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The Fiddly Bits
Scientists Have a New Explanation for Slowing Sea Level Rise

The world’s oceans haven’t been rising as quickly as climate models predicted. Like the anticipated rise in surface temperatures, the rate of change has slowed over the past decade, baffling climate scientists. Now, a new study offers a new explanation: more rainfall events occurring over land. Reuters reports:

[I]n a puzzle to climate scientists, the rate slowed to 2.4 millimeters (0.09 inch) a year from 2003 to 2011 from 3.4 mm from 1994-2002, heartening skeptics who doubt that deep cuts are needed in mankind’s rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change on Sunday, experts said the rate from 2003-2011 would have been 3.3 mm a year when excluding natural shifts led by an unusually high number of La Nina weather events that cool the surface of the Pacific Ocean and cause more rain over land.

Unfortunately, this pause in sea level rising is only temporary:

“Eventually water that falls as rain on land comes back into the sea,” said Anders Levermann, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who was not involved in the study. “Some of it goes into ground water but most of it will drain into rivers, or evaporate.”

It would be difficult to overstate the complexity of the earth’s climate. We know that we’re emitting greenhouse gases at historically significant rates, and we know that these gases trap the sun’s heat more than other kinds do. We know that this leads to rising surface temperatures, and in turn, melts ice. We know that water expands a bit as it warms, and that this, in addition to melting ice, produces rising sea levels.

But knowing this set of facts doesn’t do much for our predictive powers, at least within a timeframe useful to policymakers. Natural variabilities in everything from seasonal winds to oceanic currents make the climate prognosticator’s job extraordinarily difficult. These fiddly bits confound climate models, and make fools of those who take their predictions as gospel. The green movement’s determination to stuff short-term climate predictions down the public’s throat has been the main driver of climate change skepticism.

We’ve already seen studies like this one, and we’re sure to see plenty more. For now, our climate change Magic 8 Ball keeps telling us to “ask again later.” Rather than set growth-restrictive targets for ourselves in the pursuit of some specific temperature abeyance, we ought to implement strategies that increase our quality of life while reducing our environmental impact, such as energy efficiency measures or telework. We don’t need climate models to tell us that cutting out the commute is a good thing, or that getting more work out of less energy is a worthy goal.

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  • Andrew Allison

    At the risk of becoming a bore, the evidence of the past 17 years demonstrates that we do NOT know that “this leads to rising surface temperatures, . . . “.

    • bigfire

      There is no TRUTH except Global Warming. Al Gore is the prophet.

    • Corlyss

      You’re never boring, Andrew.

  • qet

    The refutation by Andrew Allison even of what most, skeptics included, take for a pillar of the AGW-CC case–namely, the rise in surfance temperatures–suggests more strongly than anything that great masses of people may be trapped by the same sort of intuitive force (of the argument “more CO2 = higher temperatures, Q.E.D”) that made great masses before Copernicus insist that the Sun, planets and stars revolved around the Earth. I mean, it was so obvious!

  • Curious Mayhem

    Um, yeah.

    How about that accelerating ice formation in Antarctic and new surge of ice-ification in the Arctic? That’ll slow or reverse your sea level, at least on most planets that I know of. Maybe the “climate change” nitwits live on another, unknown to science.

  • Corlyss

    “we’re emitting greenhouse gases at historically significant rates”

    There’s been no uncontested science that gives context to the notion of “historically significant rates.” If you’re a scientific illiterate, the rates might be impressive. On the other hand, if you look to traditional science, not rice-bowl science, for context, you’re really bereft. Correlation is not causation, esp. when nothing happens for a decade. I could, like George Gobel, detail how diligently I watch for enemy planes over Utah, and point to that as a reason there are none, but who’d take me seriously? I don’t know why rational people like ViaMeadia still beat the CO2 horse.

    • Andrew Allison

      Corlyss, the level of CO2 emission is both (recent) historically high and accelerating. This is measurable, and not debatable. What is (despite it being settled pseudo-science) debatable are the results. The lack of clothing of the AGW Imperium has been exposed by the failure of global temperature to rise for 17 years in the face of a 35% increase in anthropogenic emissions.
      As I’ve noted, the failure of WRM and his serfs, er interns, to recognize this is, to say the least, distressing.

      • evenminded

        I assume that you are referring to surface air temperatures. You conveniently discount the heat stored in the oceans. Heat is stored by both the atmosphere and the oceans, so the fact that SAT increases have tapered is not a contradiction to the fact that GHGs trap heat in the system. Perhaps you would be interested in some science on the matter, .

        • Andrew Allison

          Here’s the real science (as opposed to theories): the oceans are heated, slowly, from the surface and are catching up with the rise in smoothed surface temperature from 1975 until 2010 (
          By an amazing coincidence, AGW is said to be producing just enough heat to maintain a constant average surface temperature. To believe that the oceans are increasing their heat absorption capability in concert with the presumed increased heat generation resulting from the 35% increase in anthropogenic emissions since 1997 is magical thinking, not science.

          • evenminded

            Wow, that is quite the incoherent nonsense. Water has a far greater heat capacity than air, so nobody with any scientific chops has ever claimed that “oceans are increasing their heat absorption capability”. That statement is all yours, and by the sound of it, it indicates that you need to educate yourself a bit more on basic physics.

          • Andrew Allison

            What is it about the irrational belief in AGW that induces the inability to engage in civil discourse? The only incoherency is in you response. I wrote: the oceans are heated, slowly, from the surface and are catching up with
            the rise in smoothed surface temperature from 1975 until 2010. This is not opinion or theory, but simple fact.
            I did not address the heat capacity of water but the utter ludicrousness of the theory that the heating which should have, but failed to, occured since 1997 is due to it being absorbed by the oceans.

          • evenminded

            What is it about deniers that induces the inability to understand or even read actual science? The oceans can heat up in many ways. “Slowly” is not a quantitative description. The PDO causes winds that influence the uptake of heat in the oceans, which in turn affects short term atmospheric temperature changes. Perhaps if you actually read scientific studies, like the one I posted, then you would understand that the oceans containing that heat that was “supposed” to be in the atmosphere is far from ludicrous.

  • Martin W. Lewis

    Thank you for being one of the few truly rational voices on this issue (along with the ever-valuable Breakthrough Institute). I am sorry that many of your commenters do not seem to share your rationality, and instead reject climate science out of hand. (And no, Andrew Allison, they are not “so-called ‘scientists.'”)

    • Corlyss

      I don’t reject climate science. I reject unsubstantiated junk science propagated by men who feed at a public trough swollen by scientific illiterates enamored of the idea that the man-centered status lost when religion failed can be restored by fables from equally corrupted sources .
      You need a hefty dose of,, and

    • Andrew Allison

      Yes they are. The scientific method requires empirical data to support a hypothosis. The empirical data refutes the hypothesis but, instead of revisting the hypothesis, AGW pseudo-scientists come up with ever more laughable theories as to why the data doesn’t support the hypothesis.

  • Jim__L

    Lack of rainfall, not heat, is the major cause of deserts.

    We could actually see a decrease in desertification due to “global warming” if rainfall over land keeps increasing. That is, unless the major atmospheric circulation cells of Earth are changing. That is, unless, that is, unless, that is, unless…

    • Corlyss

      Interesting that the origin of the Sahara could not be accounted for by models without a variable representing the Himalayas. Of course, this was an old story, probably replaced now by the AGW explanation. AGW probably will be found to cause corns, alopecia, and acne given enough time.

      • Andrew Allison

        Corlyss, may I recommend William Calvin’s “Brain for All Seasons” which, among many other things, explains the role of the effect of recurrent climate change on the Sahara in “pumping” us out of Africa.

        • Corlyss

          Most assuredly. I’ve already ordered it.

    • Andrew Allison

      Well yes, tropical vegetation does rather suggest that heat, in the presence of moisture, is good for growth. Atmospheric CO2 is also good for growth. The sheer lunacy of the predictions regarding the effects of global warming will provide fodder for thousands of future dissertations, assuming we survive it.

      • Jim__L

        “Eventually water that falls as rain on land comes back into the sea” isn’t actually true. Between evaporation, irrigation (and subsequent biomass creation), and water table recharge, a significant amount doesn’t make it to the ocean.

        Yet another careless generalization by the Greens. You start to wonder whether they get anything right.

        • Andrew Allison


  • stanbrown

    WRM’s simplistic, linear understanding is regrettable. I wonder if he could find the time to read a really bright Duke physicist, Robert G Brown. Not a 2d rate intellect such as those who dominate the climate science establishment sucking all the govt billions. The quote is taken from this —

    For a more detailed look at the enormous complexities, see his discussion with an alarmist scientist in this 6 part series —

    The quote — “One part of the difficulty is that the Earth is a highly multivariate
    and chaotic driven/open system with complex nonlinear coupling between
    all of its many drivers, and with anything but a regular surface. If one
    tried to actually write “the” partial differential equation for the
    global climate system, it would be a set of coupled
    Navier-Stokes equations with unbelievably nasty nonlinear coupling terms
    — if one can actually include the physics of the water and carbon
    cycles in the N-S equations at all. It is, quite literally, the most
    difficult problem in mathematical physics we have ever attempted to
    solve or understand! Global Climate Models are children’s toys in comparison to the actual underlying complexity, especially when (as noted) the major drivers setting the baseline behavior are not well understood or quantitatively available.”

    Read it all. No educated person of any intelligence can read it all and be silly enough to keep believing in the linear fairy tale that WRM has swallowed from the IPCC.

    • Andrew Allison

      In a nutshell, we don’t have a clue about what drives climate change and are utterly incapable of influencing it.

  • Some Rabbit

    Wait doesn’t rain falling on land eventually make it to the sea via rivers? And no one can say that warming or sea level rise is only temporary unless and until it resumes. Until then, it’s a stoppage.

  • ShadrachSmith

    How about someone presents data tracking the magic-thermostat correlation between CO2/temp? That was the correlation of the Hockey Stick graph, that was the correlation that started the whole carbon hate thing, isn’t it?

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