Ooops! Alarm over 'sinking Islands' premature as sea level falls at Kwajalein Atoll

David Burton writes:

Remember this little article by Nils-Axel Mörner, not quite three years ago?

The Marshall Islands and their Sea Level Changes

He discussed Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, where there’s a tide gauge that seemed to be measuring accelerated sea-level rise:

Of course, the Climate Community sounded the alarm. “Sinking islands call for NZ action,” trumped the New Zealand Herald. “Low-lying islands face existential threat from rising sea levels,” declared the Bangladesh Daily Star.

But Nils warned against drawing panicked conclusions from just one tide gauge. He pointed out that the apparent surge in sea-level at Kwajalein was atypical, and thus unlikely to herald an acceleration in global sea-level rise. He speculated that it could be due to local factors, such as subsidence caused by local construction projects. “In conclusion, don’t “hang your hat” on the Kwajalein graph,” he wrote.

Willis Eschenbach then chimed in, and pointed out that the the apparent trend was simply too short to draw any conclusion from it. Indeed, the literature indicates that at least 50-60 years of data are necessary to deduce a robust sea-level trend from a single tide gauge record.

Of course, Nils and Willis were right. Look at the Kwajalein tide gauge now:

It’s obvious that the apparent acceleration in sea-level at Kwajalein was transient, and did not indicate the beginning of an accelerating trend in sea-level rise.

To me, it looks like sea-level at Kwajalein is inversely correlated with ENSO. When the current El Niño ends, so will the current dip in sea-level at Kwajalein, probably.

Over the long term, the sea-level trend at Kwajalein will prove to be approximately linear, just like it is at every other high-quality, long term coastal tide gauge in the world. Seven decades of heavy GHG emissions have caused no increase at all in the rate of coastal sea-level rise.

It seems it tracks nicely with ENSO:

(updated: Here’s a tighter. tidier version of the juxtaposed Kwajalein and ENSO grapha)


81 thoughts on “Ooops! Alarm over 'sinking Islands' premature as sea level falls at Kwajalein Atoll

  1. We’re in real trouble when sea level starts falling. Please, Gaia, let it continue to rise.

    • CO2 has falsely been made liable for all climatic and biological harms. It is an amazing inversion of the truth, for CO2 works in many mysterious ways its wonders to perform. Warming is always net beneficial, and the greening, were it not so predictable, is miraculous.

    • Yes, everything is an imminent disaster, but it is never hailed as good news when the would be disasters do not happen.

  2. It’s falling? With all that increased CO2 in the air and all that melting happening….how…what…who?…NOAA, how could you? (Forget to adjust the tide gauges too I mean!)

    • They took the first sea level reading when a whale farted as it was passing by, thus, the humongous bubbles caused a false reading !!!!

      • Like with land data, they want average data for sea levels, average doesn’t tell you where levels are rising and falling, so falling levels never get mentioned, only the increased average, which is pretty useless as a metric for anything relating to studying causes, useless.
        Average temperature is the same, it tells you nothing.
        Meaningless junk. Same as average sea levels and average rate of increase, for example, I live in Helsinki, and the sea level has been falling for years here according to tide gauge

      • The entire North Cape is rising due to isostatic rebound from the Last Glacial Maximum, hence those Viking-era ports that are now 100 yards inland, while Britain is subsiding, hence the sunken parts of the Scilly Isles and all those flooded estuaries.

  3. yikes! Looking at the falling trend since 2010, it is clear that the oceans are quickly disappearing due to global warming. At this rate, in 100 years of less earth’s oceans will all be gone.

    • Corals in waters with upwelling cooler water do not fare well in El Nino warmer waters. Onset of a quick large increase or sustained increase tends to kill off corals when their cousins in stable temp waters can take another 2c and still survive.
      As for the GBR, Queensland farming of cane has increased 150% and plenty of nitrogen ends up in the reef, among other chemicals probably. Excess nitrogen bursts causes corals to bleach themselves by expelling them zooxanthellae which are sustained by the Coral’s metabolism waste, so controlling the number of zooxanthellae. Excess nitrogen from the water causes the zooxanthellae to reproduce faster than needed which probably the coral deals with by bleaching, expelling zooxanthellae or if possible digesting them.
      Add that to the rather large list of things that can damage corals, most of them nothing to do with man whatsoever

  4. Can someone tell Dame Slingo of the Met Office that her climate change stuff about accelerating SL rise is a lie .

    • I’ve been waiting for someone to include this pop-culture reference. One of the few GI’s that I remember 🙂

    • I’d like to know too.
      In fact, why is ENSO correlated in any way? I don’t know the mechanism here.

      • I’m very sketchy on this but crudely was under the impression that the Easterly blowing trade winds pile water up in the oceanic west during El Nino and then eventually slosh back west towards South America in La Nina conditions. Marshall Islands being in the west of the Pacific I thought might have a +ve correlation with ENSO if anything. We wait on someone who knows … tia.

      • cephus: You’ve got the principle, but the specifics are backwards. During neutral and La Nina conditions, the prevailing winds push water to the western tropical Pacific. During El Nino conditions, this breaks down, and you get warmer and higher water in the eastern Pacific.

      • The El Nino caused the sea level rise to accelerate in So Cal in 2014 and 2015. It reached the highest level in the 90+ year record in 2015. I’m surprised the alarmists haven’t made a big stink over it. I anticipate the level will fall in 2016 and 2017.

  5. The Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level calculates sea level trends using available long-term records of tide gauge data from around the world:
    Zoom the map out to see the trends for the world, and it will become obvious that on a regional scale vertical movements of tectonic plates is the overwhelming trend-setting factor. Compare the trends in northern Europe with those in Scandanavia.

  6. I’ll worry about seal level rise when tide gauge readers have to use scuba gear. Even then I won’t worry much; I’m at approximately 1,700 feet above sea level. I say approximately because the elevation may have changed while I wrote this. Nature’s pace is often eons – adjusters equipped with computers are much, much faster.

    • Make that sea level rise. Seals aren’t a problem for me because I don’t own a polar bear.

      • when I read it, I saw it as sea. I didn’t even notice it read seal until you pointed it out.

  7. Nice find, David. I note that the result is confirmed by the much more accurate SEAFRAME tidal gauge at nearby Majuro. It shows the same recent fall in sea levels:


    • Interesting, Willis. Looking at your Seaframe chart I notice its very strong response to the super El Nino of 1998 which present sea level change seems to try to emulate. I still go with Chao, Yu and Li who found in 2008 that global sea level rise had been linear for the previous 80 years. Something that has been linear that long is not about to change anytime soon. The slope of their linear section was 2.46 millimeters per year. This works out to just under ten inches per century. Al Gore at the same time was touting a sea rise of twenty feet per century that, according to him, would put Florida under water. And got a Nobel Prize for that trash.You would think that science journals like Nature and Science ought to be interested in this, but you would be wrong. When I attempted to tell them about it both sent my article back, no explanation, no peer review, no nothing because the science was settled, you see.

      • It was, let’s not forget, a Nobel PEACE Prize that had nothing to do with any form of science at all. A propaganda tool designed to reward those who are doing something fashionable at the moment. It was very amusing to watch a number of very insecure scientific types glom onto it by pretending they had also been awarded that very same Nobel Peace Prize. All they mentioned was the Nobel bit until somebody yanked their choke chain and made them stop lying.
        IIRC President Obama got one for offering global Hope and Change. The whole of Europe got one for being friendly to its inhabitants so I guess as a European I also have a Nobel Prize.

  8. Expect major retraction stories and follow-up news all over the media outlets any minute now, or not

  9. “Low-lying Pacific islands ‘growing not sinking’ – BBC News
    3 Jun 2010 – A new geological study finds that many low-lying Pacific islands are growing, not … that most have remained stable, while some have actually grown. … the geologists found that 80% of the islands had either remained….”

    • Low-lying oceanic islands are there for a reason – It should be clear to anyone who thinks about it for a moment that it isn’t just an extraordinary co-incidence! They are, in fact, the PRODUCT of rising sea levels rather than the contrary. Charles Darwin wrote a near definitive account of this as a result of his observations on a single voyage 180 years ago, and yet the alarmist claim gets a free ride amongst the great and the good even today..

    • Almost thought the Beeb were going to make it all the way through to the end there with honest reporting. Nearly made it … but then the inevitable ‘don’t think for a second that means there isn’t catastrophic sea level rise though’.
      “But although these islands might not be submerged under the waves in the short-term, it does not mean they will be inhabitable in the long-term, and the scientists believe further rises in sea levels pose a significant danger to the livelihoods of people living in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.”
      They really cannot help themselves.

  10. bet this would effect sea level rise-
    “Coral rock is the main aggregate for most construction purposes in Maldives. In 1986 the demand for coral aggregate for the construction industry in Malé Atoll, the industrial center of the country, was estimated at 0.5 million cubic feet/year. Although no recent estimates have been made, it is thought that demand is probably at its limit now and according to predictions, the current methods of mining would exhaust the coral buildings in N. Malé Atoll within a maximum of 30 years if coral mining is not controlled”

  11. This is an interesting topic. I am pleased it came up
    “Low-lying oceanic islands are there for a reason” : This is better phrased as “There is a reason behind the existence of coral atolls and their common features”
    The most obvious common feature is their low elevation above sea level. This is due to the fact that they are at a rough equilibrium with sea level. Coral detritus builds these islands. They are of a very dynamic system which means periodic inundation is a normal event. Providing longer term sea level rise is not beyond the ability for coral to adjust (follow the rise) the island will maintain its elevation. Dead coral gets broken up then washed and blown, so maintaining the building process
    In the event of long term sea level drop, coral growth simply follows, maintaining its preferred water depth for growth. Over time erosion will reduce the higher relative elevation back to equilibrium
    A lot of work has been done on this by a scientist from University of Auckland. When I have time i will provide some links

  12. There’s been lots of chatter about the Virginia Key gauge near Miami showing much higher than expected recently…similar explanation there? Opposite phase? Other explanation?

    • Opposite effect in the Eastern Pacific – sea levels along the Western seaboard of the US have been almost static for a decade, but now have started to rise. That rise looks more than just the current El Niño effect. Sea levels along the Southern half of the Eastern seaboard have also shown a recent upward tick, while those further North show a corresponding drop.

  13. Someone with Twitter please Tweet the head ‘Twit’, Canada’s very own Minister of Bullshit….oops, I mean Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. Maybe then she can stop spreading misinformation on national TV

  14. It’s obvious that the apparent acceleration in sea-level at Kwajalein was transient, and did not indicate the beginning of an accelerating trend in sea-level rise.

    So we should be expecting a press release from the world media indicating that we dodged a bullet and things are okay. Right?

  15. Thank heavens you showed that graph of the synchronism of ENSO and sea level at Kwajalein. When I saw the earlier graph I immediately thought – “Aha, a magma chamber under the island has emptied and is now refilled, to more than before. Remember St Helens. Beware Volcano!”

  16. ‘Who will bell the cat?’ asks kim non-pareil.
    I meself have asked that question many times, given
    the Antonio Gramski long march through the institutions
    and the Saul Alinsky 101 twelve rules fer radicals regardin’
    closin’ down debate by philosopher kings who
    will tell yer what yer
    need ter know
    and what
    yer can
    (bts who favours the open society over the closed society.)

  17. Mörner previously claimed that the upward trend was due to subsidence following building work. What does he pin the recent drop on? The sale of helium-filled balloons to kids?

      • Brett Keane March 29, 2016 at 8:23 am

        Just trolling, are we Tony?

        Doesn’t seem like Tony is trolling. From Nils-Axel:

        It looks like Kwajalein is affected by a local subsidence induced by building construction (or some sea level “correction” in order to have it going up).
        The Majuro records, for sure, contradicts and acceleration claim; even a general “rise”.

        I posted the Majuro record above

      • First of all, it is not accurate for Tony to say that “Mörner previously claimed that the upward trend was due to subsidence following building work.”
        As you can see from Willis’ quote of Mörner (“it looks like Kwajalein is affected by… or some…’correction;”), it is clear that Mörner was just speculating about possible causes. He did not “claim” to know that subsidence was the cause.
        Nor is it clear that Mörner’s speculation was wrong. Although ENSO obviously affects sea-level at Kwajalein, that’s not necessarily the only thing affecting it. It is certainly possible that subsidence due to construction has also affected the tide gauge [1] href=”,167.7345401,504m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x65ac2eae99e3be7f:0xd63f6a78cbe5df1b”>2] [a href=””>3] [4] [5].

      • Sorry, that Google Maps link apparently confused WordPress. Trying again:
        [1] href=””>2] [a href=””>3] [4] [5].

  18. As a marine meteorologist I know trade winds constantly acting on the sea surface have an effect. Mean sea levels in north Queensland along the east coast of Australia are around 30cm higher than mean sea levels south of Sydney as the trade winds pile the water up against the coast in the north. This gives rise to the East Coast Current that flows up to 4 knots south along the coastline as the levels attempt equalisation. Trade winds are probably the cause of variations in sea level at Kwajalein.

  19. “(updated: Here’s a tighter. tidier version of the juxtaposed Kwajalein and ENSO graph)”
    sea level pressure anyone?

    • Yes, a good thing we didn’t put troops there. If Guam was in danger of tipping over, what ever would have become of poor Kwajalein? (do I need /sarc?)

  20. BTW, that ENSO graph (Niño 3.4 region Oceanic Niño Index) is from Golden Gate Weather Services:
    The data in the graph is from NOAA:
    The Kwajalein sea-level graph is, of course, also from NOAA:
    (To make the combined graph, I just shrunk the ENSO graph with Irfanview [which I highly recommend] to match the scale of the Kwajalein sea-level graph, and then patched the two together with MS Paint.)
    The inverse correlation between ENSO and Kwajalein sea-level means worriers can always find something to worry about: During El Niño they can fret about record-breaking temperatures. During La Niña they can fret about the looming “climate refugee” crisis, from disappearing Pacific islands. I’ll bet there’s a nice correlation between ENSO and the ratio of news stories & press releases about temperature vs. news stories & press releases about inundated islands.

    Climate Research Fools went to Eastern Antarctic while temperature was -9° C.
    Raveendran Narayanan USA

Comments are closed.