Study suggests parched Earth soaks up water, slowing sea level rise

Is there anything global warming can’t do? Now it seems that there is so much global warming that it is slowing the rise of sea levels.

An artist's depiction of the NASA GRACE satellites and the Earth's gravity field. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Feb. 12, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by J.T. Reager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, and colleagues was titled, "A decade of sea level rise slowed by climate-driven hydrology."

An artist’s depiction of the NASA GRACE satellites and the Earth’s gravity field. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Feb. 12, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by J.T. Reager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, and colleagues was titled, “A decade of sea level rise slowed by climate-driven hydrology.”

As glaciers melt due to climate change, the increasingly hot and parched Earth is absorbing some of that water inland, slowing sea level rise, NASA experts said Thursday.

Satellite measurements over the past decade show for the first time that the Earth’s continents have soaked up and stored an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, the experts said in a study in the journal Science.

This has temporarily slowed the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent, it said.
“We always assumed that people’s increased reliance on groundwater for irrigation and consumption was resulting in a net transfer of water from the land to the ocean,” said lead author J.T. Reager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “What we didn’t realize until now is that over the past decade, changes in the global water cycle more than offset the losses that occurred from groundwater pumping, causing the land to act like a sponge — at least temporarily.”
The global water cycle involves the flow of moisture, from the evaporation over the oceans to the fall of precipitation, to runoff and rivers that lead back into the ocean.  Just how much effect on sea level rise this kind of land storage would have has remained unknown until now because there are no land-based instruments that can measure such changes planet-wide.

The latest data came from a pair of NASA satellites launched in 2002 — known as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). more here


Land reservoirs helped offset sea level rise, study says

Recent increases in the storage of excess groundwater may be helping to offset sea level rise by as much as 15%, a new study finds. While the capacity of land to store water is known to be an important factor affecting sea level rise, the magnitude of its storage contributions are not fully understood. Land masses store water in numerous ways, though some human-induced changes — including to groundwater extraction, irrigation, impoundment in reservoirs, wetland drainage, and deforestation – are affecting this process, as are climate-driven changes in rainfall, evaporation, and runoff.

To gain more insights into how the land storage capacity may have changed over recent years, John Reager and colleagues analyzed satellite data from 2002 to 2014 that measure changes in gravity, and thus underlying changes in water storage. They combined this satellite data with estimates of mass loss of glaciers to determine what impact land water storage might have had on sea level change.

Their analysis suggests that during this timeframe, climate variability resulted in an increase of approximately 3,200 gigatons of water being stored in land. This gain partially offset water losses from ice sheets, glaciers, and groundwater pumping, slowing the rate of sea level rise by 0.71 ± 0.20 millimeters per year, the authors say. While a small portion of the increase in land water storage can be directly attributed to human activities – primarily, the filling of reservoirs – the authors note that climate is the key driver. The greatest changes in land water storage were associated with regional climate-driven variations in precipitation.


The paper:

A decade of sea level rise slowed by climate-driven hydrology
J. T. Reager, A. S. Gardner, J. S. Famiglietti, D. N. Wiese, A. Eicker, M.-H. Lo

By land or by sea

How much of an effect does terrestrial groundwater storage have on sea-level rise? Reager et al. used gravity measurements made between 2002 and 2014 by NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites to quantify variations in groundwater storage. Combining those data with estimates of mass loss by glaciers revealed groundwater’s impact on sea-level change. Net groundwater storage has been increasing, and the greatest regional changes, both positive and negative, are associated with climate-driven variability in precipitation. Thus, groundwater storage has slowed the rate of recent sea-level rise by roughly 15%.

Science, this issue p. 699


Climate-driven changes in land water storage and their contributions to sea level rise have been absent from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sea level budgets owing to observational challenges. Recent advances in satellite measurement of time-variable gravity combined with reconciled global glacier loss estimates enable a disaggregation of continental land mass changes and a quantification of this term. We found that between 2002 and 2014, climate variability resulted in an additional 3200 ± 900 gigatons of water being stored on land. This gain partially offset water losses from ice sheets, glaciers, and groundwater pumping, slowing the rate of sea level rise by 0.71 ± 0.20 millimeters per year. These findings highlight the importance of climate-driven changes in hydrology when assigning attribution to decadal changes in sea level.

148 thoughts on “Study suggests parched Earth soaks up water, slowing sea level rise

  1. Another explanation for lower sea level rise is the possible growth of the Antarctic ice sheet recently discussed.

    • “Another explanation for lower sea level rise is…”

      My own theory is that global warming is a scientific fraud, made up from beginning to end.

    • If you’re talking about the growth of the ice sheet around Antarctica, it’s floating on the ocean and does not affect sea level.

      • No, the “Antarctic Ice sheet” is on land, and several of it’s glaciers extend into the water. There are also ice “shelves” which are still attached to the continental ice but aren’t yet fully floating in the water. The rest of the ice that surrounds the Antarctic is sea ice, and yes, it floats.

      • There was an article here recently discussing growth of the ice sheet based on a study by Jay Zwally. Increased precipitation was thought to be the cause. The ice is on land, not floating.

    • Surely this is a corollary of the increased “greening” – plant growth – caused by increasing CO2??

  2. My theory goes along with the question Rep. Hank Johnson posed during a Congressional hearing about whether or not Guam might “tip over”. I believe the continents float on the oceans so as the sea level rises, so do the continents. If the rise is fast enough, it just takes a little longer for the continents to catch up so we get an apparent rise. And vice versa. The key word in my theory is “apparent”.

    This ice melting thing is just a scam.

  3. What’s really irritating is that they are just now figuring out the fundamentals of the water table, but for decades they’ve been forecasting doom with an air of certainty reserved for Baptist ministers.

  4. Good lord, the abuse of incoming data is criminal.

    The ONLY times the oceans receded in the past is due to more ICE, not rain. This goes under ‘duh’ since rain flows back into the oceans and if there is more rain there are more floods of water flowing back!

    • You know the rain mostly comes from the oceans. The amount of water in the ocean will therefore reach an equilibrium when the amount leaving equals the amount arriving back from rivers. If this is displaced, it might take a while for the equilibrium to re-establish. Say we kept evaporation and rainfall the same, but we make a huge number of reservoirs. This will reduce the amount of water returning to the ocean, so the level will drop. The authors are suggesting that removing the ice is like building a lot of reservoirs – the water can be stored in the exposed soil. This causes the sea level to be lower than it would have been.

      If the ice has melted and returned to the ocean we would expect this to cause the sea level to rise. If some of this water can be stored in the soil, we would expect the sea level to rise less than expected form the melting glaciers alone.

      I see no abuse of data here.

      • a) The Sahara seems to suggest that warming the soil does always not cause it to hold more water
        b) However humans have been removing water from giant aquifers for some time, so if there is some way that a warming climate helps the water get back into the aquifers, then that is interesting. Seems unlikely that the total size of the missing aquifer water would be noticeable when spread over the Pacific Ocean.

      • > The authors are suggesting that removing the ice is like building a lot of reservoirs – the water can be stored in the exposed soil.

        The vision here seems to be that of glacial ice shields sitting over dry sponge-like soils yearning to soak up the warm rains that will come when the ice melts. I’m no expert on Northern soils, but I have a pretty good idea what the rocks in Northwest Vermont and adjacent NY probably looked like when the glaciers retreated. A lot of impermeable bed rock. And a lot of permeable soils interbedded with poorly permeable glacial clays. And my guess is that the permeable beds were loaded with frozen water. I’d like to hear from a real geologist (which I am not) on this. But until I do, put me down in the Really Skeptical column.

      • DonK. Yes- reading the article again it is not the removal of ice that results in more water storage. They do not say in the abstract what does cause it, and the article only says the changes “are associated with climate-driven variability in precipitation.” One can only assume it means something like “more rain, wetter soil, less rain dryer soil”. As Michael D says, with no rain we get very dry “soils”. We must hope that the wetter soils are in places where we can make use of them. Nonetheless, I do not see any data abuse.

      • I’m wondering how the water from those melting glaciers managed to not soak into the soils uncovered as the glaciers retreated.

      • seaice1: One can only assume it means something like “more rain, wetter soil, less rain dryer soil”.

        Maybe. I do seem to vaguely recall a glitch in sea level a few years ago attributed by some to exceptionally heavy rains over much of Australia.

      • “Removing the ice is like building a lot of reservoirs”??? If the water was locked up in land based ice prior, then the ice IS/WAS a reservoir! If it melts and soaks into the soil, then there would be NO increase in sea levels. (the water remains on land) Glaciers, ice sheets, underground aquifers, lakes, ponds etc simply store water that USED TO BE in the oceans, that evaporated, fell as rain, snow, etc on land, and remained there.

        “The amount of water in the ocean will therefore reach an equilibrium when the amount leaving equals the amount arriving back from rivers.”

        That will never happen, the water cycle simply takes too long, and has too many variables to ever balance out. As the world warms between glacial cycles, the surface temp of the oceans warms, and ocean evaporation increases. More evaporation= moister air which increases rainfall…both where it can “runoff” into a river, but also where it will soak into the ground and increase the water table and stay, or grow more plants, or be consumed by more humans/animals. Wetter air = more snow in colder areas where ice can build up. Eventually we hit ice age cycle again, and more and more water remains on land frozen and sea levels drop.

        “We always assumed that people’s increased reliance on groundwater for irrigation and consumption was resulting in a net transfer of water from the land to the ocean,” said lead author J.T. Reager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “What we didn’t realize until now is that over the past decade, changes in the global water cycle more than offset the losses that occurred from groundwater pumping, causing the land to act like a sponge — at least temporarily.”

        Well DUH…rocket scientists should talk to geologists once in a while.

  5. Reager’s first three words, “We always assumed…” tells you everything you need to know about these guys.

    • So they replace an assumption with another…umm…. assumption. There’s nothing more stupid than that.

      • It’s not the assumptions that are the problem, or even replacing initial assumptions with more refined assumptions, it the amount of surprise they show at finding their assumptions are in fact assumptions! Assumptions are made all of the time, many hypothesis are almost entirely assumptions, but an astute researcher recognises his assumptions and works diligently at replacing assumptions with empirical evidence.

  6. Let me see if I have this straight. It you dry out the soil, it gets wetter? I’m certainly glad they’ve clarified that.

  7. Wouldn’t the water that used to be in the now parched earth have gone into the oceans in the first place.
    Presumably whatever conditions caused that ground to become “parched” in the first place are still around, so how is it that the parched ground is now getting wetter?

    • MarkW-

      Not “parched earth” or dry soil….UNDERGROUND water storage in aquifers that are many, many feet underground and in places where the bedrock has caverns or openings in it where water does not evaporate because there’s no sun or significant heat or exposure to surface air there to cause it. This article is specific to underground water pumping (bringing that water to the surface for drinking or crop watering) and then increased rain in those areas replenishing the water storage. It’s not talking about places in which there is NO underground water reserves-such as in deserts or “parched” places where the underground geography is not conducive to natural water accumulation and where there isn’t a crazy increase in rain on the surface.

      • Large? Who knows? It depends on what kind of geology is underground. If not a lot of rain falls, and it’s hot on the surface, and the soil doesn’t absorb well, then it’s going to go up (evaporate) rather than down (soak in). There’s almost always “wet” soil if you dig far enough, but enough to call a “well” or pump out of the ground for any length of time depends on a lot of things.

        Keeping crops or people or animals alive in the desert isn’t just a matter of drilling for water. Winds, temperatures, soil conditions etc all factor in and trying to domesticate a harsh environment isn’t always feasible even if you have access to water. If one sandstorm can kill or bury everything….

      • “This article is specific to underground water pumping (bringing that water to the surface for drinking or crop watering) and then increased rain in those areas replenishing the water storage”

        Aphan, have you read the full paper? The abstract does not say the extra water is in the same place that the water is extracted from the aquifers. From the information given here we cannot say that the water is replacing that lost from the same aquifers.

        “Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers.”

        The article is about groundwater, not surface water, was my point. It does not say rain is falling in the exact same places its pumped from, but I cant imagine that areas which never stored water before, are now suddenly storing it for some odd reason.

        It doest really matter. Clearly these authors were uninformed about the water cycle and are in denial that the southern ice sheet is most likely the reason sea level rise is slowing…IF in fact it was even accelerating prior to now.

  8. It is my understanding that “parched earth” is dry. So if it is soaking up water, it will no longer be parched. Since AGW is causing sea level rise by melting the Arctic and Greenland ice, and AGW causes droughts therefore parching the earth, how can the AGW hoaxsters now say the sea level is not rising because the parched earth is absorbing the water from the melted ice? This whole premise is illogical. Unless Don K is right, dryer soil gets wetter!

  9. So all that pumping of water from aquifers doesn’t lead to ground subsistence? How did the water get there in the first place? Stick a pipe in the ground and water will come gushing out? No need to drill deeper. The water gets there by magic since it’s dry and hot, doesn’t rain.

    • > So all that pumping of water from aquifers doesn’t lead to ground subsistence?

      It most certainly DOES lead to subsidence. That’s the primary reason why Norfolk-Newport News is slowly sinking into the sea. Pumping lots of oil will do the same thing. Visit Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor and note the high berms bulldozed up along the shipping channel.

  10. Without seeing the entire paper I’m not so sure the authors are saying what it appears they are saying. Using the logic for temperatures that some AGW proponents use, wherein they say forcing by CO2 is really greater than what shows up because of negative forcings etc, etc, blah blah, the full paper might say that GMSL would really be 3.9mm/yr if not for this dynamic. 3.2 + .7mm.

    I can’t tell without the entire paper. It may or may not be significant.

    • While not exactly lining up with the thrust of Wada et al 2012, it would be interesting to lay them side by side for comparison of assumptions and findings.

  11. If sea level rise was INCREASING instead of slowing do you think these people would be saying “sea level rise should be DECREASING on account of global warming and the ‘parched earth effect’? Of course, they wouldn’t.

    • I think they assumed less moisture but then learned it is not so much less, less less, if you will, but in future they project more less, i.e. more or less parched earth. I’m sure they can’t be wrong.

  12. “…causing the land to act like a sponge — at least temporarily.”
    …but then after the sea level pauses for a while, and the deniers have their day in the sun, rising sea level will come back with a vengeance – it’ll be worse than we thought!
    (do I need to insert a /SARC tag here?)
    It sounds like terrestrial water retention might be just another negative feedback in the self-correcting system that is the hydrosphere, which IPeCaC overlooked, or chose to ignore when creating their ‘sky is falling’ models.

  13. An interesting document from the government of Nova Scotia quotes three sources of evidence the Atlantic has been rising for a long time:

    Measurements for the past 100 years show steady unaccelerated rise of 30 cm / century
    Structures build in 1740 reveal that the water has risen at about 40 cm / century since then
    Huge sea level rise since the last ice age.

    They attribute part of the rise as being caused by land subsidence, but because they want their grant money, they project, based on IPCC models, that global warming will make sea level rise worse; much worse.

    • sea level was rising faster at beginning of 20th c. certainly no AGW signal there:

      figure 8 excerpt from Jevrejeva 2014
      “Trends and acceleration in global and regional sea levels since 1807”

  14. i think the problem was that the GRACE data were going against the sea level rise alarmism and so they had to come up with a way to explain it away. land water was the perfect answer.

  15. Good Lord!

    So, the worse things get the more they’ll stay the same?

    If this keeps up matters will be so extreme that we won’t notice anything at all at all….Therefore the pause shows just how bad things really are.

  16. So not only are humans delivering more CO2 to plants but also more water! Global rates of photosynthesis must be climbing dramatically…oh how alarming! More life is on its way…what have we done…won’t somebody think of the children!

  17. It’s called convenient inconvenient truth. ……………………………Or it’s an enigma soaking up settled science.

  18. Challenging to dogma is not allowed. So “scientists” must work really hard to find a complicated narrative that NEVER challenges the “settled” science.
    A- catastrophic warming because CO2
    B- A is TOTALLY caused by man and NOTHING else!

    Therefore “science” now must find alternative explanations for the obvious.
    Such as, Warming is causing massive melting of all the worlds glaciers. Therefore sea levels are rising catastrophically. If that doesn’t happen… the melt water must be going somewhere else because massive melting CANNOT be challenged. It’s happening dammit!

    The athmosphere is warming catastrophically!… however it isn’t, therefore the heat MUST be going somewhere else! Quick… find the missing heat because it MUST be there, that cannot be challenged.. it’s a FACT!

    Weather is more unstable and more violent… stastistics show that it actually isn’t… points to latest weather event LALALALALALALALALALALALA!!! Because we said so dammit!

    Climate “science” is immune to Occam’s razor.

  19. seaice1: Surely you see that this ‘great’ discovery is a trivial matter that has been known by geologists for more than a century. Instead of spending millions on such a study, consult a hydrologist (preferably a retired one so you don’t get a system gamer advising you). Aquifers get recharged. I’ve been suffering through years of the nonsense that use of groundwater was raising sea level. I’m worried that, if this is a ‘new’ discovery by NASA, that the lefty education with no-knowledge-content has even effected today’s hydrologists. This makes this topic one that wouldn’t even have risen in a more enlightened past, let alone coming from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Drop this carp and propulse something instead!!

  20. “What we didn’t realize until now is that over the past decade, changes in the global water cycle more than offset the losses that occurred from groundwater pumping, causing the land to act like a sponge — at least temporarily.”

    So surface temperatures are on pause , TLS is on pause , Arctic sea ice is on pause, global water cycle is on pause.

    Are all our sensor systems and satellites wrong ?! It’s a travesty.

  21. From a wingnuttery connoisseur’s view that is a beautiful thing and one to be treasured. Not quite as sublimely fatuous as the ‘global warming causes more snow’ and a few other Meisterwerke but nevertheless it’s a significant piece in its own right and well deserving of a monumental statue in the ‘sea level rise’ garden niche.

  22. Didn’t we miss a step somewhere? If the aquifers are recharging, doesn’t that mean that there is either more precipitation or that man has somehow cut his water use/reliance on groundwater pumping? Is there any evidence of ether of those being true?

  23. Don K
    February 12, 2016 at 6:27 am

    “The vision here seems to be that of glacial ice shields sitting over dry sponge-like soils yearning to soak up the warm rains that will come when the ice melts. I’m no expert on Northern soils, but…”

    Don, you are no expert, but you display more sense than what goes for experts these days. Yes (I am a geologist and engineer), under the glaciers, the soils and aquifers were full of water and yes they froze. Deep permafrost, over a km thick known in Siberia, took more than one glacial cycle to create and the cold of high latitudes maintained them – thawing and refreezing on top only a metre or so with the seasons. When the glacial period ice melted, there was also considerable water flow under the ice as you have today in Greenland and Antarctica. They drilled into a lake under the ice in West Antarctica that even has microbes living in it for millions of years:

    Also, there is geothermal energy from within the earth rising up to the surface everywhere. Where it meets the ice sheets or the frozen soils, it establishes an equilibrium forming a wet interface between frozen above and liquid water below (and also, obviously hollows that are lakes). This is no future sink for water as the ice melts.

    I believe they are referring to aquifers like sandstones, fractured granites and other porous formations on land that are used for human, animal and crop watering use. It is these that are filling up. Indeed, for such places as California, I’ve suggested before that special reservoirs should be created with wells down to aquifers and filtered by a layer of sorted sand and gravel. Water from wet periods and snow melt could be diverted into such manmade basins to more quickly recharge the main large aquifers. They would divert water at will when it otherwise would just flow to the sea and control water flow to also service downstream natural requirements. They also should conserve storm water in the main southern California cities into reservoirs for reuse. So simple to solve what have been agonizing problems for such a region.

    • Gary. We’re drifting off topic. But I lived much of my life in California and I’m reasonably familiar with the geology and the water problems. I suspect you have already guessed that the situation there is quite complex

      Their problems include, but are not limited to …
      1. Insane water rights laws (I think they may have made a start on tackling that)
      2. Limited precipitation even in “normal years” Average annual rainfall at Bakersfield is about 15cm(6 in) If you can believe it Bakersfield is an agricultural center.
      3. Overpumping the aquifers even in non-drought years.
      4. The Western part of the state is a complex jumble of faults — many unmapped and is a highly active earthquake zone. Pumping water into the ground there will surely get you sued for every broken dish and cracked foundation in the next century
      5. There’s literally no place to impound rainfall in much of urban Southern California on the rare occasions that it rains. They’ve channelized the rivers and built housing and shopping malls pretty much everywhere. To salvage the water, they’d have to pump huge amounts of water back upstream to a basin somwhere

      I think they might actually tackle that mess and to their credit they really did do an outstanding job in the last century with an equally intractable air pollution problem. But it won’t be pretty. And the bitching …

    • “Also, there is geothermal energy from within the earth rising up to the surface everywhere.”

      Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell them that! They’ll have to invent a race of humans that dwells under the crust of the Earth that is burning fossil fuels that are increasing the temperatures there…which is rising to the surface up here!! :)

  24. This is an expansion of the specious arguments used to ‘explain’ the apparent decline in SLR in 2011 (GRL L19602 2012) and then the SLR slowdown from 2006-2011 (Cazenove NCC4: 358-361 2014). Both thoroughly debunked in essay PseudoPrecision.
    Where this macrofails is that freshwater is 3% of the total, of which >2 is icecaps and < 1 is groundwater plus all surface water (e.g Great Lakes, Mississippi, Amazon,…). Land is 29% of the earths surface. To change SLR the land watertables have to change massively, and they haven't except where they are being drawn down (not up) by pumping, as at the worlds largest aquifer, the Ogallalla.
    GRACE is an aging instrument that does not have this degree of precision, as shown elsewhere for Antarctic ice estimates (they got the isostatic adjustment wrong by a factor of 4, as Steve McIntyre recently showed).

    • Hi Rud

      I am not sure what the article and paper are suggesting as I have indicated above in my comments. Hopefully someone can get past the paywall to see the entire assumptions and findings. At first, I thought they were saying SLR was below the CU 3.2mm/yr, now I just dont know.

      • Ceresco, a good enough solution. Go to the report on this Reager paper. They post a key map from Reager showing TWS anomaly inferred from GRACE. Two of the major plus water retention regions in the mapare the Amazon Basin and the Congo basin. That is hydrologicallu impossible. Details in essay PseudoPrecision concerning the Cazenove paper. So the GRACE data is somehow bad or misinterpreted. I have saved a copy of the map and may write up a guest post, recycling some of the stuff from the essay and send it to AW as a possible guest post. makes clear what Reager’s claim is. So does the Science abstract: global warming caused landfall precipitation that increased land groundwater retention by 3200+/-900 gigatons (a Gt is a cubic kilometer) from 2002 to 2014, slowing SLR over the period by 0.71 +/- 0.2 mm per year.
        Implicitly attempting to explain why the AGW predicted accerleration in SLR did not happen.
        Not worth pursuing further, or paying to get behind paywall.

    • I hope, in the paper, that they validated their claim of ‘associated with climate-driven variability in precipitation’ by matching the changes in precipitation with the supposed amount of additional groundwater stored.

      Yeah, right …

      • Your suspicion is correct. They did not, and that failure is going to be a great embarassment to NASA and JPL. Illustrated post already off to AW. Next to last sentence invokes your thought about ground truthing. Thanks and h/t.
        Its a really big, obvious goof. WUWT readers are in for a good chuckle, as I suspect AW will post it. It deserves to be a Friday funny, its that bad a goof.

    • All GRACE does is measure the earth’s gravitational field on a global scale. They can make estimates of the mass of water being moved around and showing up as local changes, but I haven’t seen any sign that they can measure sea level directly, especially with sub-millimetre precision. Can they detect changes in the total mass of water in the oceans? A brief browse of their website does not show that they make that claim. Rather, they see local changes on land that they attribute to water loss/gain. They seem, in this article, to be using the net sum of all those local changes to determine a value for the rate of SLR. Or is it the other way round? Can’t tell from the abstract.

      But, and this is a big but. Having hung around WUWT for a while now, I have the distinct impression that most of the measured SLR is due to thermal expansion as the oceans warm very gradually (probably still recovering from the last glacial period?). That component of SLR is not going to change the mass of the oceans, so I suggest that it’s probably invisible to their gravity-measuring system.

      So I’m not sure I can really believe any of it.

      That said, knowing the large-scale variation of the earth’s gravitational field is an important contribution to earth science. If their data can be integrated over time to produce really precise gravity maps, who knows what discoveries could come from it.

      • GRACE is supposed to be able to detect ground water variation from land mass gravity)change. The SLR impact is only a computational inference therefrom. One gigaton of water (a cubic kilometer) changes the sea level by 2.78 microns (calculation in essay PseudoPrecision). This is the second time NASA has tried to use GRACE to explain some SLR ‘anomaly’ (meaning not doing what warmunists said), and it is their second massive fail. An illustrated possible guest post was just sent to AW. Enough to demand a Science retraction. But I won’t bother after Science brushed off a worse case I provided to them (proven academic misconduct in the Marcott hockey stick paper back in 2013, essay A High Stick Foul).

  25. For many years now alarmist articles have appeared in the general press about the over- extraction of water from vitally important aquifers in the US and Australia , imperiling local agriculture, and from below Venice , risking total submergence of that city .
    Now it seems that global warming is righting that wrong. Do we fully appreciate the blessings of AGW: the cold places are made warm , the deserts are made green and the higher CO2 produces bumper harvests

  26. Global Warming is really an insidious menace, isn’t it? Apparently consciously conspiring to hide itself for two decades – stalking at the bottom of the ocean, camouflaging it’s presence by masking the sea-level rise, lurking always unseen… until it’s TOO LATE!
    Boy, I gotta stop – I’m scaring myself.

  27. Is this a good time to ask for the Climate Trial verdicts to be overturned and for all skeptical scientists to be released from the Climate Prison System?

  28. It was recently published (here?) ,that we have knocked down 500+ dams in the last decade, more than the number in all the years since the founding of the republic combined. All that reservoir water should have raised the sea level by an amount that would be measureable by these “instruments”.

    So how much faux sea level rise is attributable to these fool Greens doing this?

  29. So, in addition to global warming causing global cooling, global warming also impedes sea level rise. Anyone out there recognize “negative feedback” when they see it?

  30. Seems to me that soils retain more moisture when they are cooler, not warmer and that would suggest global cooling.
    I should have said “a reduction in the increase in global warming”, not global cooling in order to be consistent with the political class.

    • No I’m sorry but you can’t even say that. Everything must forever accelerate towards ‘worse-than-we-thought’ at all times. An admission that any aspect of CAGW was slackening off in any way would be catastrophic as no one would listen anymore. I mean, no one actually is listening anymore but they just don’t seem to have noticed that yet.

      And that of course is the real beauty of the whole scheme because everyone can sit back and watch as the claims get wilder and shriller and more and more contorted in their epicyclic gyrations. The natural endgame to this is either to go for the full-on biblical fludde arguments and things of that kind or don loincloth, cast a few chicken bones around and hiss and screech at the wind. They seem to be favouring the latter approach at the moment but either way it’s comedy gold.

  31. Most of 6″/ century Sea Level Rise has been from ocean thermal expansion.

    NASA announced last year that Antarctic land ice has been increasing at 100 billion tons per year since ICE-SAT data came online in 1992, so it’s obvious alarmists doom and gloom predictions are absurd and unfounded.

    NASA must keep fabricating excuses for their failed predictions to keep the grant gravy train chugging along until it finally just runs off the rails..

  32. There is a very positive aspect to all this hysteria – it motivates us that delight in truth to think and discuss. Give them some credit :-)

  33. It’s hard for me to envision there being enough ice in the world that, if melted and spread over the entire globe, would make more than a modest increase in sea levels.

    Does anyone know how much water is in the form of ice on earth? What is the surface area of the oceans? If all that ice melted, how deep would that be if spread out over the current surface of oceans?

    What truly is the worst case scenario (all the ice melting)?

  34. “To gain more insights into how the land storage capacity may have changed over recent years, John Reager and colleagues analyzed satellite data from 2002 to 2014 that MEASURE CHANGES IN GRAVITY”

    Silly me, I would have measured groundwater by……wait for it…measuring the groundwater.
    No wonder I’m too dumb to work in the public sector.

  35. Are they saying that before this paper, models did not take into account precipitation uptake in soil or aquifers?

  36. I had read this on Yahoo News last night. They had this:

    “These results will lead to a refinement of global sea level budgets, such as those presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, which acknowledge the importance of climate-driven changes in hydrology, but have been unable to include any reliable estimate of their contribution to sea level changes,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti, a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

    “But we’ll need a much longer data record to fully understand the underlying cause of the patterns and whether they will persist.”

    Meaning they need more money to study this for a loooong time?

  37. This article reports that over then last decade 3.2 trillion tons of water has been added to aquifers, lakes and soils.

    3.2 trillion tons of water
    = 3200 GT
    / 1.1023 Gt/GT
    = 2903 Gt
    / 362 Gt/mm-SLR
    = 8 mm of SLR over ten years

    That’s the equivalent of 0.8 mm/year of sea-level rise, a rate of just over 3” per century.

    But the article states that that represents a 20% reduction in the rate of sea-level rise, which is too low. It would imply that measured sea-level rise averages 3.2 mm/year, which is way too high.

    The actual, measured rate of sea-level rise, averaged over the best long-term coastal tide gauges, is just under 1.5 mm/yr.

    0.8 / (1.5 + 0.8)= 35%, not 20%.

    It appears that the authors are referencing their calculations to satellite altimetry measurements of sea-level, rather than coastal sea-level measured by tide gauges. That is a mistake.

    Most fundamentally, satellite altimeters measure the wrong thing. Their measurements are distorted by “sea-level rise” caused by thermal expansion when the upper layer of the ocean warms. But that is a strictly local effect, that doesn’t affect the quantity of water in the oceans (and is of little consequence to the coasts), and doesn’t affect sea-level elsewhere (e.g., at the coasts). So it shouldn’t be compared to the amount of water removed from the oceans and stored in aquifers and lakes.

    Also, that sea-level rise only matters at the coasts, but satellite altimeters are incapable of measuring sea-level at the coasts. Tide gauges measure sea-level at the coasts, where it matters.

    Also, tide gauge measurements of sea-level are much higher quality than satellite altimetry measurements. The satellite measurements of sea-level are of questionable reliability, and vary considerably from one satellite to another. Also, some of the tide-gauge records of sea-level measurements are nearly ten times as long as the combined satellite measurement record, and twenty times as long as any single satellite measurement record.

    Prof. Peltier estimates that meltwater load from the melting of the great ice sheets (~10k years ago) is causing the ocean floors to sink by enough to cause a 0.3 mm/yr fall in sea-level, absent other factors. For water mass budget calculations like this study’s, it is reasonable to add that number (0.3 mm/yr) to measured rates of sea-level, even though the resulting sum is not truly sea-level, and is not useful for projecting sea-level for coastal planning. (It’s an attempt to calculate what the rate of sea-level rise would be, were it not for the hypothesized sinking of the ocean floor.) But 1.5 mm/yr + 0.3 mm/yr is still just 1.8 mm/yr, and 0.8 mm/yr would represent a 31% reduction (from 1.8 + 0.8 = 2.6), not just 20%.

    NOAA has done linear regression analysis on sea-level measurements (relative sea-level) from 225 long term tide gauges around the world, which have data spanning at least 50 years. (Note: the literature indicates that at least 50-60 years of data are required to determine a robust long term sea-level trend from a tide gauge record.)

    It is important to realize that there’s been no sign of any acceleration (increase in rate) in most of those tide-gauge records, in over three-quarters of a century.

    The rate of measured sea-level rise (SLR) varies from -17.59 mm/yr at Skagway, Alaska, to +9.39 mm/yr at Kushiro, Japan. 197 of 225 stations (87.6%) have recorded less than 3.3 mm/yr sea-level rise. At 47 of 225 stations (20.9%) sea level is falling, rather than rising. Just 28 of 225 stations (12.4%) have recorded more than 3.3 mm/yr sea-level rise. The average SLR at those 225 gauges is +0.90 mm/yr. The median is +1.41 mm/yr.

    That’s probably slightly less than the true global average, because a disproportionate number of those 225 stations are northern hemisphere stations affected by PRG (i.e., the land is rising). OTOH, quite a few long-term tide gauges are substantially affected by subsidence (i.e., the land is sinking), often due to extraction of water, oil, or natural gas, or due to the location having been elevated with fill dirt which is compacting (like Galveston).

    I downloaded the two sea-level measurement spreadsheet files (U.S. and global) from NOAA’s page, and combined them into a single Excel spreadsheet. For ease of sorting, I changed the U.S. station ID numbers by adding an “A-” prefix (“A” for “American”). I also added “average” and “median” lines at the end of the spreadsheet. The average of all 375 NOAA-analyzed stations is 1.28 mm/yr, and the median is 1.71 mm/yr: or

    NOAA says that the average is 1.7-1.8 mm/yr. Some of the difference between the calculated average and NOAA’s figure for MSL rise may be due to the addition of model-derived GIA adjustments to the measured rates when calculating the average, to attempt to account for Post-Glacial Rebound (PGR). My guess is that they’re using Prof. Richard Peltier’s figures. (Unfortunately, those figures are only very loosely correlated with what is actually happening at the tide-gauge locations.)

    Unfortunately, many of the tide station records in NOAA’s expanded list of 375 are too short to be appropriate for measuring sea-level trends. The literature indicates that at least 50-60 years of data are needed to establish a robust sea-level trend from a tide station record. But the shortest record in NOAA’s list is Apra Harbor, Guam, with just 21 years of data. (The text at the top of NOAA’s page says, “Trends with the widest confidence intervals are based on only 30-40 years of data,” but that is incorrect. I suspect they wrote it before they added the gauges with very short records.)

    So I also made a version of this spreadsheet in which stations with records shorter than 50 years are omitted.

    Considering only tide stations with records of at least 50 years, the average and median rates of MSL rise (of the 225 remaining stations) are 0.90 mm/yr and 1.41 mm/yr, respectively: or

    (I also tried limiting it to stations with records of at least 60 years, with very similar results: average 0.77 mm/yr, and median 1.37 mm/yr.)

    The average (0.90 mm/yr) is probably unrealistically low, due to the disproportionate number of stations in northern Europe which see low or negative rates of measured sea-level rise due to PGR. The fact that the average is less than the median also suggests that there are a disproportionate number of low-end outliers.

    I also tried another approach, in which I excluded the most extreme latitudes. I started with just the “50+ year” stations, and included only stations within a latitude range of 45 (i.e., I excluded stations above 45 north or below 45 south). The resulting average and median for 137 stations were 2.22 mm/y and 2.02 mm/yr, respectively: or

    That approach largely solves the problem of low-side bias introduced by stations which are affected by PGR (which lowers the calculated average), but it doesn’t solve the problem of high-side bias introduced by stations affected by subsidence (which raises the calculated average). So the average (2.22 mm/yr) is probably unrealistically high. The fact that the average is greater than the median also suggests that there are a disproportionate number of high-end outliers.

    So I tried another approach, this time explicitly eliminating “outliers.” I started with just the “50+ year” stations, but excluded the 40 stations with the lowest rate of sea-level rise (including most of those experiencing falling sea-level), and the 30 stations with the highest rate of sea-level rise (including most of those experiencing severe land subsidence, like Galveston, which is built on sinking fill dirt). The resulting average and median rates of sea-level rise (calculated from 155 stations) are both 1.48 mm/yr: or

    That figure, 1.48 mm/yr, is my current best estimate of globally averaged coastal sea-level rise. At first glance, excluding more low outliers than high outliers might seem to bias the result to the high end. But I think it is justifiable, because of the disproportionate number of northern European and North American stations at locations where the land is rising due to PGR. The fact that the median and average are equal suggests that there aren’t disproportionate numbers of either high or low outliers. (I also tried excluding the low and high 35 stations, and the result was an average MSL rise of 1.36 mm/yr, and median 1.41 mm/yr, which suggests that it includes more low outliers than high outliers.)

    Note that 1.48 mm/yr is less than six inches per century.

    Note, too, that if you add Peltier’s +0.3 mm/yr GIA to that calculated 1.48 mm/yr global average rate of MSL rise, the sum is within NOAA’s 1.7-1.8 mm/yr range.

    It is not possible to torture the tide-gauge data into yielding a globally averaged rate of sea-level rise anywhere near 3.2 mm/yr.

      • Scribber is just wrong. Geostationary tide gauges or land motion corrected by differential GPS show no such thing. Nor does satellite altimetry. That rate is certainly possible locally with subsidence or river delta compaction. Both are at work, for example, in Bangkok.

    • Excellent post, I’ve tried to duplicate the 3.2 mm/yr finding that we usually read about just like you did, and I come up short as well. Plus as you know Colorado University has adjusted (including GIA) 0.9 mm/yr extra into their data base over the last ten years or so.

    • “It appears that the authors are referencing their calculations to satellite altimetry measurements of sea-level, rather than coastal sea-level measured by tide gauges. That is a mistake.”

      Not from a public relations angle, it isn’t. You’re going to argue with scientists who shoot satellites into space? Ha. Try putting one of your coastal gauges on a poster and see how many copies teenagers hang on their bedroom walls.

      • I highly doubt that very many teens put posters of satellites on their walls. Or even rockets now that NASA has become a weather agency instead of a space one. :)

    • It was a real pleasure for me to encounter your post here, Dave Burton.
      I was not previously aware of your website
      This is not my area, but here is what I have learned so far.
      It seems that very few people will ever have any grasp of the problems inherent in generating truthful or even realistic GIAs.
      This topic seems to immediately carry us into an epistemological wormhole.
      As with ice loss calculations reliant purely on GIA – we do not know two things.
      We do not know 1. how much sea level rise or ice loss has occurred.
      And 2. we do not know how much GIA is occurring at various locations.
      There are lots of other things which are not known, such as the amount of water loss from aquifers or ground subsidence etc etc.
      But focusing on those first two unknowns – when we generate a guess for GIA then this allows us to create a corresponding value for SLR. Since the first is an informed guess then the second can also not be better than an informed guess.
      People widely do not seem to grasp that figures for SLR purportedly “measured” by GRACE are in fact primarily generated by the speculative assessment of GIA.
      And that where there is an opportunity to empirically test proposed GIA figures (by using fixed GPS) then they are often found to be way off from reality.
      Sadly, I suppose that we should expect the guessing game to continue for many profitable years to come.
      This would not be a significant issue for anyone were it not for the concealment of the true nature of the output of the GIA/SLR/ice loss/GRACE guessing game – and the fact that the guesses thus produced are being used to guide real-world policy and potentially lead to astonishingly poorly judged public policy decisions.

  38. “We always assumed that people’s increased reliance on groundwater for irrigation and consumption was resulting in a net transfer of water from the land to the ocean,”

    It’s good to know that all of those aquifers that were being drawn down and depleted were just an assumption or a figment of the imagination. Thank you gravity satellites! Let the artesian wells spring forth again!

    How come gravity satellites good, but temperature satellites bad?

  39. You mean to tell me that the earth has restorative mechanisms that repel it from tipping points? Now that’s novel. I wonder if that might just be somehow related to the observation that organized life has been here for hundreds of millions of years? Maybe?

  40. There is in fact NOTHING warming can’t do. No matter what the observation from drought to floods to freezing cold it’s all WARMING BABY!!!!

  41. Even if they are right in assessing “gravitational gain” to be entirely water capture on land they are still saying that this accounts for less than a millimeter of the observed change. So still not above the sole of the penny loafers. WUWT

  42. Is there anything global warming can’t do? Now it seems that there is so much global warming that it is slowing the rise of sea levels.

    Maybe so. Warming probably produces increased rainfall. GCMs estimate about 3% per C; empirical estimates on parts of the Earth surface range from 4%-7%. Rainfall transfers water from ocean to land; much flows back to the ocean, but much flows into aquifers and soils.

    Once again, as it has done a few times per year over the past few years, Science Magazine has published a study that tends to provide evidence that undermines warnings of disastrous consequences from global warming. That’s despite their pro-warming, anti fossil fuel bias.

  43. A good example of negative sea level change. I’ve seen many times.

    Harlech castle in Wales overlooking a huge Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea it was built over 1000 years ago, it adjoining the sea making supplies and regarrisoning the Castle an easy proposition.
    The Castle is now high and dry-nothing to do with stasis or deposition, but that sea levels are much lower now the Irish Sea is far away on the horizon.

    The sea is now in the far distance from Harlech castle.

    “In 1409 an attack was made upon Harlech, led by Gilbert and John Talbot for
    the King; the besiegers comprised one thousand well-armed soldiers and a big siege train. The besieged were in the advantageous situation of being able to receive their necessary supplies from the sea, for the waves of Cardigan Bay at that time washed the base of the rock upon which the castle stands. Greater vigilance on the part of the attacking force stopped this and the castle was surrendered in the spring of that year.

    A remarkable feature of the castle is a covered staircase cut out of the rock, defended on the seaward side by a looped parapet, and closed above and below by small gatehouses. This was the water-gate of the fortress, and opened upon a docking quay below.”

    Liverpool UK has one of the best tidal gauges back to 1700.

  44. Gee whiz, NASA’s unknown quantities (represented by x) sure are spurting a lot of new science these days. And I though the science on this was settled. Silly me.

  45. This looks like yet another Ptolemaic Epicycle added to the great CAGW Machine to account for yet another glaring anomaly in the f.orecasting of reality

  46. A Climate Scientist is A) Completely certain of what is going to happen (the science is settled), and B) Completely surprised by each new development.

  47. In global water, 97% is in oceans [salt water] and 3% fresh water. Of the 3%, ground water is 30.1% [and of this only 15% is available for use], in ice caps & glaciers 68.7% and surface water 0.3% — 2% in rivers, 87% in lakes and 11% Swamps.

    Usable ground water and surface water is highly seasonal. With the growth of population and use of water in agriculture, industry & domestic are steeply increasing and thus many parts of the globe the groundwater is emptied.

    Also, the precipitation and snowfall follow the cyclical variation. During last three years several parts of the globe faced with drought.

    Under these circumstances, where is the water?

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  48. How can climate cause or drive anything. To cause or drive requires energy and climate is only a description of weather patterns over a period of time. That is conceptual in nature and can not be reified, i.e., can not be considered as something that exists in reality. What exist are actual acting things such as atoms, molecules, photons, etc. which have potential and kinetic energy relationships. Averaging those energies does not give anything that exists in reality. Averaging gives something, in some minds, to create a danger which require grants to fight.

  49. Could Global Warming result in boulders so massive Global Warming cannot lift them?
    How much error fits on the head of a pin, and how massively could it be interpolated?
    If science fails to evolve adequate defenses, could it fall prey to a single hypothesis that is intelligently designed?

    There seems to be a race on, when ever time series measurement of something becomes available, someone reaches for a ‘Global Warming first aid kit’ and stitches on a field dressing that binds it somehow to anthropogenic excesses, warming or CO2. The data provide enough foundation for publishing, and even the most flimsy and hastily applied posit-dressings survive long enough for the press to pick the whole thing up by the guilt-angle and coin a few headlines. Then it’s off to the next one.

    The objective is to trick people into believing that science has just uncovered a massive elephant in the living room, and from countless angles we see little portions of what could be an elephant. . But he is a paper mache elephant with nothing inside.

    Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and here is all the missing heat.

  50. I may have missed someones posting the embarrassing Tim(flimflam man) Flannerys statement
    that even when rain did fall again in Aus(just prior to decent flooding all over )
    that the rain wouldnt soak into the soil anyway
    it would be too dry
    and we paid the blithering lying ftard!


      I don’t know the Tim Flannery statement you are referring to, but there is such a thing as “hydrophobic” soil.
      Anyone who has ever gardened in more than one location knows that different types of soil absorb water differently, depending on the grains/cells of the actual soil itself. And water tends to soak into the soil by creating capillaries or channels (think tiny ant tunnels) between soil grains. Soil like that, that gets regular moisture, channels the water down below ground easily and rapidly. If the soil gets TOO dry, those capillaries dry out and can collapse, and then if a huge amount of rain comes along in a short time period, the water arrives faster than the soil can rebuild that capillary system and the water builds up at the surface rather than soaking in deeply and causes flooding.

      Some types of soil grab moisture easily and hold onto it longer than other soils do. I’ve gardened in soil that I can water 3 times a week for 20 minutes and the soil stayed moist and the plants grew well and happily because the soil conducted water deep to the roots and drained away enough to not rot them. I’ve gardened in soil (a mere mile and a half from the soil mentioned above) where the water would puddle on top after 20 minutes and only soak about 6 inches into the soil before evaporating in the summer heat which didn’t conduct it deep enough to reach the roots and the plants died even though from the puddling on the surface it appeared as though I was watering them TOO MUCH.

      There simply is no blanket statement that can be made about rates of absorption/storage of moisture in ALL soil because there are too many varying factors across the globe.

  51. JPL is just mining old datasets for cash – a kind of Bitcoin operation.

    By the way, this study is suggesting a positive outcome for AGW. Like the greening of the desserts, shouldn’t we be cheering?

  52. More bloody pseudo science.

    So how do they know pre GRACE situations concerning land water retention and absorption?

    They don’t, there is no comparison.

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