Sea Level Denial

Back in 2010, the North Carolina’s Coastal Resource Commission published the North Carolina Sea Level Rise Assessment Report. Dave Burton of “NC-20” (a trade group for business interests in the coastal counties of NC) ridiculed their results, claiming that the only sensible way to forecast future sea level rise was to fit a straight line to the data from the past, and extrapolate that into the future.

Back in 2016, Florida’s Climate Science Advisory Panel (CSAP) produced a Recommended Projection of Sea Level Rise in the Tampa Bay Region. Willis Eschenbach ridiculed their results that sea level might rise faster than it has in the historical record, saying


“Finally, look at the St. Petersburg sea level dataset, or any Florida sea level dataset. None of them show any significant acceleration, despite covering the period of recent warming. Warming but no acceleration of sea level rise … oops.”

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), in their latest report, tell us that much of the U.S. may experience a foot of sea level rise by the year 2050. Anthony Watts ridicules their results, claiming instead that sea level has been rising at a steady rate for over a century and we have no reason to believe it will do otherwise.


Let’s check on Dave Burton. Here’s the tide gauge data from Wilmington, NC (yearly averages), and I’ve fit a straight line (by least-squares regression) to the data prior to 2010 (it’s shown in blue), then extended that line up to the present (in red).

Dave Burton’s “projection” doesn’t seem to be doing too well.


Let’s check on Willis Eschenbach. He urges us to “look at the St. Petersburg sea level dataset, or any Florida sea level dataset,” so we’ll start with St. Petersburg:

How about Cedar Key, FL?

Maybe Pensacola, FL?

What about Key West?

Hmmm… Willis Eschenbach’s “projections” don’t seem to be doing very well.


I could go on. And on. And on.

I could “check on” Anthony Watts, like I did for Dave and Willis, and get the same result (you might have guessed, I already have). I could run statistical tests (you might have guessed, I already have) — plenty of them — and they give the clear result that there has been acceleration of sea level rise. It’s not even a a “close call” — it’s not “maybe,” it’s not “probably.” But deniers, like Dave Burton and Willis Eschenbach and Anthony Watts, keep telling us there is no acceleration.

Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Coastal Resource Commission and Florida’s Climate Science Advisory Panel and the U.S.A.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tell us that parts of the U.S. (especially the Eastern U.S.) may well get another foot of sea level rise by the year 2050.

Who you gonna believe?


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7 responses to “Sea Level Denial

  1. That’s a massive jump. Your examples have jumped from 2mm/year to 10mm/year.

    [Response: Yes, they have. They’re not the only ones.]

  2. The slope of the Virginia coastal plain is 10feet/mile, 1.8m/km.
    A sea level rise of 10mm/year would move the high tide mark inland by 5m/year.

  3. 2022 Nature paper defines high impact US counties for 2020-2050 increase in annual avg flooding cost % increase. Finds that climate modeling resolution too coarse to measure the full cost of precipitation changes.
    https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2022/02/study-climate-changed-rainfall-dampens-economic-growth/
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01265-6

  4. Wilmington is a long way from the open sea and there is a strong rainfall effect on its sea level. The rapid increases in the 1940’s, 1970’s and (especially) 2010’s highly correlated with above average rainfall.

  5. “…are highly…”

  6. Don’t know why link to the Nature article not working. Here is the citation:
    Wing, O.E.J., Lehman, W., Bates, P.D. et al. Inequitable patterns of US flood risk in the Anthropocene. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 156–162 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01265-6
    Risking another bad link, a key graphic from the study is at:
    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01265-6/figures/1

  7. Twitter is asking which dataset you have analysed.

    [Response: Data are from PSMSL (Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level).]