Once upon a time in a galaxy not-so-far away, there were two fools and a scientist. By which I mean, last week at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Space, Science, and Technology.
Fool #1 is committe chair congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who held the hearings to assert his right to subpoena information about ongoing criminal investigations by state attorneys general. His witnesses included fool #2, a law professor by the name of Ronald Rotunda, who decided to include in his testimony some actual science. Oops! I meant “the most extreme misrepresentation of science in recent memory.”
The scientist whose work was so terribly, I would even opine dishonestly misrepresented, is Jerry Mitrovica. He’s a geophysicist at Harvard who specializes in how the Earth’s surface moves around. As such, one of his keen interests is sea level. His work was recently highlighted in an article in Harvard magazine.
Mitrovica and his colleagues have applied some old science to how sea level changes when land ice melts: Newton’s law of gravity. The Greenland ice sheet, for instance, has a lot of mass (about 3 million billion tonnes) and that means it exerts considerable gravitational force on the rest of the Earth, including the oceans. Its gravity pulls the ocean’s water toward Greenland, so it piles up higher around that island, raising the local sea level, not by melting but by its gravity. The flip side is that its gravity actually lowers sea level in regions distant from Greenland.
If the Greenland ice sheet melts, says Mitrovica (and trust me, he knows what he’s talking about) it will raise global average sea level about 7 meters (around 23 feet), but near Greenland it will actually lower sea level. “Near Greenland” means within about 2000 km, a calculation which my own crude approximation agrees with (using that radical alarmist science know as “Newton’s law of gravity.”)
It might surprise you how little of Earth’s surface is within 2000 km of Greenland. It’s shown by the deep blue in this map:
This means that, counterintuitive as it may seem, if you live somewhere in the area colored deep blue, like Norway or Iceland, the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet will actually lower your local sea level. For the rest of us, however, who don’t live in that area, it will raise sea level. In many areas it will actually raise sea level more than the global average of 7 meters. That’s good luck for Iceland, Norway, and Scotland, but bad luck for the rest of us, and extra-bad luck for China, Japan, Australia, India, the Middle East, most of Africa, and all of South America.
All of which is made clear in the article in Harvard magazine. But it was not made clear in the testimony of Ronald Rotunda. He just said that melting of the Greenland ice sheet would lower sea level! His “reference” for this scientific gem was the article in Harvard magazine. Too bad he left out the most important part.
Rotunda also made hay of the fact that Mitrovica prefers working on paleo sea level, because he dislikes the politics which invades the issue today.
Jerry Mitrovica isn’t happy about that. Climate Crocks reports that Mitrovica described Rotunda’s spin on his views about the politics of climate change and its relation to ExxonMobil investigation to be “about as despicable a misrepresentation of my views that I have ever read or heard.” Mitrovica also mentioned that his complaints were about the actions of “climate change skeptics who respond to rigorous scientific work with dismissiveness, insults, and hostility.”
But it was Rotunda’s non-scientific nonsense which brought about an exchange between Rotunda and another committee member, the one with a PhD in Physics, Bill Foster (D-IL). If you want some entertainment, watch the video here.
If you want to get a lot smarter about the subject, enjoy this video of a lecture on the subject of sea level by Mitrovica.
If you want to get a lot more stupid, spend your time listening to fool #1 Lamar Smith. It seems to me that he’s not just stupid, he’s proud of it.
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