Listener Questions NPR Report On Rising Seas Related To Climate Change

Apr 4, 2017

More information: NASA-Climate Change and Global Warming 

Commentary: NPR is so certain in its belief of human-caused CO2-fueled global warming catastrophe, that its reporting of facts is compromised, and its inability to think critically and report honestly, without resorting to fake news stories, is on clear display in the segment, Rising Seas Threaten Coastal Military Bases by reporter Jay Price on NPR’s Morning Edition, 31 March 2017.

If this was journalism, there might be at least a passing reference to an alternative view or using alternative sources.

As it stands, this story stands as a splendid example of either ignorance or deception, reader’s choice.

Host David Greene introduced this segment.

President Trump is in the process of reversing the Obama Policy which called (human-caused CO2-fueled) Climate Change a National Security threat.

Reporter Jay Price began his piece, ostensibly about National Security, at the Sewell’s Point Tide Gage on the Navy Station at Norfolk, VA.  Price said that sea level rise rate there is the highest on the East Coast, but right off, he is incorrect.

Sea level rise measured at Sewell’s Point, 4.59 mm/year, is less than nearby Virginia tide gages--at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel sea level rise is 5.93 mm/year, and up the Delmarva Peninsula, on Virginia’s Eastern shore, at Wachapreague, VA, it is 5.37 mm/year.

At this point you should know that a tide gage is in principle like the float in a toilet tank, as the water flows in, the gage shows a rise, as the water flows out, the gage shows a fall. But the tide gage does not have intrinsic knowledge whether or not the land upon which it sits is itself rising or falling; that needs to be determined by another measure. Long term GPS data is a good method to determine the long term vertical motion of the ground near the tide gage.

Tide gage data are readily available at NOAA’s “Tides and Currents” web site: the Sewell’s Point tide gage measure of sea level over time is shown in this NOAA graphic:

The rate of rise has several multidecadal fluctuations, but there is no human-caused CO2-fueled global warming signal in the data; the rate of rise has not changed since 1927. In other words, there is no acceleration is the rate at which the measured sea level is rising.

However, the reporting by Jay Price and David Greene make it clear that in the view of NPR this sea level rise is human-caused by our use of fossil fuels. In essence this has morphed into Climate Change story from a National Security story.

Comparing the Sewell’s Point tide gage record, graphic above, with the best estimate of global CO2 emissions from 1900-2014, below,  shows that when the Sewell’s Point tide gage was installed in 1927, the global rate of CO2 emissions was about 1 GT/year.  The last available estimate of CO2 emissions, in 2014, was about 10 GT/year, yet the rate of sea level rise at Sewell’s Point is unchanged.

The 1998 spike in the Sewell’s Point Tide Gage data is an artifact of the grand El Nino that year, the rates of rise were smaller during the 1940 to 1976 global cooling, a little greater in the late 20th century Pacific Decadal Oscillation “warm” mode, but have decreased since the 1998 El Nino, during the so-called “global warming pause” period.

In any event, there is no human-caused CO2-fueled global warming signature in the tide gage record at Sewell’s Point or anywhere else in the tide gage records, and that includes the Battery, New York City, and San Francisco, where tide gage records go back to the time of the U.S. Civil War. But this does not affect NPR’s quoting of Retired Rear Admiral David Titley, now of Penn State University, from stating that the sea level rise at Norfolk is a result of human-caused climate change.

And, it does not prevent NPR from using this recent story from the Union of Concerned Scientists and  this flawed  methodology  which says, “Global warming has raised sea level about eight inches since 1880, and the rate of rise is accelerating, ” a claim which the Sewell’s Point and all other tide gages clearly refute.

Let’s see why this report and this reporting is in error.

By far, most of the apparent sea level rise in the Norfolk-Hampton-Newport News area is caused by two important non-climate-related forces: subsidence associated with an ancient subterranean impact crater, and the compaction of former wetlands filled in for commercial, residential and municipal development.

Further down in this post, you will read more about the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater,  whose center is near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, and whose proximity to Sewell’s Point is graphically shown here. The crater’s structure below the Hampton Roads region is causing most of the present-day subsidence of the terrain

If you look at a satellite-based map of the Norfolk area you will see nearly straight shorelines, right angled corners, piers, and other indications that the terrain has been modified by dredging and filling of former wetlands to suit the needs of the developers of port, municipal, and naval facilities of Norfolk.  When marshes are dredged and filled, compaction of the fill continues, and terrain subsidence results, just as this Economist article reports: “In America groundwater extraction without commensurate recharge is responsible for 80% of subsidence.”

So, no matter how much NPR’s reporter and sources claim that sea level rise is human-caused and CO2-fueled, the tide gage data show no correlation with human production of Carbon Dioxide.  Clearly the nature of the present terrain, above the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater and filled-in wetlands, still compacting and losing water content, is the reason for apparent rises of sea level from the tide gages at Sewell’s Point, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and Wachapreague.

The 31 March NPR story does not even mention terrain subsidence; it is all about “Climate Change,” and the notion that if human use of fossil fuels could be changed, the gradual rise of the waters of Hampton Roads could be stopped,

The actual Sewell’s Point data and geologic history of this area show nothing could be further from the truth.

My posts usually bring comments, and those comments are rarely handled elegantly by the Disqus application, so I’ll provide more information on this topic in the following paragraphs.

If WUNC reporter Jay Price or the program editors at NPR were the least bit curious, they might have investigated the sea level tide gages operated by NOAA for the entire country, displayed at the Tides and Currents Web Page  where they would find this map:

The map above illustrates regional trends in sea level, with arrows representing the direction and magnitude of change. Click on an arrow to access additional information about that station.

The map shows whether the seas are rising or falling, with an up or down arrow, and the rate of sea level rise or fall is indicated by the color of the arrow. Many areas of temperate and tropical seas show gentle rates of sea level rise, with green “up” arrows. But in Scandinavia and many areas of Canada and Alaska, the seas are falling.  How could that be?

In first year Earth Science courses they might learn that at the coldest of the last Ice Age, the Wisconsin Ice Age, as it is known in North America, some 23,000 years ago, deep glaciers covered much of Northern Europe and Canada, extending as far south as the Great Lakes states, Manhattan, and Long Island, New York, as shown, for instance, here:

In areas where the glaciers have melted away,  “isostatic rebound” is taking place, so, that with the weight of glacial ice from the last ice age removed, the land surface is actually rising, rebounding from its previous burden as shown in the image below:

Successive Shorelines Show Isostatic Rebound

With a little poking around Alaska on the Tides and Currents map display, they might even find that at Skagway, Alaska, the Tide Gage measures sea level is falling rapidly at 17.59 mm/year!

Returning to the Continental US, on the East Coast there are greens and yellows indicating slight and moderate rates of sea level rise, with the Middle Atlantic States having somewhat higher rates of sea level rise. On the Gulf Coast there are red arrows; the tide gages show large rates of sea level rise in Louisiana.

Again, returning to our first-year Earth Science course, we’d learn that for some 50 years a new specialty, Plate Tectonics, has emerged, and in that time the previous “consensus view” that continents were fixed has been demolished. We now know that the continents on plates move and collide with other plates and their continents, and that tectonic forces cause regional areas of uplift and subsidence. From the tide gage map display, if you think about it, there is a good chance that the variable rates of sea level rise and fall might be caused by the nature of the land at the shore as the possible source of the different rates shown by the tide gage data. The new science, Plate Tectonics, night account for different tectonic influences on different shores.

So, the tide gages tell us what the history of the height of the gage float in the water measures, but the tide gage has no knowledge of whether the pier upon which it sits is rising rapidly, as is the case in Skagway, or is falling rapidly as is the case in coastal Louisiana.

It is doubtful that the NPR reporters would know that in the December, 1897, edition of National Geographic Magazine, E.L. Corthell, reported that since the Mississippi River had been channelized the yearly flooding of the Mississippi delta had ceased. Without the fresh annual addition of silt to the surface, continuing subsidence of the entire delta continued, and had these results: encroaching Gulf of Mexico waters and delta lands that were being abandoned. And this, the entire delta area subsiding, accounts for the tide gages showing large rates of sea level rise in coastal Louisiana,

From Long Island and the Jersey Shore to South Texas, the entire coastal plain of the US East and Gulf Coasts consists of unconsolidated sediments. When municipalities and industrial sites pump ground water for use by citizens, governments, and private use, the water is removed from the interstitial spaces in the sediments. The formations for the most part are not solid rock, but they consist of sands, clays, silts, gravels, and mixtures of these materials.  When ground water is pumped, mass is removed and the land subsides. 

The use of long-term GPS data can discern the difference between land subsidence and sea level rise.

However, closer to the Norfolk Navy station and the Sewell’s Point tide gage, some 35.5 million years ago, a large bolide, or meteor, struck, evaporating the sediments which were in place, and creating a huge crater in the crystalline basement rock below. It was a cataclysm! The crater center is close to the present southern extent of the Delmarva Peninsula. This feature, the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater, has affected geologic and geographic development of the lower Chesapeake Bay ever since. 

In the millions of years since, sediments have once again collected in the Virginia Coastal Plain, and this area is where the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James Rivers converge into lower Chesapeake Bay. At the end of the Wisconsin age 20,000 years ago, sea level was some 400 ft lower than today and the Susquehanna River flowed 80 miles east, to the Norfolk Canyon in the continental shelf, as it emptied into the Atlantic. Now the Susquehanna and its tributaries are drowned river valleys, and in August 1682 the British established Norfolk as a port town.

In the years since British colonization, the area has become part of Virginia, and is now home to perhaps the largest naval facilities in the world, but the Chesapeake Crater continues to induce subsidence of the land because of the fractured nature of the ground below these towns and cities at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

Rim Boundaries of the crater. The Sewell’s Point tide gage is where the outer rim black line crosses from Norfolk into the James River. 

There is a profile view of the crater along an east west line through Kiptopeke on the Delmarva Peninsula

Profile view of the complex structure of the Chesapeake Crater.

The location of the Sewell’s Point tide gage is some 6 miles south-southeast of NASA-Langley; the crater complex is 50 miles across.  

Despite the scare stories, including this one from NPR, the sea level at Hampton Roads has been increasing for a long time, most probably since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1800s.  The Sewell’s Point tide gage shows that the rate of sea level rise has not changed since the gage was installed in 1927.

Las Cruces resident Robert W. Endlich served as a Weather Officer in the U. S. Air Force for 21 Years. From 1984-1993 he provided toxic corridor and laser propagation support to the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range. He has published in the technical literature and worked as software test engineer at New Mexico State University.

 He was elected to Chi Epsilon Pi, the national Meteorology Honor Society, while a Basic Meteorology student at Texas A&M University. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Rutgers University and a master’s in Meteorology from the Pennsylvania State University.