise may place existing coastal properties (aggregated by community) at risk of tidal flooding. It captures the current value and tax base contribution of those properties (also aggregated by community) and is not intended to project changes in those values, nor in the value of any specific property.

The projections herein are made to the best of our scientific knowledge and comport with our scientific and peer review standards. They are limited by a range of factors, including but not limited to the quality of property-level data, the resolution of coastal elevation models, the potential installment of defensive measures not captured by those models, and uncertainty around the future pace of sea level rise. More information on caveats and limitations can be found at http://www.ucsusa.org/underwater.

Neither the authors nor the Union of Concerned Scientists are responsible or liable for financial or reputational implications or damages to homeowners, insurers, investors, mortgage holders, municipalities, or other any entities. The content of this analysis should not be relied on to make business, real estate or other real world decisions without independent consultation with professional experts with relevant experience. The views expressed by individuals in the quoted text of this report do not represent an endorsement of the analysis or its results.

The need for a disclaimer becomes evident when looking into the details. The NOAA reference is GLOBAL AND REGIONAL SEA LEVEL RISE SCENARIOS FOR THE UNITED STATES NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 083

Since the text emphasizes four examples of their scenarios, let’s consider them here. First there is San Francisco, a city currently suing oil companies over sea level rise. From tidesandcurrents comes this tidal gauge record
It’s a solid, long-term record providing a century of measurements from 1900 through 2017.  The graph below compares the present observed trend with climate models projections out to 2100.

Since the record is set at zero in 2000, the difference in 21st century expectation is stark. Instead of  the existing trend out to around 20 cm, models project 2.5 meters rise by 2100.

New York City is represented by the Battery tidal gauge:
Again, a respectable record with a good 20th century coverage.  And the models say:
The red line projects 2500 mm rise vs. 284 mm, almost a factor of 10 more.  The divergence is evident even in the first 17 years.

Florida comes in for a lot of attention, especially the keys, so here is Key West:
A similar pattern to NYC Battery gauge, and here is the projection:
The pattern is established: Instead of a rise of about 30 cm, the models project 250 cm.

Finally, probably the worst case, and well-known to all already is Galveston, Texas:
The water has been rising there for a long time, so maybe the models got this one close.
Galv past & projectedThe gap is less than the others since the rising trend is much higher, but the projection is still four times the past.  Galveston is at risk, all right, but we didn’t need this analysis to tell us that.

A previous post Unbelievable Climate Models goes into why they are running so hot and so extreme, and why they can not be trusted.

July 16, 2018 Footnote:

Recently there was a flap over future sea levels at Rhode Island, so I took a look at Newport RI, the best tidal gauge record there.  Same Story:
Newport past & projected

CO2 Rise ≠ Sea Level Rise

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This recent paper is very topical, since several US coastal states are suing oil companies for damages expected from rising sea levels. Some Alaskan teenagers are making similar claims in a separate lawsuit against the US federal government. The study is Why would sea-level rise for global warming and polar ice-melt? By Aftab Alam Khan published in Geoscience Frontiers. Excerpts below with my bolds. H/T to NoTricksZone

IPCC Alarms over Sea Level Rise

Sea Level Change in the Fifth Assessment Report includes detailed explanation of the changes in the global mean sea level, regional sea level, sea level extremes, and waves (Church et al., 2013). Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing sea-level rise (SLR) (Church and White, 2006; Jevrejeva et al., 2009). It is also claimed that ocean thermal expansion and glacier melting have been the dominant contributors to 20th century global mean sea level rise. It is further opined that global warming is the main contributor to the rise in global sea level since the Industrial Revolution (Church and White, 2006). According to Cazenave and Llovel (2010) rising of air temperature can warm and expand ocean waters wherein thermal expansion was the main driver of global sea level rise for 75 to 100 years after the start of the Industrial Revolution.

However, the share of thermal expansion in global sea level rise has declined in recent decades as the shrinking of land ice has accelerated (Lombard et al 2005). Lombard et al. (2006) opined that recent investigations based on new ocean temperature data sets indicate that thermal expansion only explains part (about 0.4 mm/yr) of the 1.8 mm/yr observed sea level rise of the past few decades. However, observation claim of 1.8 mm/yr sea level rise is also limited in scope and accuracy.

Fundamentals of Sea Level Variability

Mean Sea Level (MSL) is defined as the zero elevation for a local area. The zero surface referenced by elevation is called a vertical datum. Since sea surface conforms to the earth’s gravitational field, MSL has also slight hills and valleys that are similar to the land surface but much smoother. The MSL surface is in a state of gravitational equilibrium. It can be regarded as extending under the continents and is a close approximation of geoid. By definition geoid describes the irregular shape of the earth and is the true zero surface for measuring elevations. Because geoid surface cannot directly be observed, heights above or below the geoid surface can’t be directly measured and are inferred by making gravity measurements and modeling the surface mathematically.

Previously, there was no way to accurately measure geoid so it was roughly approximated by MSL. Although for practical purposes geoid and MSL surfaces are assumed to be essentially the same, but in reality geoid differs from MSL by several meters. Geoid moves above MSL where mass is excess and moves below MSL where mass is deficient. Distribution of mass in the crust in terms of ‘excess’ and ‘deficient’ can cause volume expansion and contraction for relative sea-level change. Height of the ocean surface at any given location, or sea level, is measured either with respect to the surface of the solid Earth i.e., relative sea level (RSL) or a eustatic sea level (ESL) (Fig. 1A).

Relative sea level (RSL) change can differ significantly from global mean sea level (GMSL) because of spatial variability in changes of the sea surface and ocean floor height. RSL change over the ocean surface area gives the change in ocean water volume, which is directly related to the sea level change. Sea level changes can be driven either by variations in the masses or volume of the oceans, or by changes of the land with respect to the sea surface. In the first case, a sea level change is defined ‘eustatic’; otherwise, it is defined ‘relative’ (Rovere et al., 2016). According to Kemp et al. (2015) land uplift or subsidence can result in, respectively, a fall or rise in sea level that cannot be considered eustatic as the volume or mass of water does not change. Any sea level change that is observed with respect to a land-based reference frame is defined a relative sea level (RSL) change. Eustatic Sea Level (ESL) changes also occur when the volume of the ocean basins changes due to tectonic seafloor spreading or sedimentation.

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Figure 1. (A) Definition of sea level i.e., eustatic sea level and relative sea level (B) Different types of sea level observation techniques: satellite altimetry (based on NASA educational material), tide gauge and paleo sea level indicators (see text for details). Modern tide gauges are associated with a GPS station that records land movements.

Sea Level Observations

Changes in sea level can be observed at very different time scales and with different techniques (Fig. 1B). Regardless of the technique used, no observation allows to record purely eustatic sea level changes. At multi-decadal time scales, sea level reconstructions are based on satellite altimetry/gravimetry and landbased tide gauges (Cabanes et al., 2001). At longer time scales (few hundreds, thousands to millions of years), the measurement of sea level changes relies on a wide range of sea level indicators (Shennan and Horton, 2002; Vacchi et al., 2016; Rovere et al., 2016a). One of the most common methods to observe sea level changes at multi-decadal time scales is tide gauges.

Modern tide gauges are associated with a GPS station that records land movements (Fig. 1B). However, tide gauges have three main disadvantages: (i) they are unevenly distributed around the world (Julia Pfeffer and Allemand, 2015); (ii) the sea level signal they record is often characterized by missing data (Hay et al., 2015); and (iii) accounting for ocean dynamic changes and land movements might prove difficult in the absence of independent datasets (Rovere et al., 2016). Since 1992, tide gauge data are complemented by satellite altimetry datasets (Cazenave et al., 2002).

The altitude of the satellite is established with respect to an ellipsoid, which is an arbitrary and fixed surface that approximates the shape of the Earth. The difference between the altitude of the satellite and the range is defined as the sea surface height (SSH) (Fig. 1B). Subtracting from the measured SSH a reference mean sea surface (e.g. the geoid), one can obtain a ‘SSH anomaly’. The global average of all SSH anomalies can be plotted over time to define the global mean sea level change, which can be considered as the eustatic, globally averaged sea level change.

The shape of the geoid is crucial for deriving accurate measurements of seasonal sea level variations (Chambers, 2006). According to Rovere et al. (2016) measurements of paleo eustatic sea level (ESL) changes bear considerable uncertainty. Further, sea level changes on Earth cannot be treated as a rigid container although eustasy is defined in view of Earth as a rigid container. In reality, internal and external processes of the earth such as tectonics, dynamic topography, sediment compaction and melting ice all trigger variations of the container and these ultimately affect any sea level observation.

An estimated, observed, and possible future amounts of global sea level rise from 1800 to 2100, relative to the year 2000 has been proposed by Melillo et al. (2014) based on the works of Church and White (2011), Kemp et al. (2011) and Parris et al. (2012) (Fig. 2). The main concern of the predicted future global sea level rise shown in Melillo et al. (2014) is the forecast beyond 2012 up to 2100. Although sea level rise is shown by 0.89 ft in 209 years (between 1800 and 2009) at the rate of 0.0043 ft/yr, the prediction of 4–6 ft at the rate of 0.044 ft/yr and 0.066 ft/yr respectively in 91 years between 2009 and 2100) is highly questionable. An abrupt jump in the sea level rise after 2009 is definitely a conjecture.

Figure 2. Estimated, observed, and predicted global sea level rise from 1800 to 2100. Estimates from proxy data are shown in red between 1800 and 1890, pink band shows uncertainty. Tide gauge data is shown in blue for 1880–2009. Satellite observations are shown in green from 1993 to 2012. The future scenarios range from 0.66 ft to 6.6 ft in 2100 (Redrawn from Melillo et al., 2014).

Sea Level Distribution is Determined by the Earth Surface

This study is based on the geophysical aspects of the earth wherein shape of the earth is the fundamental component of global sea level distribution. The physical surface of the earth adjusted to the mathematical surface of the earth is spheroidal. This spheroidal surface always coincides with the global mean sea level (Fig. 3). Having relationship between the shape of the earth and the global sea level, gravitational attraction of the earth plays a dominant role against sea level rise. Gravity is a force that causes earth to form the shape of a sphere by pulling the mass of the earth close to the center of gravity i.e., each mass-particle is attracted perpendicular towards the center of gravity of the earth (Fig. 4A).

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Figure 3. Physical surface (light green undulating line) of the earth adjusted to spheroidal surface (yellow broken line) by removing mass from continent above mean sea level and filling same mass in ocean below mean sea level. Geoid surface (light blue solid line), on the other hand, depends on the internal mass distribution i.e., geoid moves below spheroid where mass is deficient and it moves above spheroid where mass is excess. Where geoid surface and spheroidal surface coincides is accounted for mass balanced. By definition geoid describes the irregular shape of the earth and is the true zero surface for measuring elevations. Because geoid surface cannot be directly observed, heights above or below the geoid surface can’t be directly measured and are inferred by making gravity measurements and modeling the surface mathematically. MSL surfaces are assumed to be essentially the same, at some spots the geoid can actually differ from MSL by several meters.

The sphere-like shape of the earth is distorted by (i) greater gravity attraction of the polar region causing polar flattening and lesser gravity attraction of the equatorial region causing equatorial bulging, and (ii) the centrifugal force of its rotation. This force causes the mass of the earth to move away from the center of gravity, which is located at the equator. Ocean-fluid surface takes a outward normal vector due to centrifugal force which is maximum at the equator and zero at the poles (Fig. 4B). Mathematical surface, an imaginary surface coinciding with the mean sea level of the Earth is a spheroidal surface due to its spin, and it is the centrifugal force due to the Earth’s spin caused polar flattening and equatorial bulge. The polar flattening ratio (eccentricity) of 1/298 implied that sea level at the equator is about 21 km further from the center of the Earth than it is at the poles. Water would find its hydrostatic level which is curvilinear, and this level is influenced by the gravity as well as centrifugal force. Centrifugal force acts as much on the oceans as it does on the solid Earth, which is maximum at the equator and minimum at the pole (Fig. 4B). Any addition of water to the oceans is supposed to flow uphill towards equator from the poles causing sea level rise everywhere, but it does not. Hence, although ocean water at the equator makes a level difference of 21 km higher than at the poles, it is the centrifugal force maximum at the equator and zero at the poles would prevent ocean water-column from moving down-hill toward poles effectively restricting sea level rise at the higher latitudes. On the other hand high gravity attraction and zero centrifugal force at the poles and low gravity attraction and maximum centrifugal force at the equator effectively balance sea-level and restrict sea-level rise. While, equatorial ocean-fluid surface always attains relatively higher altitude than that of polar ocean-fluid surface, ocean water column from polar region would not move towards equatorial region.

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Figure 4. The shape of a sphere by pulling the mass of the earth close to the center of gravity. Blue arrows point from Earth’s surface toward its center. Their lengths represent local gravitational field strength. Gravity is strongest at the poles because they are closest to the center of mass. This difference is enhanced by the increasing density toward the center. Red arrows show the direction and magnitude of the centrifugal effect. On the equator, it is large and straight up. Near the poles, it is small and nearly horizontal. Vector addition of the blue and red arrows gives the net result of gravity plus centrifugal effect. This is shown by the green arrows. Rotation of the earth produces more centrifugal force at the equator, less as latitude increases, and zero at pole.

A mass of fluid under the rotation assumes a form such that its external form is an equipotential of its own attraction and the potential of the centripetal acceleration. Above analogy reveals that even if entire polar-ice melts due to the global warming, the melt-water will not flow towards equatorial region where surface has an upward gradient and gravity attraction is also significantly low in comparison to the polar region. However, conditions at both the poles are different. Arctic Ocean in the north is surrounded by the land mass thus can restrict the movement of the floating ice, while, Antarctic in the south is surrounded by open ocean thus floating ice can freely move to the north. But this movement is likely to be limited maximum up to 60°S latitude where spheroidal surface has the maximum curvature (Fig. 6B). As usual, water can not flow from higher gravity attraction to lower gravity attraction rather it is other way around wherein higher gravity attraction of the poles would attract water from moving towards equatorial region and water column would be static at every ‘gz’ direction. Further, greater horizontal gravity gradient toward poles would also help melt-water to remain attracted toward polar region.

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Figure 6. (A) Surface of the earth is defined in terms of gravity values at all surface points known as the reference spheroid. It is related to the mean sea-level (MSL) surface with excess land masses removed and ocean deeps filled. Thus it is an equipotential surface, that is, the force of gravity (gz) (red arrows) is everywhere normal to this surface, or the plumb line is vertical at all points directed to the center of the earth having maximum at the poles and minimum at the equator. Two components work against sea level rise i.e., greater gravity attraction of the polar region and the equatorial bulge (B) Maximum curvature of the spheroidal surface of the Earth coincides with 60oN latitude. Floating ice from Antarctica surrounded by open ocean can freely move to the north likely to be limited maximum upto 60oS latitude where spheroidal surface has the maximum curvature.

A geoid surface thus prepared exhibits bulges and hollows of the order of hundreds of kilometers in diameter and up to hundred meter in elevation occurring in the zone mostly between 60°N and 60°S latitudes. Marked changes in the contour pattern of the geoid height in the zone between 60°N and 60°S suggests maximum curvature along 60°N and 60°S. Hence any change of the global sea level due to the predicted ice melt would not extend beyond 60°N and 60°S. However the reality is that no sea-level rise actually would occur due to ice melt as a result of same volumetric replacement between melt-water and floating ice.

Lindsay and Schweiger (2015) provide a longer-term view of ice thickness, compiling a variety of subsurface, aircraft, and satellite observations. They found that ice thickness over the central Arctic Ocean has declined from an average of 3.59 m (11.78 ft) to only 1.25 m (4.10 ft), a reduction of 65% over the period 1975 to 2012. Map shows sea ice thickness in meters in the Arctic Ocean from March 29, 2015 to April 25, 2015 (Fig. 9B). Total volume of ice-melt water of more than 2,500,000 km3 has been added to ocean water over an area more than 14,500,000 km2 of the central Arctic Ocean (Fig. 9B blue shaded area). By now this additional water should have caused sea level rise more than 178 mm which is much greater than what has been projected and predicted. However there is no record of such sea level rise.

Arctic sea-ice has already reduced its volume due to melting from 33,000 km3 in 1979 to 16,000 km3 in 2016 without showing any sea level rise. Although Arctic sea-ice has reduced its volume, Antarctic has gained (Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) (http://psc.apl.uw.edu). In contrast to the melting of the Arctic sea-ice, sea-ice around Antarctica was expanding as of 2013 (Bintanja et al., 2013). NASA study shows an increase in Antarctic snow accumulation that began 10,000 years ago is currently adding enough ice to the continent to outweigh the increased losses from its thinning glaciers.

From the above statement it is clearly understood that about 23,000 km3 sea-ice of Antarctica can freely float northward into the warmer water where it eventually melts every year without showing any sea level rise in the lower latitudes. Further, melting of such a huge volume of floating sea-ice of Antarctica not only can reoccupy volume of the displaced water but also can cool ocean-water in the lower latitudes of the southern oceans thus can prevent sea level rise due to thermal expansion of the ocean water. According to Zhang (2007) thermal expansion in the lower latitude is unlikely because of the reduced salt rejection and upper-ocean density and the enhanced thermohaline stratification tend to suppress convective overturning, leading to a decrease in the upward ocean heat transport and the ocean heat flux available to melt sea ice. The ice melting from ocean heat flux decreases faster than the ice growth does in the weakly stratified Southern Ocean, leading to an increase in the net ice production and hence an increase in ice mass.

Both the polar regions exhibit reduction in ice-load in the crust due to melting and removal of ice-cover from the continental blocks every year. Reduction of such weight in the continent thus can cause isostasy to come into play and land start to uplift due to elastic rebound to maintain its isostatic equilibrium which is load-dependent and would prevent sea level rise.

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Figure 13. (A) Layered beach at Bathurst Inlet, Nunavut signifying post-glacial isostatic rebound (B) Some of the most dramatic uplift is found in Iceland. Evidence of isostatic rebound (C) Massive coral (Pavona clavus) exposed in 1954 by tectonic uplift in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (D) Beach ridges on the coast of Novaya Zemlya in arctic Russia, an example of Holocene glacio-isostatic rebound (E) A beach in Juneau, Alaska where sea level is not rising, but dropping due to glacial isostatic adjustment (F) Boat-houses in Scandinavia now considerably farther away from the water’s edge where they were built demonstrates land uplift (G) An 8000-year old-well off the coast of Israel now submerged, which is a land mark of crustal subsidence (H) The “City beneath the Sea”; Port Alexandria on the Nile delta and the drowned well off the coast of Israe (panel (G), both subsided due to subduction-pull of the downgoing African crustal slab as it enters trench.

Postglacial rebound continues today albeit very slowly wherein the land beneath the former ice sheets around Hudson Bay and central Scandinavia, is still rising by over a centimetre a year, while those regions which had bulged upwards around the ice sheet are subsiding such as the Baltic states and much of the eastern seaboard of North America. Snay et al. (2016) have found large residual vertical velocities, some with values exceeding 30 mm/yr, in southeastern Alaska. The uplift occurring here is due to present-day melting of glaciers and ice fields formed during the Little Ice Age glacial advance that occurred between 1550 A.D. and 1850 A.D.

When the land area shrinks globally, this corresponds to a global rise in sea level. From the curve it is certain that sea level has changed in geologic time scale due to geologic events. Hence, polar ice-melting would not contribute to sea-level rise rather sea-level would drop around the Arctic region as long as isostatic rebound will continue. Claim and prediction of 3 mm/yr rise of sea-level due to global warming and polar ice-melt is definitely a conjecture. Prediction of 4–6.6 ft sea level rise in the next 91 years between 2009 and 2100 is highly erroneous.

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Figure 12. Vail and Hallam curves of global paleo sea level fluctuations from the last 542 million years (Copied and redrawn from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea-level_curve).

A negative sea level trend implied that Alaska is being uplifted continuously and corresponding sea level is dropping. However, permanent uplift and corresponding sea level drop of Alaska will occur through ultimate fault rupture between land and sea. Until that time it will continue to show the pattern of sea level as of Fig. 14A.

Conclusion
Geophysical shape of the earth is the fundamental component of the global sea level distribution. Global warming and ice-melt, although a reality, would not contribute to sea-level rise. Gravitational attraction of the earth plays a dominant role against sea level rise. As a result of low gravity attraction in the region of equatorial bulge and high gravity attraction in the region of polar flattening, melt-water would not move from polar region to equatorial region. Further, melt-water of the floating ice-sheets will reoccupy same volume of the displaced water by floating ice-sheets causing no sea-level rise. Arctic Ocean in the north is surrounded by the land mass thus can restrict the movement of the floating ice, while, Antarctic in the south is surrounded by open ocean thus floating ice can freely move to the north. Melting of huge volume of floating sea-ice around Antarctica not only can reoccupy volume of the displaced water but also can cool ocean-water in the region of equatorial bulge thus can prevent thermal expansion of the ocean water. Melting of land ice in both the polar region can substantially reduce load on the crust allowing crust to rebound elastically for isostatic balancing through uplift causing sea level to drop relatively. Palaeo-sea level rise and fall in macro-scale are related to marine transgression and regression in addition to other geologic events like converging and diverging plate tectonics, orogenic uplift of the collision margin, basin subsidence of the extensional crust, volcanic activities in the oceanic region, prograding delta buildup, ocean floor height change and sub-marine mass avalanche.

Summary

This  research paper reads like a tutorial on sea level rise, and explains the geoscience behind fluctuations in observed sea levels over all time scales.  It should be required reading for Judge Alsup, lawyers and litigants in these multiple lawsuits.

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Sea Level Hype

It seems that alarmists get their exercise mainly by jumping to conclusions. Using datasets as trampolines they make great leaps of faith, oftentimes turning reality upside down in the process.

Update Feb. 17 at bottom

The latest example is the mass media excitement and exaggerations concerning sea level rise. Just consider the listing from Google News Feb. 13:

Miami could be underwater in your kid’s lifetime as sea level rise accelerates
USA Today

Yes, sea level rise really is accelerating
Ars Technica

Study: Sea level rise is accelerating and its rate could double in next century
Chicago Tribune

“It’s a big deal”: Melting ice sheets are accelerating sea level rise
CBS News Feb 13, 201

Satellites: Sea level rise to reach 2 feet by 2100
Minnesota Public Radio News (blog)

Satellite observations show sea levels rising, and climate change is accelerating it
CNN

The sea is coming for us
The Outline

Etc. Etc.Etc.

Although the principle author gave those juicy sound bites so craved by unreflective journalists, still the actual paper is quite restrained in its claims.  After all, they are only looking at 25 years of a very noisy dataset which has a quasi 60-year oscillation.  The paper is:

Climate-change–driven accelerated sea-level rise detected in the altimeter era By R. S. Nerem et al.

Abstract

Using a 25-y time series of precision satellite altimeter data from TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3, we estimate the climate-change–driven acceleration of global mean sea level over the last 25 y to be 0.084 ± 0.025 mm/y2. Coupled with the average climate-change–driven rate of sea level rise over these same 25 y of 2.9 mm/y, simple extrapolation of the quadratic implies global mean sea level could rise 65 ± 12 cm by 2100 compared with 2005, roughly in agreement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report (AR5) model projections.

Dr. John Ray provides a skeptical commentary, writing from Brisbane, Australia, at his blog (here) with my bolds.

Dedicated Warmist Seth Borenstein sets out a coherent story about warming causing sea-level rise. He regurgitates all the usual Warmist talking points regardless of their truth. He says, for instance, that the Antarctic is melting when it is not.

So we have to go back to the journal article behind Seth’s splurge to see what the scientists are saying.

And what we see there is very different from Seth’s confident pronouncements. We see a very guarded article indeed which rightly lists many of the difficulties in measuring sea level rise. And they can surmount those difficulties only by a welter of estimates and adjustments. Anywhere in that process there could be errors and biases. And as a result, we see that the journal authors describe their findings as only a”preliminary estimate” of sea level rise.

And it gets worse. When we look further into the journal article we see that the sea level rise is measured in terms of only 84 thousandths of one millimeter. So we are in the comedy of the absurd. Such a figure is just a statistical artifact with no observable physical equivalent.

So the sea level rise Seth talks about with great confidence ends up being an unbelievably small quantity measured with great imprecision! Amazing what you find when you look at the numbers, isn’t it?

Many advances in science start with a leap of imagination.  I seem to remember a chemist who woke up one morning with the first correct diagram of benzene.  And a man I admired said before sleeping he brought to mind things that were puzzling him.  Often in the morning he found answers combing out his hair.  Of course any such notions must then be validated through experimentation and measurement to become scientific knowledge.  A leap of faith is another matter altogether.

Sea Level Measurement Contortions

What’s involved in estimating sea level by means of satellites? Albert Parker is a seasoned researcher and explains to us laymen in this interview, followed by links to his recent publications. Senior Researcher Questions Satellite Measurements of Global Sea-Level By Ernest Dempsey with my bolds.

With a lot of rhetoric about the claimed sea-level rise and threat of global warming due to carbon emissions from human activities, the actual science of sea-level measurements and scientific inquiry of the verifiable degree of climate change has been lost in the noise. The following correspondence with Albert Parker, PhD, author of the 2014 paper Problems and reliability of the satellite altimeter based Global Mean Sea Level computation casts light on how reliable the various sea-level measurements are and whether the actual, on-ground science verifies the narrative of carbon-based climate change and alarming sea-level rise.

Ernest: Albert, thanks for taking my call for this Q&A. Would you please tell us about your academic and research background briefly?

Albert Parker: I received my MSc and PhD in Engineering many years ago, before the age of the commercial universities. I have been working after the PhD for 30 years in companies and universities. I started to work on climate change as an independent scientist, for my personal understanding, after the leaked Climategate emails in 2009, as I was curious to see what was really going on in the raw data.

Ernest: Can you please tell our readers the various methods scientists have used to measure the mean sea level at any point?

Albert Parker: Relative sea levels have been locally measured by tidal gauges for many years. A tidal gauge signal is characterized by oscillations on many different time scales. The tidal gauge signal is monthly averaged. A linear fitting of the monthly average values collected over a sufficiently long time window returns the trend. As the tide gauge instrument can move up and down, these sea levels are relative to the instrument.

The absolute global sea level is a hypothetical measure of the status of the ocean waters. Somebody has produced global mean sea level reconstructions from tide gauges since the 1700 or the 1800. These reconstructions are not reliable. Before the end of the 1800s, there was for example not a single tide gauge covering all the southern hemisphere. To compute a proper global mean sea level from tide gauges, you should need many gridded tide gauges along the world coastline, and a measure of their absolute vertical motion, both based on a sufficiently long common time window. There is not such a thing yet. As the trends significantly vary from one location to the other, it therefore only makes sense to focus on the average acceleration rather than the global mean sea level trend.

Ernest: In your 2014 paper, you inform that tide gauge measurements of mean sea level show negligibly small annual rise in mean sea level while satellite measurements give us a notably larger rise in sea level globally. Which of these two would you call more reliable and why?

Albert Parker: The only results to consider are local and global average trends and accelerations from tidal gauges of sufficient quality and length. If a global mean sea level from tide gauges can hardly be computed, you may still look at the individual tide gauges of enough length and quality to understand if there is acceleration or not. And so far, there has been very little acceleration in any tide gauge record over the 20th century and what is passed of the 21th century. Therefore, coastal management can be local, with adaptation measures needed where the sea level rises significantly because of extreme subsidence, and not certainly where the sea levels are rising slowly or are falling.

Regarding the satellite global mean sea level, this result is more a computation than a true measurement and it is not reliable. If you try to track by global positioning system (GPS) the position of selected fixed points, such as few GPS domes on land, and you try to compute the GPS time series to derive a GPS velocity, you may then discover that this much simpler computation, also constrained by the geodetic dimensions, still suffers significant uncertainties, because of satellite drift and other technicalities. It is therefore impossible to measure with nanometric precision the instantaneous height of all the water volume to then derive a time rate of change. The only thing that you can get from the satellite altimeter measurements is an almost detrended, noisy signal, as it was clear in the first results of the project. If subjective corrections are then applied to this signal, for any reason you get the satellite altimeter results that is not a measure, it is a computation, that lacking validation has very little value.

Ernest: Tell us about calibration and its role in sea level readings.

Albert Parker: It is not just a problem of calibration. You are trying to measure with a satellite altimeter the instantaneous, absolute, height, with accuracy up to the nanometer, of a continuously oscillating mass of water bounded by an irregular, continuously moving surface. With the much more established and reliable GPS system that serves many more goals than the monitoring of a climate change parameter, it is hard to compute with accuracy better than a couple of millimeters per year the time rate of change of the position of fixed GPS domes. The global mean sea level results of the satellite altimeter are unfortunately never validated computations, not certainly very accurate measurements.

Ernest: The observable change in sea level can be due to increase in amount of water in the oceans or upward tectonic movement of the seafloor, right? Is there any way to tell how much rise resulted from either?

Albert Parker: The situation is little bit more complicated. If you look at the relative sea level trends across the world, they rise and fall because of changing water conditions and land movements. If you are along the Pacific coast of the US for example, in Alaska, the sea levels are generally falling because the land is moving up (uplift). Conversely, if you look at California, the sea levels are rising mostly because the land is moving down (subsidence). Local factors produce significant differences in between the rates of sea level rise (trends).

Changes in tide levels over time evidenced in Fiji.

To get an accurate measure of the sea level rise by thermal expansion and mass addition from tide gauges, this is not easy. What we can see from the individual tide gauges, is that the contribution from mass addition and thermal expansion is about constant since the start of the 20th century. Since the year 1900, the warming of the oceans and the melting of the ices on land has therefore basically provided an almost constant contribution to the rate of rise of sea levels. Same time, the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission has increased exponentially. This would be enough to conclude that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions have from very little influence to no influence at all on the rate of rise of sea levels.

Ernest: Then there is the question of periodicity. Far as I get it from your paper, it is more scientific or reasonable to look at sea level change over the past least 60 years. Why is that?

Albert Parker: The sea levels are very well known to oscillate with many periodicities up to a quasi-60 years well shown in almost all the world tide gauges. If you study a tide gauge record and you want to compute a trend by linear fitting, you do need data collected over a time window long enough to understand what is a multidecadal natural oscillation and what is a sea level acceleration produced by intensifying mass addition and thermal expansion. It is unfortunately common to find peoples who cherry pick the short-term positive oscillation in selected locations to sell this result as the proof that global warming is real.

Obviously, the cherry pickers do not pick up the cherries in areas of opposite short-term oscillation where same approach could prove there is global cooling equally real. Similarly, they do not consider the fact that in the long-term locations, positive and negative phases of the oscillations have regularly followed each other over the time, and “unprecedented” short term sea level rises have been measured already about 60 years ago.

Ernest: Since you pointed out the shortcomings in sea level measurements by satellite altimetry and GPS, has the environmental science community responded to your work?

Albert Parker: The shortcomings of satellite altimetry to compute sea levels are very well known. The most part of the independent scientists, unfortunately mostly retired, acknowledges that there is something not that straight going on in the satellite altimeter result. Nils-Axel Morner and many others have written wonderful papers questioning the sea level claims. Problem are the dependent scientists, working in a commercial academy, and more than them, the general press and the politicians that have a clear interest to force the peoples to believe that global warming is real and they need more administration and control and more taxes.

Ernest: Speaking of press, we hear a lot in media about new researches finding links between anthropogenic carbon in atmosphere and sea level rise. And some have claimed disastrous consequences of this supposedly impending sea level threat. What’s your response when you read those stories?

Albert Parker: In the recent scientific paper reference [1], that of course will not receive any attention by the alarmists, we discuss how different experimental data sets of tide gauges show relatively small sea level trends, from +0.4 to +2 millimeters per year, and negligibly small sea level accelerations, just a few micrometers per year squared. These results demonstrate that the sea levels have not been driven by the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emission over the last 120 years, and it is very unlikely they will start be driven by magic right now. These trends and accelerations translate in forecasts to the year 2100 of 100-200 mm sea level rise, not certainly the 850 mm by the IPCC, nor the 1,670 or the 3,050 mm of works such as reference [2] or [3].

The figures below are a comparison of sea level measurements vs. sea level computations over the time window 1970 to 2017, and evidence based forecasts to the year 2100 vs. the model predictions. The difference amongst latest models and reality is increasing as opposed to being lessened. It should be the opposite. Many may certainly claim new links between the anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the sea level rise, with disastrous consequences of this supposedly impending sea level threat. This does not mean they are correct.

Fig. 1 – Comparison of sea level rises predicted by the local panels [2] (BOS-NRC) and [3] (H++), predicted by the IPCC AR5 RCP8.5 (IPCC RCP8.5), and measured by the tide gauges (averages of different data sets, California-8, PSMSL-301, Mitrovica-23, Holgate-9, NOAA-199, US-71). Further details in [1].

From these graphs, we already know that up to 2017 the models have been wrong, and it is increasingly unlikely to expect more rather than less sea level rise by 2100 vs. the already exaggerated IPCC predictions.

Fig. 2 – Comparison of sea level rises by 2100 predicted by the local panels [2] (BOS-NRC) and [3] (H++), predicted by the IPCC AR5 RCP8.5 (IPCC RCP8.5), and inferred from tide gauge measurements of different data sets (California-8, PSMSL-301, Mitrovica-23, Holgate-9, NOAA-199, US-71). Further details in [1].

[1] Parker, A. & Ollier, C.D., CALIFORNIA SEA LEVEL RISE: EVIDENCE BASED FORECASTS VS. MODEL PREDICTIONS, Ocean and Coastal Management, Ocean & Coastal Management, Available online 19 July 2017, In Press, Corrected Proof. doi: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2017.07.008

More Resources:

Sea Level Rise: Just the Facts

Cutting Edge Sea Level Data

Fear Not For Fiji

Footnote:  Climate alarmists may be jumping the shark as well as jumping to conclusions.
“Jumping the shark” is attempting to draw attention to or create publicity for something that is perceived as not warranting the attention, especially something that is believed to be past its peak in quality or relevance. The phrase originated with the TV series “Happy Days” when an episode had Fonzie doing a water ski jump over a shark. The stunt was intended to perk up the ratings, but it marked the show’s low point ahead of its demise.

Update Feb. 17

Prompted by a question from hunter, I found this informative recent letter on this topic(my bolds):

From Reply from Nils-Axel Mörner on the problems of estimating Future Sea Level Changes as asked by Albert Parker in letter of January 2, 2018

There are physical frames to consider. Ice melting requires time and heating, strictly bounded by physical laws. At the largest climatic jump in the last 20,000 years – viz. at the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary about 11,000 years BP – ice melted under extreme temperature forcing; still sea level only rose at a rate of about 10 mm/yr (or just a little more if one would consider more extreme eustatic reconstructions). Today, under interglacial climatic conditions with all the glacial ice caps gone climate forcing can only rise global sea level by a fraction of the 11,000 BP rate, which in comparison with the values of Garner et al. [1] would imply:
well below 0.4 m at 2050 instead of +0.6 m
well below 0.9 m at 2100 instead of +2.6 m
well below 2.9 m at 2300 instead of +17.5 m

Consequently, the values given by Garner et al. [1] violate physical laws and common glaciological knowledge. Therefore, their values must not be set as standard in coastal planning (point 2 above).

The mean sea level rise over the last 125 years is +0.81 ±0.18 mm/yr. At Stockholm in Sweden, the absolute uplift over the last 3000 years is strictly measured at +4.9 mm/yr. The mean tide-gauge change is -3.8 mm/yr, giving a eustatic component of +1.1 mm/yr for the last 150 years. In Amsterdam, the long-term subsidence is known as +0.4 mm/yr. The Amsterdam/Ijmuiden stations record a relative rise of +1.5 mm/yr, which give a eustatic component of +1.1 mm/yr.

Global Loading Adjustment has been widely used in order to estimate global sea level changes. Obviously, the globe must adjust its rate of rotation and geoid relief in close agreement with the glacial eustatic rise in sea level after the last Ice Age. The possible internal glacial loading adjustment is much more complicated, and even questionable, however.

Direct coastal analysis of morphology, stratigraphy, biological criteria, coastal dynamics, etc usually offers the far best means of recording the on-going sea level variations in a correct and meaningful way. It calls for hard work in the field and deep knowledge in a number of subjects. We have, very successfully, applied it in the Maldives, in Bangladesh, in Goa in southern India, and now also in the Fiji Islands. In all these sites, direct coastal analyses indicate full eustatic stability over the last 50-70 years, and long-term variations over the last 500 years that are consistent with “rotational eustasy” or “Global Solar Cycle Oscillations” (GSCO).

 

 

 

 

On Coastal Climate Risk

Matthew Kahn raises the question at his blog Is Oakland “Inconsistent” as it Sues Fossil Fuel Companies While Downplaying Climate Risk in its Municipal Bond Prospectus? Excerpts below with my bolds.

Wall Street Journal: California localities warn of disaster when suing oil companies. So how come they don’t tell investors?

The WSJ has published a fascinating piece that points out an inconsistency in the expressed views of the leaders of Oakland’s city government. This coastal city is suing Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for engaging in business that threatens Oakland’s future (i.e fossil fuel burning causes sea level rise that will impose costs on Oakland). Oakland’s inconsistency occurs in the municipal bond market. Oakland seeks to borrow a large amount of $ by selling bonds. In the bond risk disclosures, climate change is played down. In this setting, Oakland has a strong incentive to state that it is a low risk because low risk borrowers can borrow at a lower interest rate.

The author of the WSJ asks a simple question; which truth does Oakland believe? Is it over-exaggerating the risk it faces to win the Exxon law suit while simultaneously downplaying a possible risk in the municipal bond market? Did Oakland’s officials anticipate that they could engage in such “mixed messaging”?

In truth, Oakland will need to borrow $ to help it engage in capital upgrades to prepare for sea level rise. The market will set the equilibrium interest rate to reflect the risk. If investors know that coastal cities have an incentive to lie and understate the true risk then new risk providers such as the nascent Jupiter project will emerge to provide this information. To put this simply, when you buy a used car — do you just ask the current owner for her assessment of its quality? Don’t be a sucker, do your homework.

The Exxon lawsuit raises major issues. I understand transaction costs but why aren’t the litigants suing gasoline car makers and gasoline car buyers? This lawsuit is an indirect court induced carbon tax. If the litigants succeed, what would be the economic incidence of this tax? Would Exxon’s profit decline? (More on the legal issues below)

A good debater might argue that the municipal bonds are issued for 30 years and over this time horizon, coastal cities do not face a serious challenge and thus the bond default risk is low. But, as you make these arguments think back in time. 1988 was 30 years ago. Technology has made some progress. By the year 2048, I have a feeling that our technological frontier will have leaped forward to help us to adapt to the new normal. The coastal capital stock will be less durable and we will be prepared.

Note: By the term “durable” in the last sentence, Kahn refers to the possibility of structures in vulnerable places being movable in the face of erosion or flooding. He and Devin Bunten discuss how developers are likely to adapt to localized climate risks in their paper Optimal Real Estate Capital Durability and Localized Climate Change Disaster Risk Devin Bunten and Matthew E. Kahn January 2017
(Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, University of Southern California and NBER)

Abstract
The durability of the real estate capital stock could hinder climate change adaptation because past construction anchors the population in beautiful and productive but increasingly-risky coastal areas. However, coastal developers anticipate that their assets face increasing risk and this creates an incentive to seek adaptation strategies. This paper models climate change as a joint process of (1) increasingly destructive storms and (2) a risk of sea-level rise that submerges coastal property. We study how forward-looking developers and real estate investors respond to the new risks along a number of dimensions including their choices of location, capital durability, capital mobility (modular real estate), and maintenance of existing properties. The net effect of such investments is a more resilient urban population.

The above referenced WSJ article is paywalled, but this post by CEI gets at the securities fraud issue: SEC Should Investigate California Municipalities for Climate-Related Securities Fraud

It appears a variety of California municipalities have gotten themselves in hot water. To investors of their bonds, they have claimed that they are unable to predict sea level rise or other climate risks. But they recently filed suit against a variety of oil and gas companies claiming the companies are causing the sea level to rise. The municipalities in their lawsuits give very explicit predictions as to how much they think the sea level will rise.

Today CEI asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate these activities as possible securities fraud. Federal law prohibits deceiving investors through untrue material facts or material omissions. The municipalities claim to the court that they are able to predict these sea level changes. If that is true, then they are deceiving investors. The SEC’s mission is to protect investors from such false statements.

A few examples of the conflicting statements:

  • The City of San Francisco to bond investors: “The City is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur.” But to the court, the city predicts “0.3 to as much as 0.8 feet of additional sea level rise.”
  • The City of Oakland to bond investors: “The City is unable to predict when seismic events, fires or other natural events, such as sea rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm, could occur, when they may occur.” But to the court, the city predicts “66 inches of sea level rise.”
  • The County of San Mateo to bond investors: “County is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur.” But to the court, the county states: “The County anticipates and is planning for significant sea level rise.”
  • The County of Santa Cruz to bond investors states that “may be subject to unpredictable climatic conditions, such as flood.” But to the court, the county states that there is a “98% chance that the County experiences a devastating three-foot flood before the year 2050.”

There are two possible reasons why these municipalities have told the courts different statements than investors. First the municipalities may be trying to get more money from bonds then they would be able to get if they were honest about their true beliefs. For instance, the City of Oakland predicts the costs of “between $22 and $38 billion.” Would the city even be solvent trying to pay those costs? No investor would give their money to a city which expects not to be able to pay them back. If the municipalities were forced to explain what they claim are the expected impacts of climate change to their budget, they would no longer be able to raise as much money from bonds.

The second possible reason is that these municipalities are actually lying to the courts instead of investors by fabricating their predictions of sea level rise. Or perhaps they’re misrepresenting things to both investors and the courts.

Regardless, we hope the SEC can get to the bottom of this.

On the legal flaws with these lawsuits by cities: Is Global Warming A Public Nuisance?