November 07, 2009 | Graham

Point of view

The Australian is generally skeptical of climate change and the ABC relatively accepting. So what would each choose to report from one set of tidal measurements?
According to The Australian’s headline “Science is in on climate change sea-level rise: 1.7mm “. But the ABC’s headline reads “WA sea level rises doubling world average” and the article goes on to say that sea levels in WA are rising more than 3mm per year.
So what is going on?
Well The Australian has chosen to report the rate of change in Port Kembla, south of Sydney, while the ABC is obviously on the other side of the continent. The result? In a sense both of them are wrong.
Australian sea levels change for two reasons. One is that the sea rises as a result of thermal expansion (mostly) and melt from land ice (minimally). The other is that land height changes. What appears to be happening with Australia is that the continent is listing into the Indian Ocean with the height of the land being depressed in the west and elevated in the east.
However, the interesting thing is that irrespective of which side of the continent you are on the sea level rise is at the lowest end of the IPCC projections and a figure pretty similar to the 20th century average. in the case of Port Kembla, or around the average for the period since 1993 for W.A.
So the facts appear to be saying that there is no appreciable acceleration of global warming based on Australian sea level rises. Once you adjust for the tilt the average should be under that for the last 16 years, and just a little over that for the last century. Why couldn’t someone have reported that?

Posted by Graham at 6:47 pm | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Media


  1. Graham,
    International press has a recent published an article that seems to indicate that the world sea level has risen 3mm. The article mentions that the rise has been taken by measurements at the poles and is confirmed as an average by satellite multi site (Jason, cyrosat?) measurements. It was noted by the Gm of the SMOS satellite that the new system will do the job much better in that more points will be measured and will focus on water cycles etc. better than Jason 1&2. Jason 3 went up Nov 3. At least that’s what I remember.

    Comment by examinator — November 9, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

  2. …land height changes. What appears to be happening with Australia is that the continent is listing into the Indian Ocean with the height of the land being depressed in the west and elevated in the east.

    Looking over somewhat longer time scales, geological indications are somewhat different. Prof Mike Sandiford of Melbourne Uni has published extensively on this subject. His latest thinking appears to be that Australia can be currently characterised as tilting north-down, southwest-up.

    Comment by Mark Duffett — November 9, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

  3. Thanks Mark. I’m sure Mike Sandiford would have a better handle on this than me. May well be that the two spots named in news reports are examples of less than continent wide movement too. What I was pointing out was that anyone with a modicum of understanding of physical processes would look at the two figures and say that there must be something other than just the level of the sea driving this. Changes in the level of land is the most obvious culprit.
    This is the sort of journalism that annoys me. Normally journalists would be keen to interrogate the evidence, but it appears in this subject area they tend to go much more than usual with their pre-existing biases. They just accept what they want to accept.
    This has led to the situation where the whole global warming debate is run on irrelevant grounds. People exaggerate possible effects, or downplay them all together, and the supposed solutions are completely impractical, and even sometimes counterproductive.

    Comment by Graham Young — November 9, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  4. This is the sort of journalism that annoys me.

    You’re not kidding. I wonder if it points to a fundamental ignorance of basic science among our overwhelmingly arts graduate journalists as well.
    I would hope that any reasonably inquiring mind would do as you have done and say ‘there must be something other than just the level of the sea driving this’, based purely on the simple graphic presented in The Oz. I also wonder how many are even aware of the idea that the land moves like this in the absence of earthquakes, so that they’re even capable of forming the notion ‘changes in the level of the land are the most obvious culprit’.
    But the most critical journalistic breakdown, having surmised the probability of land movements, is the failure to say ‘hmmm, land movement…I wonder who could tell me more about that…a geologist!’ and seek sources like Sandiford accordingly.
    Time to trot out Ben Goldacre again:

    My basic hypothesis is this: the people who run the media are humanities graduates with little understanding of science, who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they have denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of Western thought from the past two hundred years.

    Comment by Mark Duffett — November 9, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  5. It’s an interesting theory Mark, and has some validity, but I don’t think it’s close to being correct. For starters I would assume that Science and Nature, whose part in the hysteria should see them lose their pre-eminent science publication position over time, employs lots of science graduates.
    I know nothing about the two journalists who wrote The Australian’s story, so can’t comment on whether they are science graduates. But they did go seeking expert opinion, even though they haven’t put it together too coherently. There’s no byline on the ABC piece so can’t get to first base there.
    I suspect however that the problems go much deeper than who runs the mainstream media.
    Early on I noticed that two groups were more likely to be critical of the AGW orthodoxy. One was geologists, and the other physicists, or at least scientists with significant physics knowledge.
    The geologists looked at things in historical terms and saw nothing to be alarmed about, and the physicists looked at the basic physics and realised there is nothing to be alarmed about. I think one of the problems is that most scientists are not trained in the hard sciences at all. Just because you have a science degree doesn’t make you qualified, as a result of that degree, to make pronouncements on global warming. Your specialty might be dung beetles, or DNA.
    And I think there is a more general problem with education in that students are not taught to think. And they’re not taught to argue. Some form of philosophy, and participation in formal debates, ought to be part of schooling right up until senior.

    Comment by Graham Young — November 10, 2009 @ 6:58 am

  6. Yes indeed. “This is the sort of journalism that annoys me.” This is the sort of journalism peddled by commentators, bereft of any academic background in the sciences and who parrot the spin of SPPI et al, latching onto any scientific uncertainty to divide opinion.
    As for me, I take my information from reputable climate institutes – at least they publish their corrections and there will be many more corrections on the issue of rising sea levels before a consensus is arrived at.

    Comment by Environmental Impact Statement — November 10, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  7. Graham
    Mia culpa
    I checked my sources it states the average 1.75 mm but mentions 3mm in WA
    the rest is correct.

    Comment by examinator — November 11, 2009 @ 10:14 am

  8. The ABC are a bunch of hypocryts. Richard Gage from Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth joined us today outside the Ultimo Studios of the ABC and one of the staff told us today,that they were instructed not to take literature from us.
    We have only one mainstream radio station in Sydney who willing do an interview on 911 and the new damning, irrefutable evidence of the existence of explosives.

    Comment by Arjay — November 11, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

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