The Leaflet: Heartland Policy Brief Details Lack of Evidence of Accelerated Sea-Level Rise

Published June 7, 2019

new Policy Brief from The Heartland Institute shows there is no evidence of acceleration in the rise of global sea levels since the 1920s and concludes the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) concerns over this issue is “without merit.”

The Policy Brief, titled “Global Sea Level Rise: An Evaluation of the Data,” co-authored by Dr. Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, Dr. David Legates, professor of climatology in the Department of Geography at the University of Delaware, and Dr. S. Fred Singer, is taken from a chapter of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels, a report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).

According to IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, “it is very likely that the rate of global mean sea level rise during the 21st century will exceed the rate observed during 1971–2010 for all Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios due to increases in ocean warming and loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.”

However, Idso, Legates, and Singer argue “sea-level rise is a research area that has recently come to be dominated by computer models. Whereas researchers working with datasets built from long-term coastal tide gauges typically report a slow linear rate of sea-level rise, computer modelers assume a significant anthropogenic forcing and tune their models to find or predict an acceleration of the rate of rise.”

They note local sea-level trends “vary considerably because they depend not only on the average global trend, but also on tectonic movements of adjacent land. In many places vertical land motion, either up or down, exceeds the very slow global sea-level trend. Consequently, at some locations sea level is rising much faster than the global rate, and at other locations sea level is falling.”

For example, in Stockholm, Sweden, sea-level rise is “negative due to regional vertical land motion.” The water intrusion problems around the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Maryland are also not due to sea-level rise, but instead to land subsidence (the sinking of the land surface) from human activity such as groundwater depletion.

Instead of accelerated sea-level rises, the authors find “the best available data” shows “evidence is lacking for any recent changes in global sea level that lie outside natural variation.” They point out that if the negative effects of the claimed accelerated rise in sea level, such as a loss of surface area, were to be visible anywhere, it would most likely be in the small islands and coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean. However, research indicates many of these islands and atolls are actually increasing in size. Simply, they are “not being inundated by rising seas due to anthropogenic climate change.”

Fears of an accelerated rise in sea levels caused by anthropogenic climate change are misplaced and overblown. Further, this fearmongering should not be used by policymakers in coastal states and cities to advocate for policies that would seek to limit or eliminate carbon dioxide emissions.   

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