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Varying sea levels since the last ice age  (Source: Global Warming Art Project)
Environmental reporting adheres to adage: "bad news sells better than good"

A new scientific report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program has sharply reduced earlier estimates of global ice loss. The CCSP, which coordinates the efforts of 13 different federal climate agencies, has released updated figures estimating combined ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland at 48 cubic miles per year, a figure the Washington Post dolefully reports as "accelerated" ice loss.

But is it?

In 2006, a widely-reported study estimated ice loss from Greenland alone to be over 57 cubic miles per year. Another the same year reported Antarctic ice loss of 36 cubic miles -- a combined annual total of over 93 cubic miles. The new estimate, however, is only about half as high. In most rational circles, this would be cause for celebration.

Not for the Washington Post, however. Ignoring earlier estimates, it casts the figure in a threatening light by noting it's twice the amount of ice locked in the Alps. It fails to mention, though, that those 48 cubic miles, when spread out over the planet's 139 million square miles of ocean, works out to a sea level rise of only 2.1 inches per century. For you metric types, that's about half a millimeter a year. Even factoring in an additional increase for thermal expansion, the value is far too small for concern.

Glossing over all this, the Washington Post instead reports a potential rise of four feet by the year 2100. The figure is based on the assumption of unforeseen positive feedback effects which might accelerate ice loss, despite the fact that no evidence exists that this is happening, and even the report's own authors considered such a scenario "unlikely".

When one considers sea level has been rising for the last 18,000 years, at an average of about 25 inches a century, one sees even less cause for alarm. The rate of increase has actually slowed in past 4,000 years; before this, it often rose by as much as several meters per century.

The Post article also fails to point out the report doesn't include data for 2008, a colder year in which sea ice increased sharply, and preliminary estimates indicate that land-based ice sheets may have as well.

Some positive notes in the report are that "no clear evidence" for global-warming induced hydrologic changes (drought or floods) are being seen in the US, and that catastrophic events such as a shutdown of sea ocean currents ("thermohaline circulatory shutdown" ) or dramatic releases of methane (the "clathrate gun" hypothesis) seem increasingly unlikely.

To be fair to the Washington Post, 48 cubic miles/year is indeed larger than some estimates from the 1990s. But those figures were arrived at before the launch of advanced systems such as NASA's GRACE satellite. It's unclear how much of the difference in estimates is due simply to today's more accurate monitoring. 

The report also indicates that current IPCC modeling doesn't accurately capture lubrication effects that may increase ice thinning and loss.  However, a model prediction is not the same thing as actual measurements and observations.

The new figures obviously don't prove whether or not CO2 is warming the planet. However, they do strongly indicate that sea level rise isn't something that we -- or even our great-grandchildren -- need to worry about.

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the shoe falls.
By ang sang on 12/29/2008 6:13:24 PM , Rating: -1
I don't get the point of this blog. The media has a responsibility to educate people and get them to take action on serious problems like global warming. The Washington Post reporter was just doing his job. Normal people wont make the sacrifices needed under normal conditions.

RE: the shoe falls.
By FPP on 12/29/2008 7:22:58 PM , Rating: 5
No he was not doing his job. The article points out the glaring conclusions they made, versus the actual data. This is typical of the liberal media.

RE: the shoe falls.
By Rockjock51 on 12/29/2008 8:59:21 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps you have proof that global warming is a serious problem?

RE: the shoe falls.
By FITCamaro on 12/31/2008 8:27:40 AM , Rating: 5
Al Gore said so. Isn't that enough? I mean, the man invented the internet and killed ManBearPig. Surely he is all knowing.


RE: the shoe falls.
By Ringold on 12/29/2008 9:49:05 PM , Rating: 3
Normal people wont make the sacrifices needed under normal conditions.

I'd rather "normal people" decide to do whatever they want to do and face the consequences than coerce or cajole them to do something else, compromising individual liberty for mere comfort. I was under the impression that undue fear and coercion was the tool of empire, not enlightened democracy.

But that's just my 2 cents. :P

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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