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Sea level rising faster without causing problems

Two papers on sea level have caught the eye this week. Chris Watson and colleagues from the University of Tasmania claim to have detected an error in the satellite measurements for the 1990s. Having corrected the alleged error, more recent decades are warming relatively faster and so a certain amount of vindication of the climate models' projections of acceleration is claimed.

Meanwhile, Kench and colleagues working at the University of Auckland have found no evidence that coral atolls are sinking beneath the waves. Having monitored 29 islands in Funafuti Atoll, they find if anything a slight increase in land area.

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Reader Comments (35)

Despite the magnitude of this rise, no islands have been lost, the majority have enlarged, and there has been a 7.3% increase in net island area over the past century (A.D. 1897–2013). There is no evidence of heightened erosion over the past half-century as sea-level rise accelerated. Reef islands in Funafuti continually adjust their size, shape, and position in response to variations in boundary conditions, including storms, sediment supply, as well as sea level.

Amazing, I was taught about this in o'level geography back in the seventies yet apparently it's still being rediscovered today. All helps to keep the grants coming in I suppose.

May 12, 2015 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Funny how "error detection" and homogenisation always show warming getting faster!

Pity that coral grows upwards in response to sea level increase, must be a blow to the alarmists!

May 12, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Even if islands are disappearing, I would guess that for a tiny fraction of global CC-related spending we could bung each islander £1 million quid to cover relocation costs. I'm guessing that most of them would be happy with the deal. Cheaper than spending billions to reduce sea level rise by a fraction of a mm.

May 12, 2015 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Funny how the speed up never seems to show in the most reliable tidal gauges. Satellite or land based measurement. It doesn't matter which you use, so long as it shows the worst possible case.

May 12, 2015 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Re: CharmingQuark

> Funny how "error detection" and homogenisation always show warming getting faster!

The reason for this is simple.

If the data shows less effects of warming than they expected then they will actively look for reasons within the data. A paper detailing this error will undergo little verification as it confirms what the peer reviewers expect to happen and so will get published.

If the data shows more effects of warming than expected then they look for reasons outside of the data. Again, since this confirms what the peer reviewers expect then it has an easy passage to publication. Alternatively, anybody attempted to show a data error that lessens any impact will have a hard time with peer review and if they to manage to get published they will have the green taliban trying to wreck their career.

May 12, 2015 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

You would have thought that with all these localised differences in sea level, someone could build a hydroelectric power station, connecting the high sea level on one side of an island, with the low sea level on the other side of the same island.

I am sure that top Green scientists would support such a scheme, if the money was right, for them

May 12, 2015 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

How very convenient. An error that just helps to get the message out. A pity it doesn't actually match actual physical measurements, as normal, but we must keep the green flag flying at all costs.

Any fool can fiddle with data to make it say what they want and the green blob are past masters of it.

May 12, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterivan

I look forward to London's coral foundation lifting us out of danger.

May 12, 2015 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterGubulgaria

It is good to see that coral islands are increasing in area, given the parrot produces the sand that the sea washes onto the beach to increase land.

May 12, 2015 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Good morning knuckle-draggers. Anyone care to read the science rather than just spout about conspiracy still? I long can you go on in this vein?

I mean...just read the article and assume for one second that there is nothing sinister and conspiratorial about all of this. Anyone care to explain why this may not be relevant?

May 12, 2015 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

@ ivan...go on give it a go? Easy to come on all hands a waving but with nothing behind the blatherings.

Convenient? Fools fiddling with data? Proof!! Post something we can read. You must have arrived at those conclusions by some means surely?

May 12, 2015 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

The best time to synthesise rapidly increasing Pacific Island sea level rise is around El Nino years. Becker et al 2012 reported inter-annual changes as high as ±20–30 cm, so that is one easy way to inflate the figures. The true professional alarmists will know, of course, that if you report anomalies instead of absolute changes then you can rinse and repeat this trick almost indefinitely. Certainly a career's worth of data "collection" and some tropical travel arrangements to boot.

If lucky, then the El Nino weather changes will also cause some coral die-back to report, so the snorkelling equipment can go on expenses.

May 12, 2015 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I think Onbyaccident is the same person who tried to argue I was wrong about my assertion that post-modernist climate science was primarily about belief in the models over the data (unlike real science when obs are used to correct the models). I recall he said I 'just made that up'. Yet here we have yet another occasion where obs were tuned to match the models expectations and not only does he not admit he was wrong but he doubles down on his previous ignorance to suggest that merely being appropriately sceptical about such obvious cognitive bias (eg old style science) is to be a conspiracy theorist.

May 12, 2015 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The error gave the illusion of the rate of sea level rise decreasing by 0.058 mm/year 2 between 1993 and 2014 , when in reality it accelerated by between 0.041 and 0.058 mm/year 2

Once again we entertained to the climate 'science' habit of claims of a accuracy and precision which fail the sniff test .
What are the actual chances of being able to measure to three decimal places sea levels , probable f all
And probable less chance of being able 'measure ' any error to this level.

Its really , really basic stuff , but you cannot 'measure ' to a level of precision better than the precision available given the means to take the measurement . And that is before we get to the 101 problems with trying to take the measurement in the first place .
Its a classic case of throwing maths of something to create 'proof' whilst ignoring reality , or classic climate 'science' in action.

May 12, 2015 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

In a Yahoo article on this paper, the acceleration is given as 0.002 inches per year with a current rise of 0.1 inch per year. Given that acceleration, the difference between a linear projection for 100 years and this accelerated projection is approximately 1.5 inches. Clearly something to worry your pretty little heads about!

May 12, 2015 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDean_1230

@ JamesG

You really struggle with all this don't you. Here you state that "obs were tuned to match the models expectations" but with no apparent proof of said "tuning"! Words and blather. Easy to state. Not so easy to show.

In all my research experience of models and data it has ALWAYS been the latter (assuming they are verifiable, repeatable and correct) that dominate. I've always seen that happen in peer reviewed climate science research.

Quit the ad hom and address & answer some bloody science for once. Pathetic.

May 12, 2015 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

The basic principles of coral atoll formation were established by Charles Darwin nearly 200 years ago. Atolls are formed as volcanic islands gradually sink and coral reefs grow around their edges. Long after the original island has disappeared beneath the waves, a ring of coral remains at sea level. Unless damaged by pollution, etc, reefs are quite capable of growing to keep up with a slow rise of sea level. None of them would exist if they could not, since sea level globally has risen by many metres since the last ice age, for obvious reasons! All of this is explained in any good geology textbook, so it is not surprising that 'climate scientists' are unaware of it. (sarc)

May 12, 2015 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

"I look forward to London's coral foundation lifting us out of danger." Gubulgaria

We call it concrete. London is between 4 and 7 metres above the level in Roman times. We have the technology.

May 12, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

The Guardian article, for what its worth, states that Watson et al found that the actual rate of sea level is lower though it is accelerating.
<I>"The results revise downwards the average rate of sea level rise since the 1990s. The IPCC’s landmark report in 2013 found the sea had risen on average by 3.2 mm per year since 1993. Waston’s (sic) study found the rate was slightly slower, between 2.6 and 2.9 mm per year."</I>
Funny how that did not make the headline!

May 12, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

Gubulgaria, .... I look forward to London's coral lifting us out of danger...

London is slowly sinking, possibly exacerbated by the weight of buildings.

The London Embankment, including the sewage system, was built in the 1800's, by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Was sea level rise due to global warming a problem then? If so, more history books will have to be rewritten to match the science.

May 12, 2015 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Onbyaccident, could your knuckledragging science explain why Harlech Castle is no longer quite so readily acessible by boat, because that was the intention.

Or is that completely different like most evidence that does not match the failed theory?

May 12, 2015 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie


So you started with two snarky remarks and then complain about ad-hom?

Don't presume to be the only person with experience of numeric models. I've been programming FEM models for 30 years.and never have I encountered anyone who sought to change the data to match the models. My current challenge is to find a plastic cycling algorithm for ratchetting that matches reality bearing in mind the numerous different variables that affect it. There are around 20 slightly different methods; some work with some data and others work with different data but most are of little use for design because they are not consistently conservative in all situations and many have really iffy material parameters. But did it ever occur to me that the real problem was the data? Well since that would be a dangerous assumption in engineering no I didn't. You cannot properly adjust data until you are very sure of the physics behind it, and with multiple variables forget it! However it's a fairly easy thing to do in climate science because, a) nobody will die if you are wrong, b) you get your name in the papers every time you say the models are correct after all, and c) being consistently wrong is no barrier to promotion, lucrative prizes and press cuttings eg; Holdren, Mann, Trenberth, Emanuel, Hansen.

Don't presume I know nothing about data collection either - we test materials under various loads and temperatures, measure pressure loss coefficients, etc, etc. Sometimes there are instrument errors but there is usually a normal distribution of errors; in the context of climate this would be like finding as many cooling errors as warming errors. I don't see the same error distribution in climate science because they are not predisposed to look for errors that may cause too much warming. It seems the overriding concern is to somehow prove that these patently inadequate models are fit for policy after all - in order seemingly to counter the skeptics who have been proven correct all this time about model inadequacy.

So what happened here; well let's see - the models stayed the same, the data was corrected and everyone declared hoorah the models turn out to be correct after we did this adjustment - so pessimists were right after all and all those unethical oil-funded skeptics were wrong. Just how much clearer can cognitive dissonance get? If you cannot see it then you are not skeptical enough! Maybe they are actually correct here but we have been here before many times with such 'ground-breaking' re-analyses of data and every time the alarmists turn out to be using wrong methods - yes every time! Random monkeys would do better. Hence skepticism is the only rational first response.

Presumably there is some moral smugness to be gleaned in climate pessimism - as indeed you demonstrate so well. Well some of us are more worried about the suffering in the next few years from rank-bad policy based on p#ss-poor science. you don't occupy the moral high ground - it is a mere delusion brought about by not thinking very hard about consequences.

May 12, 2015 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

So they have found errors in the previous sea level data (which we were assured was correct).

Pardon me if I am underwhelmed, and am waiting patiently for this next lot of numbers to also be found incorrect.

BTW Mr Accident - when the knuckle draggers at the Univ of Colorado admit their original data was wrong and amend it, we'll all pay a bit more attention!

May 12, 2015 at 6:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

If the Watson paper is right, sea level rise in the last 20 yrs is as low as 2.3mm/yr, barely more then the generally accepted 20thC rise of around 2.0mm/yr.

(Remember that Watson's 2.6mm/yr includes the GIA of 0.3mm/yr, which of course the old tide gauge measurements did not allow for. As the GIA compensates for ocean bottoms sinking, it has no relevance to sea levels - the clue being in the word LEVEL!)

Full analysis here.

May 12, 2015 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

It always amazes me that historic dry docks built in the UK, are not underwater, but some built over 2000 years ago around the Mediterranean are higher above sea level, than makes any sense for ship repair or building.

Before Global Warming, ship builders obviously did not know where sea level was.

May 12, 2015 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Nicely done and explained. The Guardian should be embarrassed but I doubt that it will even register.

May 12, 2015 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

@ JG

soooo, other than a bit of self justification which changes nothing about what you are hand waving about...., not very much then. I ask for science. If the science is as you so eloquently put it so p*ss poor then it would be easy to refute.

You would send me relevant peer reviewed links but same pattern again that I have seen here and on other sites. Nothing of any substance and no backing. I have no real understanding of why you believe what it is you believe. And you have the gall of accusing me of falling for the too easy accusation of calling you all fantasists who cling to conspiracy theories.

Embarrassing. ;-)

May 13, 2015 at 12:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

Obviously, the sea level people have taken a leaf out of the thermometer people's book and started 'cooling' the past to make to the current 'warming' look more impressive.

They try to justify it by saying it matches the 'accelerated loss of ice from Greenland and recent projections'. No doubt the accelerated loss of ice from Greenland was measured by the two most useless satellites in history - GRACE.

May 13, 2015 at 12:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

@ Onbyaccident, aka aTTP, aka Rice Bubbles

From the Watson nature paper:

"it’s accelerating at 0.043 +/- 0.058 mm/yr"

The newly adjusted acceleration is SMALLER than its' associated error

Credibility ZERO

May 13, 2015 at 5:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

Where are the terrifying sea level intrusions destroying cities and flooding islands!?

Not to worry! Christopher Watson from the University of Tasmania has formed a team to investigate why there are no sea level rising floods.

To accomplish this they used the following science standards:
GCM model outputs.
Estimated water volume melt from the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland.
Deep introspection analysis of the sea level rise records (specifics as to whose database are left unstated).
Hand waving smoke about continental rebound or subsidence causing sea level rise confusion.
Admission that all sea level rise techniques lack accuracy.

Using this fount of sea level wisdom they determined:

"...Records from tide gauges and satellites have shown sea level rise slowing slightly over the past 20 years. But as the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland shed ever more water into the ocean, climate models show it should be doing the opposite.

“The thing that was really puzzling us was that the last decade of sea level rise was marginally slower, ever so subtly slower, than the decade before it,” said Dr Christopher Watson from the University of Tasmania who led the new study.

Watson’s team found that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high..."

Shock! Horror!

Watson's team determined that

"...GMSL estimates do not include an allowance for potential instrumental drifts (bias drift ⁴,⁵)...

How odd?
Turns out that satellite bias drift is recognized, analyzed, constantly monitored and accounted for.

"... Intersatellite calibration has determined the relative bias to an accuracy of 1.6 mm rms. Tide gauge calibration of the T/P record during its original mission shows a drift of -0.1 ± 0.4 mm/year. The tide gauge calibration of 20 months of nominal Jason data indicates a drift of -5.7 ± 1.0 mm/year, which may be attributable to errors in the orbit ephemeris and the Jason Microwave Radiometer. The analysis of T/P and Jason altimeter data over the past decade has resulted in a determination of global mean sea level change of +2.8 ± 0.4 mm/year..."

What is also interesting is the relative accuracy of any sea level rise technology.

"...The Jason series of satellites provides sustained radar altimetry observations and continuous data on sea surface height (SSH) accurate to within a few centimeters all over the globe, to tell us about variations in surface and deep-water ocean circulation. Jason's ability to measure mean sea level with millimeter accuracy is a key asset for monitoring climate change..."

Accurate within a few centimeters, assumption to +/- 1.0mm precision; yet the Watson team allegedly worked with sea level rise numbers far smaller than 1.0mm.

Their main claim of discovery is that prior rates of sea level rise are smaller than currently identified in research. This minor modification of 1990's sea level rise, assuming the same total rate of sea level rise to date means that the recent rise is faster than previously identified.

A logic fail on top of bad science practice.

May 13, 2015 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

In fact sea level instrument correction has already been done long ago but ObA just didn't know about it....
"We add our observational estimate of upper-ocean thermal expansion to other contributions to sea-level rise and find that the sum of contributions from 1961 to 2003 is about 1.5 ± 0.4 mm/yr, in good agreement with our updated estimate of near-global mean sea-level rise (using techniques established in earlier studies6, 7) of 1.6 ± 0.2 mm/yr"

Or the full story here:

Of course I have previously linked to this work but pause deniers need continual reminders because they don't actually read or even know much about the science beyond the headlines.

May 15, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


Trying to sneak in a little post when you thought no one was looking eh ;-). Says a lot.

Errr...yes I was aware this was not new. When did I say I wasn't? Incidentally even if I didn't what does that say about the price of mik? Try being relevant. It wasn't me who posted the Guardian piece here but your esteemed blog-owner.

May 16, 2015 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

@ JG2

Impressed you found real linke though :-)

Now try reading and understanding them.

May 16, 2015 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

Onbyaccident seems particularly accident prone since he keeps "accidentally" showing up. Despite challenging others, he has not demonstrated that he has read any of the cited papers.

I, for one, would appreciate a free copy of the Watson article to more closely examine its update of the vertical land movement analysis in King, et al., (2012). King was also a co-author of the Watson, et al. study.

Of course, Watson, et al., may be correct. However, all studies of sea level change and glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) involve assumptions that introduce uncertainty. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that models for estimating GIA have inherent errors. In fact, it would be ludicrous to assert otherwise. Nevertheless, Watson's impressively narrow range for adjusting previous GIA estimates is probably more the result of discounting assumption-imposed uncertainties than the result of newly precise sea level measurements. The reliance upon GPS data as far away from tidal gauges as 100 km could, by itself, introduce an error greater than the paper's proposed correction.

May 17, 2015 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered Commenteropluso

@ opluso

Except nothing is being cited here muppet. That is a big part of what I'm saying. I keep asking for evidence or papers etc but NEVER get anything remotely sensible.

And then of course you go off on wild ramblings and suppositions on subjects you clearly don't understand AND SHOW NO EVIDENCE FOR SAID ASSERTIONS!

You people are a truly laughable lonely bunch.

May 20, 2015 at 1:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterOnbyaccident

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