Policy Documents

NASA-Funded Group Doctors Sea Level Data

James M. Taylor –
May 13, 2011

Catastrophic sea level rise is one of the most valued hole cards played by alarmists in the global warming debate. In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore showed computer generated images of what Manhattan would look like if sea level rose 20 feet. Building on this theme, elevation charts of coastal cities have become a staple in global warming presentations by Al Gore wannabes. But what happens when sea level in the real world does not rise nearly as much as alarmists predict? If you are a NASA-funded gatekeeper of sea level data, you merely doctor the data.

Faced with the embarrassing fact that sea level is not rising nearly as much as has been predicted, the University of Colorado’s NASA-funded Sea Level Research Group has announced it will begin adding a nonexistent 0.3 millimeters per year to its Global Mean Sea Level Time Series. As a result, alarmists will be able to present sea level charts asserting an accelerating rise in sea level that is not occurring in the real world.

Human civilization readily adapted to the seven inches of sea level rise that occurred during the twentieth century. Alarmists, however, claim global warming will cause sea level to rise much more rapidly during the present century. United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) computer models project approximately 15 inches of sea level rise during the 21st century. That’s more than double the sea level rise that occurred during the twentieth century. A more “mainstream” prediction among alarmists is 3 feet of sea level rise this century. Some alarmists have even projected 20 feet of global sea level rise this century.

Satellite measurements, however, show global sea level rose merely 0.83 inches during the first decade of the 21st century (a pace of just 8 inches for the entire century), and has barely risen at all since 2006. This puts alarmists in the embarrassing position of defending predictions that are not coming true in the real world.

The University of Colorado Sea Level Research Group is coming to their rescue. The NASA-funded group claims glacial melt is removing weight that had been pressing down on land masses, which in turn is causing land mass to rise. This welcome news mitigates sea-level rise from melting glacial ice, meaning sea level will rise less than previously thought. However, it is very inconvenient for alarmist sea level predictions. Therefore, instead of reporting the amount by which sea level is rising in the real world, the Sea Level Research Group has begun adding 0.3 millimeters per year of fictitious sea level rise to “compensate” for rising land mass.

The extra 0.3 millimeters of fictitious sea level rise will add up to 1.2 inches over the course of the 21st century. While this is not monumental in and of itself, it will allow alarmists to paint a dramatically different picture of sea level rise than is occurring in the real world. For example, the current pace of 8 inches of sea level rise for the present century is essentially no different than the 7 inches of sea level rise that occurred last century. However, with an artificially enhanced 9.2 inches of sea level rise, alarmists can claim sea level is rising 31 percent faster than it did last century.

Even under this scenario, sea level is not rising nearly as fast as IPCC and other alarmists have predicted. Nevertheless, a quick Google search of “sea level” and “global warming” shows an overwhelming number of items claiming dramatic and accelerating sea level rise, with very few items reporting that alarmist predictions and computer models are being contradicted by real-world data. The newly adjusted NASA-funded sea level data will merely add fuel to the errant fire.