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« Not his finest hour - Josh 106 | Main | The Economist on the IPCC »

A rising tide of controversy

I've not followed the sea level rise story closely, but my interest was piqued by Morner's lecture at Cambridge a few weeks back. I don't suppose this news will surprise him very much.

The University of Colorado’s Sea Level Research Group decided in May to add 0.3 millimeters -- or about the thickness of a fingernail -- every year to its actual measurements of sea levels, sparking criticism from experts who called it an attempt to exaggerate the effects of global warming.

The story seems to be that the land is rising, increasing the carrying capacity of the oceans. This would effectively reduce the amount of sea level rise expected, and we couldn't have that - hence the "adjustment". The effect of the adjustment appears to be small when put against the projected rises, but is certainly material against the actual changes recorded (although these are, per Morner, wrong).

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Reader Comments (164)

Just to put this in perspective, it is estimated that my house was raised about 40-50cm above sea level in a period of about 20 seconds during the Feb 22nd earthquake in Christchurch NZ.
Yet we still have the local media warning us of impending catastrophe due to AGW related sea level rise, of which we have no empirical evidence whatsoever.

Jun 18, 2011 at 8:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

Surely "expected sea level rise" should be exactly that, given that the "terrible consequences" of sea level rises are dependant on...well.....sea level - not how deep the sea would have been if that pesky land didn't keep moving (as it always has done, in one direction or another). I think we can be fairly sure that no adjustments would be made if the capacity of the oceans was shrinking and, therefore, accelerating the effective sea level rise (and quite rightly so). The same applies to the temperature "rise". The effect of CO2 in isolation is irrelevant when the earth's temperature is governed by millions of other things including, for instance, the output of the sun. If the earth undergoes cooling now, we will no doubt see figures adjusted for what "would have happened" if the sun hadn't gone quiet. And the Met office will continue to announce year after year as the warmest "ever".

Jun 18, 2011 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Global sea level rise, like global temperature, means nothing. All that matters with regard to seal level is the effect at any individual location. Local effects are affected by changes in land level, caused by natural effects such as plate movements, earthquakes, isostatic rebound effects from glacial melting after the last ice age, coral growth, river delta sedimentation etc. Adding 0.3mm per year globally is just scientific nonsense. It is done just to fool politicians and the public into thinking that things are worse than we thought and that something more extreme needs to be done to prevent dangerous sea level rise.

Adaptation, as the Dutch have demonstrated for centuries, is the solution to any localised sea level rise relative to the land level. Living on river deltas is asking for trouble. Artificially lowering land level, as happens at coral islands due to mineral extraction or lowering of the water table, is also asking for trouble. Blaming it on CO2 emissions is a political excuse to try to extract money from wealthy countries (Mark Lynas and the Maldives anyone?).

Jun 18, 2011 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

So - they have 'decided' to add 0.3mm...
Based on what, exactly..?

Jun 18, 2011 at 8:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

They really must think we're all so f****g stupid we'd never notice.............

Jun 18, 2011 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

The Royal Society of NZ produced a paper last year on Sea Level Rise.

Link (pdf)

The phrase that grabbed my attention was this one:

A key research goal is to develop models that properly simulate the important physical processes and supersede the semiempirical approaches.

Don't you hate those (semi)-empirical approaches? Always gets in the way of the models.

Jun 18, 2011 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered Commenterandyscrase

I've studied this in some depth and have decided in June that 0.04 cm is the correct alteration for this year. However, initial modelling suggests that this should be reviewed annually and that sadly the figure may have to be increased, perhaps even exponentially. Clearly more robust modelling experiments are required. A submission for funding has been prepared.

Jun 18, 2011 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrantB

Perhaps they should consult some geologists, familiar with plate tectonics, and some physicists, familiar with the concept of the creation of mass, or even better, some people familiar with the concept of common sense.

If the University of Colarado is proud of these idiots, it does not say much for the University of Colarado

Kindly ignore anything emanating from the University of Colarado until further notice

Jun 18, 2011 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

The adjustment is obviously unnecessary for anything other than political reasons. If it is to bring the measurement in-line with the models, why adjust the data? why not account for this properly in the models?

The "model world view" has long been preferred by climate "scientists" as the "Real world" is refusing to play ball.

Just curious how cute they are being, anybody know whether this adjustment has been retrospectively applied to the tide gauge data as well?

We've only had satellite data for the last twenty years or so and it would be wrong for this "fudge" to be used to justify any "Sea level increasing at unprecedented rate" type claims.

Jun 18, 2011 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterGSW

Never ever goes down does it!
Just got back from early morning Tuna fishing here in Cyprus and could not discern any change with my boat depth counter but the lack of fish could be due to my lure being 0.3mm to high in the water! I really must keep up with this rise and will discuss the problem in the pub in about an hour!

Jun 18, 2011 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

Pete H:

I was about to say the same thing. Not about the tuna - but about the way the adjustments seem always to favour the party line.

It would be interesting to know whether this is a biased opinion on my part - or whether most of the post-hoc adjustments to temp series and sea level really do lean the "it's worse than we thought" way.

We should expect adjustments to be roughly equal in number and size in both directions.


Jun 18, 2011 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJit

Haha, latest posting there at NOAA shows consciousness that there is increasing surveillance to make sure that their 'doctoring of the sea level data' is unbiased. That seat by the side of the sea is getting hot.

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

There's obviously far too many fish in the sea that are displacing far too much water, and they are forcing up sea levels.


Can I have a grant for opening Family Planning facilities for fish, please?

If nobody mentions that fish can be 'sterilised' quite nicely on the BBQ, we could have a very nice earner (just think of the modelling potential!).

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Witch is Dead

Re: Jit

... but about the way the adjustments seem always to favour the party line.

If the figures you are looking at do what you expect them to (or more than) then you don’t start looking for any errors that might cause it. If, on the other hand, the figures go in the opposite direction, or significantly less than you expect then you look for errors that might cause it.

In other words the scientists might look for the answer to the question "The sea level isn't rising as fast as expected, what could cause us to underestimate it?". But they wouldn't consider the question: "The sea level isn't rising as fast as expected what could cause us to overestimate it?".

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

If only they would stick to playing with an old copy of Sim City where one could raise and lower the oceans around the land you would then play on at will.

Neither hurt nor helped anyone, but great fun... creative, even...

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Carr

I have also read Morners claims, but wonder how much trust can be put into them. Especially those regarding adjustments of satellite measurements from suspect tide gauges. It would be nice with a 3rd part assessment of his claims, but unfortunately the blogosphere has not taken up this issue in depth, so he stands alone.

However when the subject comes up on my Danish blog, I refer to the data from the Danish Meteorological Institute, DMI, as I believe that they have not tampered with it:

During a warming climate since 1890 when the record start, it is totally and utterly flat.

Rgds Troels

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterTroels Halken

A further reminder of rule one in climate science, if the model and reality differ in value , its reality which is in error .

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Troels - how can it be that the warmista have not gotten at Denmark's data?


Jun 18, 2011 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

Why are people in COLORADO concerned about sea level changes ?

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Just checked our local ocean and the water still only comes half-way up a duck

Jun 18, 2011 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Jack Hughes,

Real world data trumps models. Kudos for this. ;)

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterGSW

I wonder what the official view of our Chief Government Scientific Advisor is to these types of adjustment? I suppose as long as the data manipulation is not at odds with acceptable scieific practice then there is nothing to worry about. If no (government sponsored) scientists are bleating about it, then it must be acceptable.

Don't expect anyone to break rank here. Don't expect any leadership ...

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered Commentermatthu

I've been to Colorado. Its way up in the Rockies. Lots of rocks and boulders ( :-) ) and things. But not even the hint of sea within a very long way.

Why is the SeaLevel Centre at about 7000 feet up? If they put it next to Al Gore's beachside place in Florida they could check their predictions all day every day. Before they got flooded out in 3250 or (or 5320, or 5032...) whenever.

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Not only wrong. Sea level rise should be measured against the shore. If land is rising too the value should be subtracted not added. Doing so they will get values near to the buoys measurement which puts things into right perspective.
Doing what they do, the UC measures a virtual rise in a virtual world not real values.

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterLars Per

I am tryping this on the island that is Portsmouth. I am within feet of the sea. The sea level at 1135am is rising, feet per hour, it is dramatic, however no wildlife will drown.

If sea level was to rise, Portsmouth would be flooded. You would expect there to be frantic efforts to raise coastal defences to combat this threat. There are none.

Portsmouth City Council must be either very stupid, or not very gullible.

1141, tide still rising by the way.

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

It's the assertion that these measurement are 'actual' that bothers me.

The MSL data used by UC come from the Jason-2 satellite.

The Jason-2 satellite’s documentation explains the size of error bars that should be used for estimates of MSL provided by the instruments it carries.

2.3.1 Accuracy of Sea Level Measurements
The sea-surface height shall be provided with a globally averaged RMS accuracy of 3.4 cm (1 sigma), or better, assuming 1 second averages.

The instrumental and environmental corrections are provided with the appropriate accuracy to meet this requirement. In addition to these requirements, a set of measurement-system goals was established based on the anticipated impact of off-line ground processing improvements. These improvements are expected to enable reduction of sea-surface height errors to 2.5 cm RMS. Knowledge of the stability of the system is especially important to the goal of monitoring the change in the global mean sea level, hence a specification on the system drift with a 1 mm/year goal.

[Emphasis added.]

1. The standard error bar for MSL measurement is given as 3.4cm (1 sigma or 1 standard deviation). This is a magnitude greater than the published estimate of SLR at 3.1mm/yr.

2. The magnitude increase in precision required for an estimate in millimetres is achieved by processing the raw data (see 1.4.2 Correct Conventions, below).

3. Even with the correctional processing applied, the error bar only contracts to 2.5cm.

The table (p17) providing a summary of specifications and error budgets at the end of the verification phase immediately following 2.3.1 makes interesting reading. Look at the value for ‘significant wave height’ – 0.5m to 0.4m depending on the instrument, with a goal of 0.25m. And all still TBD. This suggests that with a 40cm – 50cm swell, the measurement accuracy of the full instrument package will be seriously affected.

1.4.2. Correction Conventions
All environmental and instrument corrections are computed so that they should be added to the
quantity which they correct. That is, a correction is applied to a measured value by

Corrected Quantity = Measured Value + Correction

This means that a correction to the altimeter range for an effect that lengthens the apparent signal
path (e.g., wet troposphere correction) is computed as a negative number. Adding this negative
number to the uncorrected (measured) range reduces the range from its original value toward the
correct value. Example: Corrected Range = Measured Range + Range Correction.

Download Jason-2 data products handbook here:

The MSL data are derived from instruments operating at the absolute edge of their range.

Is this convincing support for confidence in a millimetre-scale measurement with an uncertainty of +/- 0.4mm/year?

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Jack Hughes: "...water still only comes half-way up a duck.

Wonderful line, Jack! Memorable.

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Carr

If the University of Colarado can advise the world on sea levels, perhaps Portsmouth University could advise on north american snow cover?

After all, the Greeks have a finance minister, the Swiss have a naval attachee....

Jun 18, 2011 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

The land on which New Orleans sits is subsiding. Does this mean the sea level near Louisiana should be adjusted downwards? :)

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon B

The ludicrous nature of this 'adjustment' is easily demonstrated by just applying a little common sense.

Tectonic processes didn't just start when we started emitting CO2 did they!

So if we just backcast this 0.3 mm per year say 10 million years we would have to assume that the current average sealevel would be 3000 meters higher if it was not for this effect.

Does anyone with more than half a brain really believe that?


Jun 18, 2011 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Millar

@golf charley

Re Water at Pompey

Its probably all a plot by the Southampton FC Scummers ...aided and abetted by Harry Redknapp.....

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

The satellite mean sea level measurements are thwart with issues and the 'corrected' data is not doing what it should according to the bible of AGW. Their latest adjustments are an attempt to bring the data in line with the tenet.

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Drake


"Why is the SeaLevel Centre at about 7000 feet up?"

Confirmation bias perhaps?

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

If this is not scientific fraud, what is?

Just as Alan points out above, why do they have to adjust for such a slow process as isostatic rebound against such a rapid process as anthropogenic sea level rise that is going to drown us?

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

"The Dieppe maps are a set of maps produced in Dieppe, France in the 16th century, thought to provide clues towards the Portuguese exploration of Australia’s east coast two hundred years before Captain Cook and even earlier than the first confirmed sighting of Australia by Jansz in his 1606 expedition along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The maps show part of what might be Queensland, and name the land mass “Java a Grande ""

This map shows clearly Hervey Bay and Fraser Island and the smaller islands in Hervey Bay.

On my living room wall hangs, framed, two 19th century maps of Hervey Bay used by my Great Grandfather. The serveys were done by Captain Owen Stanley, and Matthew Flinders, and these 2 maps show the smaller islands in Hervey Bay as well.

Duck, Picnic, and Little Woody Islands are today are less than a meter above the high water mark.

Further, in my 67 years of fishing and collecting bait along the foreshore, I have not seen any change. I still collect shell fish for bait from the same rocks as I did 60 years ago.

My Question is, if the seas have gone up and down as much as we are led to believe, how come these low lying islands still exist after 500 years and seemingly unchanged.

If the seas have gone up and down, it hasn't been by much !


Jun 18, 2011 at 12:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris in Hervey Bay

Latimer Adler

With Portsmouth FC ground almost at sea level, the consequence of all Southampton supporters, simultaneously jumping off a chair at the same time (high tide) doesn't bear thinking about.

Some of them might break an ankle

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

@golf charley

When I last visited Fratton Park to see Aldershot's historic 3-1 victory in about 1980, it was already falling down. A small earthquake wouldn't make any difference to the state of the place let alone a few Saints jumping off chairs.....

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I think we can call this what it is. Boulderdash!

Jun 18, 2011 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSundance

"Why is the SeaLevel Centre at about 7000 feet up?"

It isn't! Measurements may say 7000 feet but they have modelled their location relative to fluctuating magma levels and using Mannian mathematics have proven they are actually only one inch above the 'theoretical actual' (or 'IPCC') sea level after applying adjustments. Thats why they work with their windows shut, just in case a wave sloshes over their computers and destroys some valuable software models. You can't be too careful you know.

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterVarco

"Just checked our local ocean and the water still only comes half-way up a duck"

Josh, can you do something with this please?

Easily the best line of the week I've read.

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterVarco


Before we go too far with this, can you just confirm to the best of you knowledge, that the duck had not been tampered with in anyway?

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGSW

Varco: "Josh, can you do something with this please?"

Endorsed. Go, Josh!

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Carr

You know it just occurred to me that for all the prattling from the AGW side saying it's all about the science, it now seems evident to me that the political axe to grind comes first (lefty self loathing and hatred for the west)and then the science is spun and twisted until it reflects or justifies that political axe. Mind you this latest wheeze about sea levels not rising as fast relative to land rising, see's another AGW model hanging on by a finger nail, it was a finger nail right?

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterLawrence13

Ahh, the land is rising thus camouflaging the true amount of sea level rise. I really haven't had such a good laugh in quite awhile. Thanks, great start to my weekend!

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRedbone


Before we go too far with this, can you just confirm to the best of you knowledge, that the duck had not been tampered with in anyway?

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:23 PM | GSW

I am guessing that if you chopped off a ducks legs, it would float slightly higher in the water, but would lose the ability to paddle about, but spending millions on a computer model would be a far more reliable way of predicting this

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

All the prayers to Mother Gaia have been answered! She has saved the Pure Ones from the Evil Sceptic Scumbags.

Just when it seemed certain that the ESS would cause the sealeel to rise and drown us all about three weeks come next Tuesday (Bank Holidays, Market Days and Early Closing excluded), She has strewn her benefaction among us and caused the land to rise.

Oh what joy this brings...tempered only by the fact that She has not smitten the ESS. They still walk among us. They still exhale the monster gas. They do not worship at the right shrines to Her. They are the spawn of the devil.

We will have to think of something to destroy them. How about an 'Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change'..our new secret weapon

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Latimer Adler

Hot news just in, Fratton Park survives another high tide! But only just. Just like it did 100 years ago

Apart from the football club, is there anything left in Aldershot? I think that is more to do with defence cuts rather global warming though, I stand to be corrected by Bob Ward, obviously

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Alder not Adler, apologies twice!

Jun 18, 2011 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Seems to me that all of the 'mistakes' found in AGW science have been in favor of the warmist's position and that most of the adjustments are also in their favor.

This isn't no coincidence...

Jun 18, 2011 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterkramer

@golf charley

I was on my way to the Mecca of Football at the Recreation Ground one day on the train with some Grimsby Town supporters.

And one said 'Eeeh ba gum...I've been following t'Town all over the country for forty years. But its not often that we come to a bigger s**thole than the one we come from'

For once, I was lost for words. He was far too charitable. Apart from ATFC, there is nothing. But Grimsby got relegated and we made the playoffs. So maybe there is a God.

Jun 18, 2011 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

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