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  • 23-May-09 The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and Sea-Level Rise
  • 21-Mar-09 The latest alarmist concerns about sea level rise
  • SEPP Science Editorial #15-2009
    (in TWTW May 23, 2009)

    Guest Editor

    The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and Sea-Level Rise

    May 23, 2009

    Guest Editorial by Thomas Sheahen tsheahen@alum.mit.edu
    Ref.: J.L. Bamber et al, Science v. 324, pp 901- 903 (15 May 2009).

    The topic is of interest because the WAIS has been known to collapse in the past, most recently maybe about 400,000 years ago. The main thing the Science paper does is re-calculate with more accurate input data what had first been published in 1975, when less was known of the surface features.. Parts of the WAIS are on bedrock that is beneath sea level and parts are elevated above sea level.

    The "region of interest" eligible for collapse is smaller than earlier supposed. The old estimate of maximum sea level rise was about 6 meters; the new calculation gives a maximum of 3.2 m.

    The sea level rise that is actually expected is about 1.8 m -- based on taking ice on certain places in Antarctica and having it melt into the ocean. To pursue that point, you have to go to the online supplemental material and look at tables and figures there. There are a few points of interest to those who pay attention to the political spin of Science:

    First, the 1.8 m expected value appears in one sentence, never in the abstract, which talks about the maximum value.

    Second, much is made of the notion that the coasts of America will experience a sea-level rise about 25% higher than global average. This is because the earth's axis of rotation will change a little due to redistribution of mass when the ice leaves its present position.

    Third, an associated "Perspectives" article (p. 888-889) goes to considerable length to paint the picture as gloomy as possible, emphasizing all that could go wrong. Without mentioning the 1.8-m figure buried within the Bamber et al paper, the Perspectives article asserts that "....just 0.5 to 1.0 m of uniform sea-level rise will cause catastrophic geopolitical and economic devastation in many urbanized coastal settings." It also says things like "The time scale of the fully manifested instability cannot currently be predicted." Clearly, this permits alarmists to go right on insisting that inundation of cities is imminent, while previous estimates visualized WAIS survival for several millennia (assuming that the present Holocene persists that long).

    Finally, remember that the Hansen-Al Gore-ism of "20 feet" is a vestige of the 1975 calculation, now laid to rest.

    View The Week That Was in which this editorial appeared.

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    SEPP Science Editorial #10-2009
    (in TWTW Mar 21, 2009)

    S. Fred Singer, Chairman and President , Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

    The latest alarmist concerns about sea level rise

    Mar 21, 2009

    Apparently the IPCC-4 (2007) estimate for sea level rise by the year 2100 are now considered to be not catastrophic enough. As reported by the BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7598861.stm , the preferred estimate seems to be 200 cm, about five times the median IPCC value and ten times the observed rate of rise over the last few centuries

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;321/5894/1340

    The only justification given, in a paper published in Science, is a more rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets from Greenland and Antarctic - all this in spite of the fact that no such events occurred during the Medieval Warm Period about 1000 years ago. One member of this group, Shad O'Neel from the US Geological Survey, warns that even 18 cm/century might turn out to be catastrophic. He's apparently unaware of the fact that 18 cm/century is the ongoing rate of rise -- which implies no additional rise in sea level. In other words, the human influence is essentially zero.

    Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth has received much criticism, and so has James Hansen, for implying that a rise of 20ft (6m) was possible in the near future. Their fond hopes have been dashed by recent publications on the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Apparently, it will slowly melt away in a few millennia - unless a new ice age intervenes. (But we have known this for more than a decade.)

    Andrew Revkin (NYT) reports on two new papers in the journal Nature focusing on the WAIS. The paper by David Pollard at Penn State and Robert M. DeConto of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst provides an estimated time frame for the loss of ice that its authors say should be of some comfort. (If the entire WAIS melted, sea levels worldwide would rise more than 15 feet.) They ran a five-million-year computer simulation, using data on past actual climate and ocean conditions gleaned from seabed samples (the subject of the other paper) to validate the resulting patterns. The bottom line? In this simulation, the ice sheet does collapse when waters beneath fringing ice shelves warm 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit or so, but the process at its fastest takes thousands of years. Overall, the pace of sea-level rise from the resulting ice loss doesn't go beyond about 1.5 feet per century, Dr. Pollard said in an interview, a far cry from what was thought possible a couple of decades ago.

    View The Week That Was in which this editorial appeared.

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