Now the Rest of the Story

Dr. Robert Dean

In an op-ed piece on sea level rise, NC-20 chairman Tom Thompson cites a 2011 research paper prepared by Dr. Robert Dean and Dr. James Houston as scientific evidence that concerns about acceleration of sea level rise may be overblown. He wrote:

…despite warnings of an accelerating sea level rise, Dr. Robert Dean, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and his co-author, Dr. James Houston, director emeritus of the Engineer Research and Development Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, concluded in a recent paper: “The results of all of our analyses are consistent – there is no indication of an overall world-wide sea level acceleration in the 20th Century data. Rather, it appears that a weak deceleration was present.

The paper cited by Thompson was recently discussed in the Journal of Coastal Research in which it was originally published. Joseph F. Donoghue from Florida State University and Randall W. Parkinson with RW Parkinson Consulting Inc. in Melbourne, Fla., offer a very critical peer review.  While there’s not space in this blog to detail their criticisms, the interesting response by Houston and Dean to the criticism of their paper indicates that Thompson’s is misguided by his use of this paper. They responded:

…our emphasis was to accurately characterize U.S. and global tidegauge recordings during the 20th century, rather than to either project into the future or to speculate as to the causes….

There is very strong consensus among climate scientists that historical sea level change in the 20th century as measured by reviewing tidal gauge records has little relevance to future sea level change. Instead, they are very worried by the predictions of peer reviewed and intensely discussed empirical and physics based models that project that sea level will rise at a much greater rate in the next century.

Thompson thinks it’s prudent to rely on this technical paper that according to its own authors does not attempt to project future sea level rise trends or speculate about the causes of sea level rise. That’s his right, but the rest of us may want to give a little more respect to the overwhelming worldwide scientific consensus that does exist that there will be a significant acceleration of sea level rise over the next century. Only by taking the scientists seriously can we begin to make prudent public policy that will protect the economic and environmental health of our coastal communities while there’s still plenty of time to act responsibly.

About the Author

Todd Miller

Todd founded the North Carolina Coastal Federation in 1982. A native of Carteret County, he was selected in 2013 as a distinguished alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received his undergraduate and masters degrees. Todd also received The Old North State Award in 2007, the National Wetlands Community Leader Award in 2012 and the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards' Hero of Seas Award in 2015. He is a founding board member of Restore America Estuaries, a member of the Board of Visitors for the UNC Institute for the Environment and chairman of the Policy Committee for the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Partnership. As executive director, Todd formulates the federation’s goals and policy positions, serves as the federation’s spokesperson and provides staff and operations oversight.