Supposed threats to coastal military installations ignore science

By Bob Endlich

“Data from CO2 measuring stations and from the Sewell’s Point and all other tide gages may clearly refute these assertions, but NPR and its colleagues will not change their minds.”

“The Sewell’s Point tide gage shows that the rate of sea level rise has not changed since the gage was installed in 1927, and is unchanged from our use of fossil fuels. It’s time to base our policies on sound science, instead of manmade global warming fiction and scare stories.”

National Public Radio’s March 31 “Morning Edition” program carried a “news” story claiming that rising seas threaten a number of U.S. coastal military bases. The commentary was so laden with factual errors that listeners might have thought it was an early April fool’s joke. Unfortunately, it was not.

NPR remains so wedded to its belief that humans and carbon dioxide emissions are causing a fossil fuels–driven global warming catastrophe that its reporting has been compromised, and it is unable to think critically or report honestly without resorting to activist claims and fake news events.

Real journalism would have at least included passing references to alternative views and sources. But they were absent in this story, which in truth is a splendid example of ignorance or deception—reader’s choice.

Host David Greene introduced the sea level segment, noting that President Trump is taking steps to reverse Obama-era policies that called [manmade CO2-driven] climate change a national security threat. Reporter Jay Price then expanded on the national security theme, claiming the Sewell’s Point tide gage (or gauge) at the Norfolk, Virginia Naval Station shows that seas are rising there at the highest rates on the East Coast.

His errors began right from the outset. Sea level rise measured at Sewell’s Point is 4.59 millimeters (0.18 inches) per year. That’s less than recorded by neighboring Virginia tide gages: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel gage measured an average sea level rise of 5.93 mm annually; up the Delmarva Peninsula, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Wachapreague gage records show average seal level rise of 5.37 mm/year.

Tide Gages Only Part of the Story

In principle, a tide gage is like the float in a toilet tank. As water flows in, the gage shows a rise; as water flows out, it records a fall. However, tide gages are unable to determine whether changing water levels over time are due to changing sea levels, or whether the land on which it sits is rising or falling. That needs to be determined by another measure. Using GPS data from many years 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. But Dave Burton’s Sea Level Info website has added carbon dioxide concentrations to the tide gage height, correlating the two topics. His site shows clearly and directly that CO2 concentrations have had no effect on rates of sea level rise. The Sewell’s Point sea level and CO2 plot is shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Sea Level Rise at Sewell’s Point

The rate of sea level has fluctuated several times over multi-decadal periods, but there is no human-caused CO2-fueled global warming signal in the data. Indeed, the rate of rise has not changed since 1927. In other words, there is no acceleration in sea level rise.

However, the Greene and Price’s reporting make it clear that, as they and NPR see it, sea level rise is definitely human-caused, the result of our using fossil fuels. In essence, this has morphed into a looming dual disaster: a national security threat and a dangerous manmade climate change threat. Their viewpoint is clearly political, unsupported by objective scientific data.

Figure 2 presents the best available estimate of global carbon dioxide emissions from 1900 to 2014. As it demonstrates, when the Sewell’s Point tide gage was installed in 1927, the global rate of CO2 emissions was about 1 GT/year. The most recent available estimate of CO2 emissions (2014) was about 10 GT/year. Comparing this CO2 data with the Sewell’s Point tide gage record in Figure 1 makes it clear that the rate of sea level rise at Sewell’s Point is unchanged over this nine-decade period.

Figure 2 Carbon dioxide emssions over time
Figure 2. Carbon dioxide emissions over time.

In summary, 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, including the Battery in New York City and in San Francisco, where tide gage records go back to the time of the U.S. Civil War.

NPR’s Unreliable “Experts”

But this does not prevent NPR from quoting Retired Rear Admiral David Titley, then of the climate-obsessed Obama Administration and now of Penn State University, who declared that the sea level rise at Norfolk is definitely a result of human-caused climate change. (As many before me have pointed out, the U.S. military is and has always been under the direction and control of a civilian president.)

Nor do scientific facts prevent NPR from using this recent story from the always alarmist Union of Concerned Scientists and this flawed methodology from another “global warming is manmade” group, claiming that human-caused global warming has raised sea level “about eight inches since 1880, and the rate of rise is accelerating.” Data from CO2 measuring stations and from the Sewell’s Point and all other tide gages may clearly refute these assertions, but NPR and its colleagues will not change their minds.

Sea Level Rise and Land Subsidence

It is easy to see why this report and this reporting are in error. The majority by far 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 development.

The center of the huge Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater is near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, and its 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 in this area.

Examining a satellite-based map of the Norfolk area reveals nearly straight shorelines, right angled corners, piers and other indications that show the terrain has been modified by dredging and filling of former wetlands to suit the needs of developers. When marshes are dredged and filled, the once muddy, wet fill continues to compact for decades, resulting in slow terrain subsidence, just as this article from The Economist reports: “In America, groundwater extraction without commensurate recharge [of water in the subsurface formations] is responsible for 80% of…