The Marshall Islands could sink beneath the waves because of rising sea levels, according to an Associated Press article that was picked up by national news organizations. The story reports that “waves threaten to cut one sliver of an island in two” and wonders what will happen to the 61,000 inhabitants while “for years global negotiations to act on climate change have dragged on, with little to show.”

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But some national environmental experts question the validity of the story.

Pat Michaels, Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute:

This report is incorrect. Sea levels do not change uniformly around the globe. According to Cecile Cabanes, writing in Science, data from combined satellite and submarine observations going back to 1955 indicates that sea levels have FALLEN in the central Pacific Ocean by about four inches.  Given the mean projections for global warming from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which are likely to be overestimates), Tuvalu will not even show a net rise in sea level (base year 1955) until around 2050.

William Happer, physicist and the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton:

I think most of the news is part of a ploy to squeeze money out of Europe and America, aided by members of the climate-change cult there. Sea levels are rising at about the same rate as they have for the past 8,000 years or so, at 2 or 3 mm/year, with some interesting fluctuations. There has been no unusual change in rates. There was a much faster rise of sea level from the end of the last big ice age, about 18,000 years ago until about 8,000 years ago when most of the North American and Scandinavian ice sheets melted. That resulted in an impressive sea level rise of about 500 feet -- much faster than the current rate of rise.  Coral islands were able to grow fast enough to keep up with even these very fast rates of rises. I don't think the Marshall Islanders have anything to worry about.

Steven Hayward, Senior Fellow, Environment Studies at Pacific Research Institute:

Hard to know exactly what to make of the story of the sea level rise around the Marshalls without knowing whether subsidence is taking place in the local geological structure.  In many cases, "rising sea levels" is not actually a rise in the ocean, but a fall in the land.  This is true of several supposed island areas (such as Tuvalu), where sea level isn't rising--the islands are sinking.

And one of the oddities of sea level rise is that it is not rising uniformly around the world--this is a function also of geological movements of the continents.  But you need local geological data to know for sure, so I'm hesitant to declare on the Marshall Islands without knowing more specific information about the area.


See also:

Climate Science and Groupthink

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Classroom Gore: Global Warming Goes to School

Changing the Climate on Climate Change