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Town Governments Instructed to Panic About Sea-Levels

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By Walter Donway

February 9, 2019

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Because Long Island is a 200-mile peninsula, and East Hampton near to its eastern tip, environmentalists from organizations such as the Nature Conservancy are urging the town (and other coastal towns) to undertake emergency damage control “before it’s too late.”

Walter Donway has published a series of letters on “catastrophic climate change” in the “East Hampton Star,” a weekly newspaper with high visibility to New York City media types, whose weekend/vacation homes are in the town.

In this letter, he addresses a chief concern: the allegedly accelerating rate of sea-level rise. Because Long Island is a 200-mile peninsula, and East Hampton near to its eastern tip, environmentalists from organizations such as the Nature Conservancy are urging the town (and other coastal towns) to undertake emergency damage control “before it’s too late.” Donway takes on the contention, in a recent “Star” lead editorial, that without drastic restrictions on fossil fuels, the Long Island generation after this one (in about 100 years) will “curse” our memory.

January 27, 2019

To the Editor

Termed “the argument from intimidation”–its form is: “If you disagree with my argument/assertion, then you must be ignorant/crazy/flaky …”

Your college logic course taught classic fallacies of argumentation. Here is one that might be termed “the argument from intimidation.” Its form: “If you disagree with my argument/assertion, then you must be ignorant/crazy/flaky …”

The Star’s lead editorial, January 24, “Rate of Sea Level Rise Demands Action,” opens with “Unless you are a person who thinks the Apollo Moon landings were faked, or the Earth is flat, it is impossible to argue with NASA’s observations of sea level rise.”

Still, this is not heavy weaponry. To intimidate anyone disputing the case for catastrophic global warming/climate change, high caliber intimidation typically is used. The critic is a climate “denier,” as remote from reality as those who refuse to believe that between 1939 and 1945, some six million Jewish men, women, and children were exterminated by Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) regime.

The Star editorial, however, is factual, adequately documented, and cogently written. It does not need to preemptively intimidate critics.

As a matter of fact, I do not disagree with NASA’s observations as such, if narrowly stated. But, as an aside, it is possible to disagree without being an all-round flake. For example, the Star says that “coastal tide gauges show even greater rate of rise” than the NASA measurements. What that means, and the original NASA report points this out, is that the two systems of measurements disagree. The original NASA report also says it averaged the two results. It also said “other factors” confounded the measurements; thus, the researchers used the much-disputed computerized global climate models to massage the figures.

But to the results, as reported. NASA, since 1993, has used satellite altimetry to measure the rise in the sea level. In approximately 25 years, the level reportedly rose 3.5 inches. The Star editorial speaks of the “unrelenting” and “extremely alarming” increase. (The rise over the course of the 20th century is estimated at about 8.0 inches.)

If my math is correct, 3.5 inches in 25 years is 14 inches in 100 years. So that, by the year 2120, or thereabouts, the average sea level worldwide (all “sea level” is not equal) could be 14 inches higher. By the end of the 21st Century, roughly 75 years from now, the sea level could be 10.5 inches higher.

Please note: The NASA measurements tell us ONLY that the rate of sea-level rise measured/estimated for the past 25 years, if projected to the end of this century, will increase sea level 10.5 inches higher. Given 75 years of lead time, will Long Islanders figure out how to cope with a 10.5-inch rise, so our grandchildren in their old age will not “curse our memory,” as the Star editorial warns?

At this point, there should be a bright red line across the page. We now move from satellite measurements of one factor—sea-level change—into interpretations laced with assumptions and driven by ideological conviction and the goals of alarming readers into action.

The Star says that NASA attributes the sea-level rise to global warming, which expands sea water and melts ice sheets and glaciers.

The Star refers to a new report that the Greenland ice cap is melting “four times faster than previously thought.” The result is additional melt water pouring into the seas. The story projects what would occur if all Greenland ice melted.

Greenland’s ice cap, glaciers, and melting rates have been the constant target of climate research, earlier studies, and repeated editorial panic attacks. Much of the fodder for panic has been debunked.

This study, dated January 21, 2019, has not been published long enough to be analyzed by other scientists. But Greenland’s ice cap, glaciers, and melting rates have been the constant target of climate research, earlier studies, and repeated editorial panic attacks. Much of the fodder for panic has been debunked.

You might be surprised that this newest study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, covers only 2003 to 2012 to draw its “four times as fast as previously thought” conclusion. You see, 2012, the year of the alleged 4X melting rate, was a huge exception, and so noted at the time.

NASA scientists did concede to reporters that warming might be involved. But the most definite statement, admittedly way down in the news stories, was from Lara Koenig, a glaciologist at the Goddard Institute of Space Studies and member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. She said: “Ice cores from [Greenland’s] Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time.”

Okay, some NASA scientists said the 2012 melting was “unprecedented” and some said it was a recurring event, “right on time.” It can’t be both, can it?

Thus, choosing 2012 as the damning comparison year for a (ridiculously brief) 10-year “climate” study led to that 4X-more-rapid-melting conclusion. It means little about any long-term trend in Greenland ice cap melting. Several subsequent years, in Greenland, already have been historically colder.

In 2016, another study shed light on that “insta-melt” in summer 2012. The lead author, Marco Tedesco, is research professor at Columbia University’s Earth Observatory and adjunct at the NASA Goddard Institute. The conclusion, published in the European Geosciences Union journal, The Cryosphere, was that increased snow melt over the whole surface of Greenland resulted from the snowy surface getting darker over the past two decades. That led to a complex feedback process. The darker surface, a study of the satellite data showed, reduced the snow’s reflectivity, or “albedo,” so that it absorbed more heat from the sun and melted faster. Albedo was likely to keep decreasing, by as much as 10 percent by the end of the century.

The cause is soot embedded over centuries in the miles-deep Greenland ice cap. While soot blowing in from wildfires contributes to the problem, it hasn’t been driving the change, the study found. The real culprits are the feedback loops created by the melting itself.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a ‘dirtier’ snowpack to make it dark,” said Tedesco, “A snowpack that might look ‘clean’ to our eyes can be more effective in absorbing solar radiation than a dirty one. Overall, what matters, it is the total amount of solar energy that the surface absorbs. This is the real driver of melting.” (The study used satellite data to compare summertime changes in Greenland’s albedo from 1981 to 2012.)

Although accelerating Greenland melting is not caused by global warming, Prof. Tedesco did see an effect of warming climate. The melting cycle could be stopped with lots of snowfall and less melting, but that doesn’t seem as likely given the immediate warming trend.

As it did with Greenland, the story projected what would happen to the sea level if all of Antarctica, melted.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a National Geographic article reporting the Greenland study moved quickly to another alarming story: the Antarctic, it seems, is now melting six times as rapidly as first “thought.” As it did with Greenland, the story projected what would happen to the sea level if all of Antarctica, melted. The Star editorial did not follow National Geographic to this very latest alarm, nor will I.

But several analytical comments on the story are offered on a site I have recommended: Watts Up with That? In brief, it seems that the study purports to draw its conclusions based in part on a period for which relevant data doesn’t exist. And the numbers, even if accepted, do not add up to a threatening long-term sea-level rise.

I do not believe we can predict climate conditions 100 years hence any more than what today’s L.I. babies “by their old age,” then, will be “cursing”—or praising. I’m guessing probably not the sea level—but that’s not a prediction, just a hunch.

 

Walter Donway

East Hampton

 

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