The other side of the sea-level rise debate

Two scientists say predictions are based on bad science
Willie Soon says widely accepted predictions of sea-level rise are based on bad science. BY RON MACARTHUR
March 22, 2013

Two scientists say predictions of drastic sea-level rise and climate change are bad science. During a forum sponsored by the Positive Growth Alliance and the Caesar Rodney Institute, the pair distanced themselves from widely-held claims surrounding pending environmental changes.

Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said dire predictions of accelerated sea-level rise over the next 100 years were based on flawed data.

Joining him as a featured speaker, David Legates, a University of Delaware professor of climatology and state climatologist from 2005 to 2011, said there are no clear signs sea-level rise is accelerating. In fact, Legates says, Delaware is sinking at about 1.7 mm per year.

The two agree sea-level rise and climate change have gone beyond science and are now political issues. Legates hinted that the issues were now political science masquerading as real science.

More than 250 people attended the event at the Georgetown CHEER Center.

“It's a rarity to hear the other side of the story; it's not out there,” said PGA Executive Director Rich Collins. “The science has been decided for you that we are going to have sea-level rise and climate change whether you want it or not.”

Collins, who serves on the state's Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, said there is a lot of misinformation to dispel, and a lot of it is coming from governmental sources, including the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

This summer, the committee will release a comprehensive plan three years in the making for adapting to future climate change.

“The fundamental problem is that we hire people to serve us, and we put no off-switch on their efforts,” Collins said. “They are working off laws that were written 30 or 40 years ago. They have to produce something; they have no choice.”

Collins said the forum should be used as a stepping-off point for citizens to oppose state policies and land-use decisions based on long-term climate change and sea-level rise predictions.

State works from three models

State officials use three sea-level rise scenarios – from best-case to worst-case scenario – for planning and policy consideration. The levels range from 3 feet to just over 5 feet over the next century.

Susan Love, planner with the Delaware Coastal Programs, said the state's sea-level rise scenarios were adapted from national, global and local sources for planning purposes over the next 50 to 100 years.

Love said when Legates says sea-level rise is not accelerating, he is correct. But, she said, even a few inches of sea-level rise, in conjunction with land sinking, can make a difference over many years. “People are seeing changes. They are seeing marshes fill up that didn't before, and they are seeing flooding in places where it has never occurred,” she said.

Love said the rate of sea-level rise in Delaware is 3.35mm per year, or about .13 inches. “But we do anticipate an accelerated rate in the future,” Love said.

The rate of sea-level rise over the past century – as recorded in Lewes – was just over 3 feet.

Soon and Legates have a distinctively different analysis of sea-level rise data touted by many scientists. Sea-level rise estimates range from as little as 3 feet to as much as 14 feet, and even more than 100 feet over the next century. Many scientists claim an increase in man-made carbon dioxide is contributing to increasing temperatures and increased melting of global ice causing sea-level rise.

Soon, an astrophysicist and geoscientist from Salem, Mass., said those conclusions are based on flawed data that are manipulated and agenda driven.

Legates said change in climate is cyclical; cold and warm periods have occurred throughout recorded time. He said the 1920s and 1930s witnessed a warming trend where sea ice was practically nonexistent. Then in the 1970s there was a cooling trend and a lot of sea ice.

Legates: Debate is on wrong issues

In Delaware, Legates said, it's geologic factors, mainly subsidence along the coast, that account for minimal sea-level rise. Any increases are negated once subsidence, or sinking, is factored in, Legates said.

Legates said coastal erosion is an ongoing natural process that will continue to change the Delaware coastline. “It's what we have to deal with in Delaware,” he said.

He said the debate should not be over what to do about pending sea-level rise but should center around more important issues such as storm threats and beach replenishment. “Storms are not disappearing. They are the biggest disruption to Delmarva; we need to address this,” he said.

Starting to see impact already

Love said Delaware already has issues with flooding and drainage that would only be exacerbated by increasing sea-level rise. She said one of the major goals of the Delaware Coastal Program is to provide state agencies, local governments and industries with the tools necessary to plan for future sea-level rise.

The program is part of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and receives funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Love also heads the program's advisory committee.

The Delaware Division of Energy and Climate has formed a climate change steering committee that has been charged with conducting a climate change vulnerability and risk assessment study.


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