A Washington Times editorial falsely claims that a recent sea level study "shows oceans are not rising." In fact, the study does not dispute that sea levels are rising, and the study's author calls the Washington Times' claim "a mischaracterization of our work."
Wash.Times:"Latest Report Shows Oceans Are Not Rising." A Washington Times editorialthat was posted online on March 28 and appeared in the print version of thenewspaper on March 29 claimed that a recent study "shows oceans are notrising":
Wash.Times Claims Study ShowedIncrease In Sea Level In Western Pacific "Was Offset" Elsewhere. The editorialhighlighted a recent analysis of U.S. tide gauges by James R. Houston and Robert G. Dean published inthe Journal of Coastal Research and claimed that the researchers foundthat "the sea level was increasing in the western Pacific, but this was offsetby a drop in the level near the Alaskan coast":
TheUnited Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-recipientwith Mr. Gore of the Nobel Peace Prize, quantified the sea-level rise as beingbetween 7 and 23 inches by the year 2100. They argued that man's emissions ofcarbon dioxide have been heating up the globe. While man's CO2 is identical tothat emitted by polar bears and other animals favored by environmentalists, theleft insists "too much" of it is melting polar ice caps. This, the theory goes,makes the oceans swell.
Aformer research director with the Army Corps of Engineers and a formercivil-engineering professor at the University of Florida decided to put thesea-rise claims to the test. They gathered U.S. tide-gauge readings from 57stations where water levels had been continuously recorded for as long as 156years. The result did suggest the sea level was increasing in the westernPacific, but this was offset by a drop in the level near the Alaskan coast."Our analyses do not indicate acceleration in sea level in U.S. tide gaugerecords during the 20th century," the study's authors concluded. "Instead, foreach time period we consider, the records show small decelerations that areconsistent with a number of earlier studies of worldwide-gauge records." [WashingtonTimes, 3/28/11]
StudyAuthor James R. Houston: Wash. Times' Claim "Is A Mischaracterization OfOur Work." JamesHouston, Director Emeritus of the Corps of Engineers' Engineer Research andDevelopment Center and an author of the study cited by the Washington Times statedin an email:
Saying, "Latest report shows oceans are notrising" is a mischaracterization of our work. Sea levels arerising. Our study showed that the rise is not accelerating - it isactually slightly decelerating over at least the last 80 years.
An analogy would be driving a car. Ifyou are driving at a constant speed of 60 miles per hour, the car is notaccelerating, but obviously moving. Sea level has been rising at a rateof about 1.7 millimeters per year for the past 100 years. We consideredwhether the 60 mile per hour speed of the car was accelerating (you are pushingon the gas pedal) or decelerating (you are pushing on the brake). Wefound a slight deceleration - sea level over the past 100 years, inparticularly the past 80 years, has decelerated slightly, but it is rising.[Email to Media Matters, 3/29/11]
Thestudy included the following chart of global mean sea level:
Houston:Wash. Times "Implies That The Net Effect Has Been No Rise. This Is NotThe Case." MediaMatters askedHouston about the Wash. Times' statement that "The result did suggestthe sea level was increasing in the western Pacific, but this was offset by adrop in the level near the Alaskan coast." Houston replied that this was areference to satellite measurements, not the tide gauge measurements that hisstudy analyzed. Houston also stated:
Basically, from 1993 to 2010, sea level risemeasured by satellite altimeters has been remarkably spatially variable overthe planet. But if you add up all the ups and downs, the net effect has been arise measured by the altimeters of about 3.1 millimeters per year from 1993 to2010. The newspaper article implies that the net effect has been no rise. Thisis not the case. [Email to Media Matters, 3/29/11]
Study Author Robert Dean: "Sea Level In The 20thCentury Was (And Is) Rising." Responding to the WashingtonTimes' claim that his study "shows oceans are not rising," Robert Dean, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering ofthe University of Florida, stated via email:
There is adifference between "rising" and "accelerating". Accelerating means thatthe rate of rise is increasing. Sea level in the 20th Century was(and is) rising, it wasn't accelerating taking the entire century as a whole.
Because thesatellite altimetry has concluded that since 1992, the rate of rise has beenmore rapid than in the 20th Century (which would imply a recentacceleration), we are now examining more than 400 gauge records over the last20 years or so. [Emailto Media Matters, 3/29/11]
WashTimes: TheStudy"Put The Sea-Rise Claims To The Test." After stating that theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "quantified the sea-level rise asbeing between 7 and 23 inches by the year 2100," the editorial claimed thatHouston and Dean "decided to put the sea-rise claims to the test." [Washington Times, 3/28/11]
Houston:IPCC Figures Are "A Reasonable Prediction For The Range Of Scenarios TheyConsider." Houstonstated via email:
I personally think that IPCC (2007)'s rangeof 7-23 in by 2100 is a reasonable prediction for the range of scenarios theyconsider. Our results would indicate that if the conditions of the pastcentury persist (so a similar temperature rise of the past century), the riseby 2100 would approach the lower limit of the range - so about 7 inches. However, most of the scenarios involve greater temperature rises and we alsowould expect there might be greater melting of ice sheets in Greenland andAntarctica.
Therefore, a range of 7-23 inches seemsreasonable to me given we don't know which scenario of greenhouse gasemissions, temperature rises, and sea level response to temperature rises willoccur. [Email to Media Matters, 3/29/11]
JoshWillis Of Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "Past Rise Is Not An Indicator Of FutureRise." Commentingon the Journal of Coastal Research study via email, Josh Willis, anocean expert at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,stated: "I think that most people who study global sealevel rise accept that there has been an increase, or acceleration, in the rateof global sea level rise during that last 100 or more years. However, scientists do disagree on howobvious this is in some of the tide gauge data." He also said that "it is very difficult to estimate the rate of globally averaged sea level rise from tide gauges alone, much less to do so with something a subtle as acceleration." Willis added:
But more importantly, past rise is not an indicator of future rise. When we lookclosely at the things that cause sea level rise, like ice loss from glaciersand ice sheets, we find that they can dump huge amounts of ice into the oceanin a very short time. So this paper has little or no bearing on sea levelrise during the next century. Most people who study these things agreethat future rise will be something like 2 to 5 feet by 2100 and this paperdoesn't change that." [Email to Media Matters, 3/29/11]
NCAR's Kevin Trenberth: "Since 1993 Sea LevelIs Rising At Rates Unprecedented In The Past 150 Years." Kevin Trenberth, headof the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Researchsimilarly stated that the Journal of Coastal Research study "saysnothing about the future," adding that "future sea level rise is much debated"with some estimating that "it could be much greater than 23 inches by 2100 (theIPCC estimates are known to be low because they did not include all factors,and they say so.)" Trenberth further stated:
Factsare that since 1993 sea level is rising at rates unprecedented in the past 150years and it is well accounted for by expansion of the ocean and melting ofland ice. Prospects for the future are even larger increases dependingcritically on what happens to the major ice sheets of Greenland andAntarctica. Both have shown acceleration of melting since 2003. [Email toMedia Matters, 3/29/11]