`The First Global Warming
by Dr Wilson Flood
"The First Global Warming Refugees" is the title of an article that was syndicated in a number of newspapers including The Scotsman (20 September 2002) and The Independent in the UK. The article, written by Joseph Verrengia, was also run on CNN.com Science and Space and titled "Alaskan island falls victim to global warming". The article describes the plight of the village of Shishmaref which is located on the Bering Strait about 100 miles north of Nome (see Figure 1).
This shows the annual mean temperature and, although one should not select two single points it can be seen that the temperature in 1999 (the last year of this record) was lower than in 1907 and in fact was lower than in 1971. The most notable feature of the graph was the steep rise from 1977 to 1979 but temperatures have fallen since then. Was this the spike referred to ? In fact given that total solar irradiation has been rising significantly since the mid 1970s (see graph from IPCC: The Scientific Basis, 2001) (Figure 3) it would be surprising if temperatures had not risen slightly in the Arctic.
The coastline here is almost identical to that at Shishmaref. The current here flows strongly from east to west. Sand is being moved from the far right of the map and is being deposited in the form of dunes at Findhorn where the harbour is silting up. The fast flowing River Findhorn is all that is stopping the estuary from closing completely.
The newspaper article makes no mention of the longshore drift process at Shishmaref and in fact, despite the headline, there is little mention of global warming. The US army has a $3 million plan to build a breakwater which suggests that the US government recognises the real nature of the problem. This is once again an example of media distortion, of ascribing every change in a landscape to global warming without advancing any evidence to support the assertion. Too much emphasis is placed on anecdotal evidence of climate and not enough on actual temperature data.
Rising sea levels or falling land levels
Newspapers often carry reports that predict that land will be submerged by the sea due to rises in sea level caused by global warming. But land can also be submerged due to the fact that it is sinking.
The Times (London,
11 October 2002) carried an article by the Environment Editor that
described how the east and south east coasts of England are at threat from
rising sea levels due to , you guessed it, global warming. The article
estimated that the seas around Britain would rise by between 21 and 41 cm
However the article made no mention of post glacial rebound. This arises as a result of land areas being compressed under
the thick sheets of ice during the last ice age. As the ice melts
the land slowly rises where the ice was thickest and other surrounding
areas sink. The map (Figure 7) shows that
Scotland is rising in some places at an estimated 3mm a year. The evidence
for this is that the geography of Scotland is characterised by what are
known as "raised beaches". There are two levels, the 10 metre
and 30 metre raised beach, both marked by a line of ancient cliffs now
some distance inland, and these show how the land has risen in the past.
Conversely the south of England is sinking at 2 mm a year, which, over a
century, adds up to 20 cm, close to the prediction for global warming sea
In the IPCC 2001 Technical Summary ( www.ipcc.ch/pub/wg1TARtechsum.pdf
), figure 6 shows sea level changes over 2-300 years at a number of ports
– Liverpool, Brest, Amsterdam, Sheerness and Swinemunde. All these ports
are in areas where the land should be sinking as a result of the
Caledonian and Scandinavian ice caps but this is not mentioned in the
document. The rate of change is exactly in line with what might be
expected from post glacial rebound. At one other port, Stockholm, the data
has been adjusted up to 1873 for post glacial rebound because Stockholm is
rising rather than sinking. It is not clear why there is no adjustment
after 1873 but it is clear that there is no rise in sea level up to 1873
and very little after that.
We know that temperatures have risen in the last 350 years
mainly due to an increase in solar activity so we should expect some sea
level rise but more land has been reclaimed from the sea as a result of
drainage and diking than has been lost. What is rather sad about the
situation in England is that the Environment Agency is accepting
inundation as a fait accompli and is refusing to spend money on
improving sea defences. The Agency has told farmers to expect some of
their land to return to salt marsh and needless to say a lot of farmers
are not happy. The only people who are happy are the Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds (RSPB) who will see an
increase in marshy environments suitable for certain bird species.
Indeed you could be excused for thinking that UK Government policy with
respect to climate change is largely determined by the RSPB. At
Freiston Shore on the Wash, 200 acres of farmland were deliberately
flooded when diggers broke through the flood defence banks to create a
salt marsh bird reserve.
A new phenomenon
Will Shishmaref be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak?
The Shishmaref islanders are seeking $100 million to be relocated 5 miles
to the east. And Tuvalu islanders are seeking compensation for
supposed rising sea levels (see this site).
Are we about to witness a new wave of refugees demanding their
"rights" to resettle, or seeking redress from oil companies or
the USA for supposed greenhouse gas induced sea level rises whether or not
these rises are real or imagined? It is important for them and their
lawyers to keep the greenhouse gas theory to the fore because that gives
them a case. If the warming we have witnessed in the last 300 years
is mainly due to completely natural sources (ie the
sun) then they have no case at all; they can hardly sue nature.
As long as there is no sustained and well constructed counter argument against the wilder prophecies of the greenhouse warming advocates then we will continue to see money and time being wasted in chasing inappropriate solutions to a non-existent threat. The media in particular are spreading misinformation in the most irresponsible manner. To fully understand the issues discussed here a knowledge of a range of disciplines is needed. Focussing on one aspect (global warming sea level rises) may provide a seductively neat analysis of the problem but the outcome is a wrong conclusion for the wrong reason. Papers published on this site have shown that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere must cause some warming by their very nature but it has also been argued that the contribution, even for a doubling of carbon dioxide, would be very small and could not be easily distinguished from normal temperature variations.
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