Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/15/millions_at_risk_sea_level_rise/

'Seas will rise, flood millions of homes' warns Eric Schmidt ecologist

You should live so long (until 2100)

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 15th March 2012 13:52 GMT

Millions of American homes face the peril of flooding due to sea level rises caused by human-driven global warming, according to an ecologist funded by Google boss Eric Schmidt.

"The sea level rise taking place right now is quickly making extreme coastal floods more common, increasing risk for millions of people where they live and work," says Ben Strauss. "Sea level rise makes every single coastal storm flood higher. With so many communities concentrated on US coasts, the odds for major damage get bigger every year."

Dr Strauss (he has a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology, and earlier degrees in biology and zoology) was announcing publication of two research papers this week by himself and other scientists.

The first paper says that fully 32,000 square kilometres of the USA (about 0.4 per cent of it) is less than a metre above the high-water mark, and thus can be expected to be inundated by the sea in the year 2100. This would, according to Dr Strauss and his colleagues, flood 2.1 million US homes. The second paper says that there will be many more temporary floods than people are used to in the run-up to the watery 22nd century.

Both papers take it as a settled fact that the seas along the US coasts will rise a metre by the year 2100, and Dr Strauss' organisation states baldly (pdf) that "this century, scientists expect about 20 to 80 more inches [0.5 to 2 metres] of global sea level rise".

For this to happen, the rate of rise will have to increase dramatically: tide gauge readings in the 20th century have shown a steady rate of rise at around 1.7mm, which would result in a rise of only 0.15m or so. Satellites have been used to monitor sea levels globally since the early 1990s: they show a rate of 3.2mm annually, though the relationship between this and actual results at coastlines is unclear. The satellite readings, too, have shown no increase in the speed of rise since they began in the early 1990s - indeed they show a minor decrease in recent years, though nothing that could mean a long-term trend. Some recent tide-gauge research also suggests that the rise of the seas may be slowing slighty, and that it's certainly not speeding up.

The most recent report of the UN's Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change says that "no long-term acceleration of sea level has been identified" if only the more accurate measurements made since 1900 are used. If data from early tide gauges prior to 1900 is included, it's possible to suggest that the rate of rise is increasing - though one should bear in mind that old tide-gauge data must be viewed with suspicion. Basic tide gauges are subject to many inaccuracies, and modern ones have become much more complicated to compensate.

Meanwhile, the latest research shows that glaciers worldwide are melting a lot less rapidly than had been thought, and that the glaciers of the great Asian mountain ranges - the Himalayas, the Pamir and the Tien Shan - are essentially not melting at all. This is significant, as presumed rapid glacier melt is one of the main factors underlying the modelling used to forecast sea-level rise.

All in all it might be more accurate to say that some scientists - for instance Dr Strauss - confidently expect sea-level rises of a metre or more this century, but many others would candidly admit that they don't know what will happen. Some might reasonably doubt that there will be any increase beyond what was seen in the 20th century at all.

Dr Strauss' opinion on the matter isn't a lot more valuable than anyone else's, he being primarily a biologist by training. He's also not your standard government-funded academic, either: he works at a think-tank called Climate Central, dedicated to pushing the message of climate alarm*.

If there's no serious sea-level rise coming, Dr Strauss is out of a job: so in fact his opinion on the matter is probably worth a bit less than most people's, he having something of a conflict of interest. In addition to his employment at Climate Central, Strauss was a founder member of Grist.org, a media operation dedicated to pushing the climate-alarm message and which is also exempt from paying taxes**.

There's an IT angle to all this, as a good deal of the money and impetus behind Climate Central comes from multibillionaire Google kingpin Eric Schmidt. The thinktank is funded directly by Google.org, the Chocolate Factory's philanthropic arm, and also by the Schmidt Family Foundation. It received startup funding from the 11th Hour Project, run by Wendy Schmidt as a Schmidt Family Foundation operation, and indeed she describes herself as a Climate Central founder.

It may be true, as climate alarmists assert, that there's big oil money behind many climate sceptics and lukewarmers (sadly we aren't getting any here at the Reg, but then we often run alarmist coverage). However it's quite clear that there's big business money behind the alarmist movement, too. It's also pretty plain that the mere fact of a person being a scientist with publications in peer-reviewed journals can't be taken to mean that that person's opinion is any more worth listening to than anyone else's.

Finally we can't help noticing that assuming that Dr Strauss is actually correct and the USA does lose 2.1 million homes to flooding in the next 90-odd years, this seems unlikely to cause a major upset. The Land of the Free builds 315,000 new homes every year anyway: by 2100 on current rates more than 28 million new dwellings will have been constructed and the loss of a paltry 2 million won't really register. ®

Bootnote

*About Climate Central:

"Our work isn't confined to scientific journals [though it is certainly to be found in them, Dr Strauss' two papers this week were published in the journal Environmental Research Letters]. We investigate and synthesize weather and climate data and science to equip local communities and media with the tools they need to visualize the threat of climate change and the need for practical solutions ...

"Our independent research in climate science, impacts, and energy is designed to tell stories that stick and move the debate. We aggressively promote our work to mainstream and social media ...

"We use proven social science methods to determine which messages work best with our viewers, and which messengers best engage the public."

**About Grist:

"At Grist, we’re making lemonade out of looming climate apocalypse. It’s more fun than it sounds, trust us!

"Grist has been dishing out environmental news and commentary with a wry twist since 1999 ... We are a nonprofit organization funded by foundation grants, user contributions, and advertising."