Monday, June 21, 2010

Global Warming Denialists in the Dunk Tank: "Now You Can Forget About Those Rising Seas"

In ancient times, kings often visited the Oracle of Apollo at the religious city of Delphi in Greece to seek advice. The ancients believed that the god Apollo, who always spoke the truth, answered his supplicants' questions through a medium called the Delphic Oracle, a simple woman who was often referred to as the Pythia. Some ancient accounts report that the Pythia's shrewdly-phrased predictions were interpreted by a priest. Unfortunately, Apollo's supplicants sometimes misunderstood the truth of the god:

"The Pythia was knowledgeable in many areas: history, religion, geography, politics, mathematics, philosophy, etc. She uttered advice on where and how to build cities, which laws to incorporate, and which prayers to utter. Her predictions were often very shrewdly phrased, which caused many supplicants to misinterpret the advice. The most famous instance of this comes down to us through a Delphic prediction given to Croesus, king of Lydia. In 550 BCE, Croesus was preparing to invade the Persian Empire when he consulted the Oracle about his chances for victory. After sacrificing 300 head of cattle to Apollo, he had gold and silver melted down into 117 bricks, which were sent to Delphi, along with jewels, statues, and a gold bowl weighing a quarter of a ton. With these gifts, Croesus sent his question of whether he should attack Persia.

The Pythia answered that, if he crossed a river, 'Croesus will destroy a great empire.' Encouraged by this response, he invaded Persia, only to suffer a decisive defeat. The Persians invaded and then conquered Lydia and captured Croesus, who thereafter bitterly denounced the Oracle. He sent his iron chains to Delphi with the question, 'Why did you lie to me?' The Pythia correctly answered that her prophecy had been fulfilled. Croesus had destroyed a great empire -- his own."--The Oracle at Delphi

The point of this ancient story is that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Often, like Croesus, when we don't know too much about a complex scientific subject such as global warming, we jump to false conclusions and go on the attack because we make foolish assumptions based on on partial or misleading information.

Propagandists have known how to trick people into jumping to false conclusions by feeding them partial information for thousands of years. Some writers have speculated that Delphi may have been a center for political intrigue and disinformation in classical times because the priests who interpreted the Oracle's prophesies could be bribed into feeding important supplicants misleading advice.

These days, some writers jump to false conclusions and end up in the global warming denialist dunk tank because they believe misleading headlines or the shrewd "oracles" of disingenuous conspiracists such as Senator Inhofe and his former aid Marc Morano, who mischaracterize what scientists actually say and spread vicious canards about the plots of crafty scientists who study global warming. If these dishonest politicians were college professors, they would probably be fired for research misconduct like the former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who mischaracterized his sources.

Last February, a denialist blogger who had read a misleading newspaper headline crowed, "Now You Can Forget About Those Rising Seas" (2-21-10). The blogger had read a poorly-titled article in the Guardian (2-21-10) which reported that scholars had retracted an article that predicted that the sea level would rise as much as 82cm by the end of the century.

The blogger assumed that global warming was not really a problem because scientists were wrong about the seas rising. In fact, the scientists had withdrawn their article because an error they had made suggested that their prediction about rising seas was too conservative.

Skeptical Science explains:

The retracted paper actually predicts a low range of future sea level rise. The retraction removes a lower bound of sea level prediction. This increases confidence in other peer-reviewed research predicting sea level rise of 80cm to 2 metres by 2100.

The seas rise because of the thermal expansion of a warming ocean and because land ice flows into the ocean. Scientists predict that rising seas will flood coastal cities and low-lying areas. According to an article in Skeptical Science:

[W]e expect sea levels to rise up to 2 metres by 2100; they will continue to rise afterwards to at least 6 metres.

...Our children and grandchildren will see sea level rise of 1 to 2 metres in their lifetime.

Climate Denial Crock of the Week has an entertaining and informative video titled "Climate Change and Sea Level Rise."

NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) discusses the scientific findings about sea level rise in an article titled "Sea Level Rise, After the Ice Melted and Today" (January 2007):

Climate warming is expected to result in rising sea level. Should this occur, coastal cities, ports, and wetlands would be threatened with more frequent flooding, increased beach erosion, and saltwater encroachment into coastal streams and aquifers. Global sea level has fluctuated widely in the recent geologic past. It stood 4-6 meters above the present during the last interglacial period, 125,000 years ago, but was 120 m lower at the peak of the last ice age, around 20,000 years ago. A study of past sea level fluctuations provides a longer-term geologic context, which can help us better anticipate future trends....

Twentieth century sea level trends, however, are substantially higher that those of the last few thousand years. The current phase of accelerated sea level rise appears to have begun in the mid/late 19th century to early 20th century, based on coastal sediments from a number of localities. Twentieth century global sea level, as determined from tide gauges in coastal harbors, has been increasing by 1.7-1.8 mm/yr, apparently related to the recent climatic warming trend. Most of this rise comes from warming of the world's oceans and melting of mountain glaciers, which have receded dramatically in many places especially during the last few decades. Since 1993, an even higher sea level trend of about 2.8 mm/yr has been measured from the TOPEX/POSEIDON satellite altimeter. Analysis of longer tide-gauge records (1870-2004) also suggests a possible late 20th century acceleration in global sea level.

Recent observations of Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet raise concerns for the future. Satellites detect a thinning of parts of the Greenland Ice Sheet at lower elevations, and glaciers are disgorging ice into the ocean more rapidly, adding 0.23 to 0.57 mm/yr to the sea within the last decade. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is also showing some signs of thinning. Either ice sheet, if melted completely, contains enough ice to raise sea level by 5-7 m. A global temperature rise of 2-5°C might destabilize Greenland irreversibly. Such a temperature rise lies within the range of several future climate projections for the 21st century. However, any significant meltdown would take many centuries. Furthermore, even with possible future accelerated discharge from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, it highly unlikely that annual rates of sea level rise would exceed those of the major post-glacial meltwater pulses.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me the way things are shaping up the the next big complaint about scientists will be they are to conservative in their will the deniers spin that.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Ani said...

Will Inhofe start a new list on scientists that are to conservative in their findings.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Snapple said...

Thanks for commenting.

Inhofe gets money from the fossil fuel companies to attack scientists who research global warming, so he will attack the best scientists in this field.

4:06 AM  

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