If Sea Level Was Rising, Wouldn't Someone Have Noticed?

Images spanning 130 years show non-effects of sea level rise

By Steve Goddard


Above, imaginary alarmist imagery: London Drowning from the BBC

One of my favorite CAGW climochondrias is worry about sea level.  From Wikipedia:

Hypochondriasis (or hypochondria, often referred to as health phobia or health anxiety) refers to an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness. Often, hypochondria persists even after a physician has evaluated a person and reassured them that their concerns about symptoms do not have an underlying medical basis or, if there is a medical illness, the concerns are far in excess of what is appropriate for the level of disease.

From National Geographic :

Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level?
Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News
Updated April 26, 2004
Most scientists agree that global warming presents the greatest threat to the environment. There is little doubt that the Earth is heating up. From the melting of the ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, to the loss of coral reefs as oceans become warmer, the effects of global warming are often clear.  However, the biggest danger, many experts warn, is that global warming will cause sea levels to rise dramatically.

The esteemed Dr. Hansen has made the threat clear :

a study led by James Hansen, the head of the climate science program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a professor at Columbia University, suggests that current estimates for how high the seas could rise are way off the mark – and that in the next 100 years melting ice could sink cities in the United States to Bangladesh.

That sounds serious.  New Year’s Eve in Manhattan could be rough if Times Square was underwater.

But I keep thinking that if sea level was rising significantly, some of the billions of people who live along the coasts might have noticed?  My favorite snorkeling beach in California is The Cove in La Jolla.  I first went there around 1960, when Raquel Welch (Tejada at the time) was named Homecoming Queen at La Jolla High School.  I went snorkeling there again last summer.  The beach is still there and hasn’t changed.  Below is a photo of The Cove from 1871.


And a recent photo :


And here is the animation with the two images matched to scale and overlaid:

(click on the image to see animation if is is not visible)

A lot of erosion has occurred over the last 130 years.  In the blink animation above (click on the image to see animation) note that the rock under the three people standing on the right in the 1871 image is gone, and has formed a small island of boulders with three people sitting on it in the recent image. There is no evidence that sea level has risen.

A few Palm Trees have been planted, but the sea appears to be in exactly the same place it was 130 years ago.  In fact the rocks on the upper right are higher above the water now than in the earlier picture (high tide.)  There is no glacial rebound in San Diego, and the faults in the region are strike-slip (horizontal) faults.  They don’t cause vertical movement.  Prior to the March quake this year, the last large quake to hit the region was in 1862.

Earthquake map for La Jolla and La Jolla Shores


The land in La Jolla hasn’t moved up or down in the last 130 years.  Neither has the ocean.  Where is this sea level catastrophe happening?  On a sandbar?   At current melt rates, it will take 300,000 years for Antarctica to melt.

Often, hypochondria persists even after a physician has evaluated a person and reassured them that their concerns about symptoms do not have an underlying medical basis or, if there is a medical illness, the concerns are far in excess of what is appropriate for the level of disease.

WUWT has hundreds of thousands of readers around the world.  If any of you have personally seen sea level rise at your favorite beach over the last few decades, please speak up!


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Ken Gotski

If a single cool day/month/year/decade doesn’t invalidate AGW, can we also be told that a single site where the sea didn’t rise doesn’t invalidate the rising of the oceans? Or did the president keep his campaign promise to stop the seas from rising?


Bridges and wharves are a good reference point.
I go a bridge out on an estuary fairly regularly (Raglan, NZ). I caught fish off it nearly 40 years ago. If the sea level has risen in that time, it has been very minor.


See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_sea_level_rise
“Current sea level rise has occurred at a mean rate of 1.8 mm per year for the past century.” This explains why people haven’t noticed it. The concern is for the future. If this rate remains constant there is indeed little to fear. But, it is not constant. Hansen’s views are extreme however, but that does not mean he is wrong.
REPLY: Actually he’s dead wronger than wrong about sea level rise prediction, at least in his own back yard. See this prediction from the good doctor twenty years ago that we covered last year. It was a prediction about New York City, just a couple of blocks from his office. Hansen said:

“Then he explained, “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water.”

See this: A little known 20 year old climate change prediction by Dr. James Hansen – that failed badly
Of course you won’t see the NYT or the Guardian mention his big dead wrong prediction. Only here – Anthony


Why are you confusing the issue with the facts? LOL – Great animation! Looks like the cove actually gained some real estate since the 1800’s.
Wonder if Gore’s new ocean front digs are going to suffer the same fate?

Frederick Michael

In South Bethany Beach, Delaware there is a network of canals that are connected to the ocean through a series of bays and channels. These filter out the tidal variation like RC low-pass circuits — the daily tides do not impact these canals at all. Thus, no one builds floating docks and everyone knows that sea level hasn’t changed appreciably in decades.
This only goes back far enough but it’s a start.
Then there’s this:

You claim that sea level rise is not constant. From these images it appears to be very close to a constant – i.e. zero.


The problem really is that the sea level signals is so small in reality, that you’d be unable to detect it without careful monitoring.
And of course, where there are large signals, it isn’t due to global warming (whether catastrophic and man-made or not) but geological processes.


Dunster Castle
Dunster Castle is the historical home of the Luttrell family located in the small town of Dunster, Somerset, England There has been a castle at the top of the hill at Dunster for more than 1,000 years. The Domesday Book records one on this location before 1066. During the early medieval period the sea reached the base of the hill offering a natural defence, and strong walls, towers, ramparts and outworks protected the other sides. By the 15th century the sea had receded and the Luttrells created the deer park.
Dunster Castle is now about a mile from the sea:

Neil Fisher

“But, it is not constant.”
Ah, the myth of increasing sea level rise – yet another measurement artifact from stitching together two data series from different systems. Use the same series over the entire record, and the increase goes away. See, eg, here


That picture scared me! Thought inmediately the Clown of Wales had drowned…

I’ve been following the CAGW story for about 30 years. At some point even a true believer might expect to see some actual evidence. A claimed global temperature rise of a few tenths of a degree somehow doesn’t keep me awake at night.
Oh yea, I forgot about the Arctic death spiral.

Anthony, heads-up: [thanks, I’ll look for it, check your email]


1.8mm/yr over 130 years translates to 234 mm, about 9.2 inches. Most places that swing will get blurred by the tidal swings, but the evidence for even this amount of increase is not that good.
Coastal silting and post glacial rebound complicate the trustworthiness of the older measurements, but in Europe, many formerly great ports are now landlocked cities, not harbors.
The late John Daly used a mean low water mark on the Tasmanian shore chiseled into the rock in 1854 as the frontispiece of his website http://www.john-daly.com/
It indicates the sea level has fallen about one meter since the mark has set, or the island has risen as much.

John A

This is the daily MSL from Halifax, Nova Scotia from 1920-2009. It looks like sea-level rise to me.


Couldn’t we begin reclaiming some of the topsoil from the Mississippi River delta by dredging the sediment, putting it on the empty unit trains that haul coal down from Montana and Wyoming to powerplants in the South, and thereby reduce this startling rise in sea level? I bet we could dig fast enougth to offset the increase. Sounds like a win-win to me; I don’t want to see New York City or London flooded for that matter. Name the project Urgent Sea Soil Reclamation (USSR). Plant some trees; sequester some carbon; charge the taypayer.

Carl Chapman

44 years ago, when I was about 12 my parents used to take me to King Island off Wellington point (search for “king island conservation park” on Google maps). We walked along the sandbar to the island at low tide but had to get back before high tide when the water would be waste deep on an adult. I took my son there and it was the same. I’ve been there recently and there’s no noticeable difference. The steps down to the sand and the rock wall are unchanged.
The only examples I’ve read about of significant sea level rises are coral atolls and mud islands in estuaries.
We’ve been trying to buy waterfront land near Wellington Point, but despite Global Warming, it’s all too expensive. Obviously most people around here don’t believe Gore.


I thought everyone knew by now that the only place seal-level is a problem, is in the IPCC models. In the real world it doesnt seem to be reason for alarm.

Ken Gotski
Water is extremely fluid. It isn’t very good at forming hills.
If the volume of the ocean is increasing, it has to be a global phenomena.


Popoia Island (Flat Island) off Kailua beach on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii is a flat island. It does not look different now than it did when I lived there in 1956. If ever there were a bit of world at risk by sea level rise it would be this spot. Yet it is still a nesting spot for sea birds and will be for a long time to come.
On the other hand, the sea walls built along Lanikai have created a mess – the sandy beaches are gone, not because of sea level rise, but because sea walls cause the ocean to scrub away the beach leaving nothing behind but the wall.
Take the tour with Rabb: http://www.hotspotshawaii.com/irhpages/whereslanikaibeach/index.html (DSL connection – can be slow!)


Real scientists use many precise ways of measuring sea level. Yours is not one of them.
REPLY: Ah but see you are projecting there, nobody suggested that it was precise, simply not noticable. OTOH tides gauges have their problems too.


Thank you Steve:
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
First I have seen someone else do this.
My comparison is Shelter Cove, CA 194x-2009:
You beat me by 70 something years.
If it’s okay with you, I’ll place your comparison below Shelter Cove on my site.

The ice that’s melting in Canada must be letting the entire North American continent rise by the exact same amount to compensate… either that or North America is floating in the ocean.

Robert of Ottawa

This article deserves the John Daley Award for Sea Level Observation.

Richard Telford

Do you ever wonder why scientists prefer to use tidal gauges rather than photographs to measure sea-level rise?
REPLY: You mean like the ones that sink? Like these?
It’s all relative to the position of the gauge, which often isn’t static. -A


Don’t the La Jolla photos need to have been taken at the same tidal phase to make a meaningful comparison?
REPLY: We don’t know that they are or are not. Large changes, such as the oft cited “catastrophic sea level rise” are not evident. -A


I’ve been going to beaches in the Florida Keys to snorkel since 1972. One in particular, Little Duck Key, is a very low-lying beach with a very gradual incline from the shoreline. Even 2.7 inches of sea level rise (1.8mm * 38 years) should cause a significant decrease in the land area, yet the beach is no smaller than when I first went there.


“If any of you have personally seen sea level rise at your favorite beach over the last few decades, please speak up!”
Anthony: Check with the Newshour’s Heidi Cullen. She put Laura Devendorf on national TV May 19 of last year with the following unrebutted statement:
LAURA DEVENDORF, Sunbury, Georgia: We’re worried about sea level rise, indeed. I think everyone on the coast is. You can just sit there and see the tides getting bigger.
Complete text at:
Laura must have pretty good eyes…. : > !


Many times erosion or subsidence is taken to be proof of sea level rise. Consider how we’re wrecking the Mississippi delta with levees for flood control. The Chesapeake bay has numerous islands some of which are disappearing more from simple erosion than anything else. Same thing with barrier islands (sand bars) which use to move but because we’ve built on them we’ve attempted to stabilize the unstable.

If sea level rise has to be measured in millimeters, perhaps it is not so catastrophic after all?
Perhaps the measured error is greater than the trend?

Don E

In one lifetime I doubt anyone would notice, but there is the concern that future generations will suffer. But how many adults still live in the house where they were born, the same neighborhood, or even the same city? And even if the sea were to rise most infrastructure would need to be replaced long before the water got there.


Saw the picture of a flooded (and, if I predict the predictions these days, probably doomed too) London and thought…
London bridge is gonna drown
Gonna drown, gonna drown…
Anyway, if I see any sea level rises, I’ll let you know! 🙂

Sea level rise is not uniform around the world. In some places, like around the Maldives, the sea level is declining. This makes the claims about the Maldives being imperiled by sea level rise both a lie and a stunt. A large region of the Indian Ocean (where Maldives are situated) has shown a measurable decline over the period 1950-2000, and the rate of decline measured by satellite altimetry exceeds 10mm per year in places.
Sea level all along the west coast of USA is stable or declining. At La Jolla it is very slightly declining. Check out the facts in paper by John A. Church et al (Journal of Climate, July 2004).
Church shows that most regions of the oceans are stable or in slight decline, but there are some regions with steep increases, especially around Indonesia. So we have the same situation as ‘global temperature’ – we can have most of the globe with stable or declining temperatures, but the ‘global average’ can be record high due to a local hotspot, as we saw in Canada earlier this year. So it is with sea level – a relatively small region around Indonesia dominates to give a ‘global average’ sea level rise. But for most of the world – no change!
Doubtless there are statistical artifacts, and then there is calibration by a tide gauge in Hong Kong which is subsiding. So we have the marine equivalent of UHI as well!
See all this and more in my post here (which includes some figures):

Leon Brozyna

Who needs science when you can make fantasy photoshopped images of London drowning? The sort of creative and imaginary science one comes to expect of the full color Sunday newspaper supplements … or the comics. So much sexier than mundane facts. Meanwhile, photos from nearly 140 years ago aren’t very useful unless they show extensive fields of ice that have since melted. Images of an unchanging landscape (or seascape) just don’t drive scare stories (and print media circulation).


pho99 says:
May 1, 2010 at 4:30 pm
The simple answer to the tides in the photos is to look at places where there was/is soil.
If the sea were truly rising catastropically, then the soil/sand line would recede as ever higher sea levels led to storms/tides that continued to wash off more soil.
Look at the horse & carraige in Steve’s photos. Is that land is still there?


I thought that the issue of sea level rise was global average. Can you tell me why a single spot matters in that context?

The U.S. Gulf Coast has rising sea levels, but not from global warming and ocean volume expansion. It’s due to land subsidence, defined as “the lowering of the surface of the Earth with respect to a datum or point of reference.”
From the American Geophysical Union (2006): http://www.agu.org/report/hurricanes/subsidence.html
“An enormous volume of debris eroded from the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians is carried by the waters of the Mississippi [River]. Upon entering the Gulf of Mexico, the river slows to a stop and the sediments come to rest, forming the Mississippi River delta. Over time, the Gulf of Mexico basin has accumulated an aggregate thickness of sedimentary deposits of nearly 60,000 feet (more than 10 miles). This massive pile of sediments at the edge of the continent has two characteristics. First, its colossal weight has depressed and continues to depress the Earth’s crust. Second, the pile of sediment is weak and unable to support itself laterally. Over time, large tracts of the unstable pile have been displaced southward along sloping faults.
Geological and geophysical investigations have shown that subsidence is widespread, extending beyond the Mississippi River delta and coast, and is occurring more rapidly than previously thought. Several natural and human-related processes are known to be causing subsidence in the Gulf Coast today.”

Also, regarding the before-and-after La Jolla cove photos, I urge caution on drawing conclusions. The impact of the local tide at the time of each photo can give erroneous results. For example, if the earlier photo was taken at high tide, and the more recent photo taken at low tide, there would have been considerable overall sea level rise. On May 13th – 14th of this year, the difference between high tide and low tide will be 7 feet at La Jolla, at the new moon. (high tide of 6 feet on 4/13 at 9:14 p.m., and low tide of -1 feet on 4/14 at 4:17 a.m.) The high-low tide difference will be 7.5 feet two weeks later, when the moon is full.


The assertion that LaJolla seems stable (strike slip don’t cause uplift? (not so)) and a good proxy for sea level NOT rising doesn’t seem quite right to me. Is that what you are saying?
Matching photos (not referenced to tides?) doesn’t seem to be proof to me. Sorry – I’m skeptical – lots of evidence to the contrary in other places (stable and with continuous measure).
Further, one shouldn’t confuse relative sea level rise with absolute sea level rise.
Changes in relative sea level might occur due changes in subsidence (due to ground water withdrawal, faulting, etc), sediment supply and land use / cover changes (stabilization and deforestation).
These are not proof of sea level rise.

Jim Hansen

[no masquerading as Hansen ~ ctm]

Mike Maxwell

Hush! I’m hoping that the hype will cause seaside real estate to drop to the level where I can buy my own shoreline!


The seawalls and improvements at Nawiliwili and Ahukini Harbors , Kauai ,remain exactly at the level they were constructed by eye measure. The former 90 years in place, the latternow a park, well over a hundred.


Been saying this for years has anyone noticed it getting hotter or colder over the past 20 years?. More storms less storms?, more rain less rain?, No, you haven’t and you never will because you will not live long enough to notice climate change which occurs over 1000’s of years and reverts to default status every time anyway until the sun explodes LOL.


But – the most important question is: did Ýou ever talk to Raquel? Ha ha ha!

Are we arguing that sea levels are not rising now? Because they most certainly are.
Better arguments might be that sea levels have been rising for at least 150 years (probably much longer), that the rate of sea level rise has slightly decreased over the last few year and was rising much, much faster in the distant pass, and that the amount of sea level rise is dwarfed by other natural factors we already deal with, such as tides.


Two things to note in your photos. The modern picture was taken at low tide by the look of the rocks in the foreground. Second is that people in the past appear to be a lot taller. Clearly there is some distortion in the photos and they may have been taken from different vantage points. Tidal gauge readings and records in this area of California are available would give a much more convincing record of sea level changes.

John A

Unfortunately Anthony has stopped inline images from being put into comments. Here goes another attempt
This is the daily MSL from Halifax, Nova Scotia from 1920-2009. It looks like sea-level rise to me.
REPLY: Unfortunately JohnA is blaming me for something I didn’t do and have no control over since this blog is hosted on wordpress.com, who control how blogs and content are viewed. Also – I never had the feature for commenters, though administrators and editors (like Willis) can put inline images in. – Anthony

Pompous Git

@ stevengoddard says: “Water is extremely fluid. It isn’t very good at forming hills.”
I believe the Maldives is below Mean Sea Level, so I guess sailing outta there is uphill 😉 Mind you, local sea level in the Maldives was higher during the Little Ice Age.


Steve Goddard said

Water is extremely fluid. It isn’t very good at forming hills.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Water levels react to air pressure as well as tidal forces. If you have a low pressure cell then the water will ramp up a bit higher under it. In the same way, a high pressure cell will depress the ocean surface.
You can and do get regions with different mean air pressures and the water levels behave accordingly.
In the extreme case of hurricanes the low pressure causes much higher water levels – the storm surge.