Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sea Level Rise Resumes Upward Trend - Where Are The Headlines?

Over the past couple of weeks, the leading climate change news stories in the main stream media have come from opinion poll results. Regardless of whether reporting on opinion polls is really news, doing so works well for main stream media because it is neither a complicated, nuanced story, nor does it alienate advertisers.

Thus, we have been informed that:

  1. 37% of Americans think global warming is a hoax; and 
  2. 82% of U.S. adults reported that they believe climate change is already occurring 

Of note, there was little questioning of the results of either poll, despite that fact that they add to 119% and both report higher percentages than previous polls.

The really big story in climate news has not gotten much attention from the press. The fact that the trend is intact in sea level rise of 1/10th inch per year (actually 0.13 inches) must not have seemed terribly headline worthy. However, the fact that the two year respite from sea level rise during 2009-2011 was just an anomaly is incredibly concerning. In fact, the trend of 0.13 inch annual rise in sea level in intact due to the sea level having risen an average of 0.4 inches in each of the past two years..

On a "if it bleeds it leads" scale, the rise in sea level of a fraction of an inch is not a very big deal. However, anyone that can do math can come to the conclusion that if this trend remains in place for the next 40-100 years, the consequences will be disastrous. Regrettably, due to the paucity of reports about the small but pervasive rise in sea level, there is not much knowledge about this trend among the general public.

While I do not have poll numbers at my disposal to prove how few U.S. adults are aware of the trend in sea level rise, it is simple to confirm this on an anecdotal basis. Simply ask your friends and associates if they know by how much the sea level is rising annually. Ask them if they are aware that the two year hiatus in the sea level rise came to an end in 2011, and that the there has been reversion to the trend line of 0.13 inch annual rise. My experience in asking these questions is that the level of knowledge on sea level rise is not very widespread. A number of those that I discussed this with were both surprised and concerned to learn how fast the sea level is rising.

Obviously, the key question is how much will the sea level rise in the future? Even the folks at NASA are having difficulty coming up with a model that accounts for all the variables, as indicated during a recent "Google+ hang-out".  But anyone that ignores the trend in sea level rise does so at their own peril.

Related Post
The Skeptical Science blog explores one of the issues touched on during the NASA sea level chat — the role of year-to-year shifts in water between oceans and terrestrial reservoirs in short-term changes in sea level. This article explains why the sudden 3x increase in annual sea level rise of the past couple of years from 0.13 to 0.4 inches may not  indicate that an  acceleration has already started in the rate of rise .  

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