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Rising seas or rising hysteria?

Marine journalist Malcolm Latarche goes head-to-head with Dr Colin Summerhayes of IMarEST’s Operational Oceanography special interest group on the heated topic of climate change

Opening argument by Malcolm Latarche: A 34

s someone who has spent a lifetime in the shipping industry I feel passionately about the almost hysterical reaction of many

concerning the alleged negative impact the industry has on the environment. Disease, global warming and all that brings and a multitude of other ills are laid, unfairly in my opinion, at shipping’s door. The argument being that the emissions from shipping are among the primary causes of these problems. Ships, or at least the majority of them, burn

fossil fuels and mostly heavy oil. There is no disputing either that the exhaust contains some very noxious chemicals or that CO2

is also a product of the combustion process. But

whether shipping’s exhaust emissions or CO2 more generally are causing the planet to overheat is, I believe, far from proven and very probably much overstated.

Changing climate

Firstly let me state categorically that I do not dispute that climate changes, it always has and always will. Belief that there is a settled state for the Earth is given the lie by the millions of years of oscillating between ice ages and opposite extremes. Indeed until very recently there was a general consensus that the world was still emerging from the last ice age; something that would surely mean rising temperatures were to be expected and not necessarily attributable wholly to mankind. I would, however, point out that the

historical record contained in centuries’ of newspaper archives, official records and in countless books does not support the argument that floods, forest fires or violent storms are any more prevalent today than they have ever been. Take as an example the claims of unprece-

dented loss of ice in the Polar regions. Leaving aside the fact that Antarctic ice

extent appears to be presently growing, there is evidence that in the past 70-100 years the ice extent was less than or only slightly greater than it is today. Tucked away on p42 towards the back of the 21 July 1932 issue of The Queenslander Illustrated Weekly ( 2368296?zoomLevel=1) is an article entitled A Warming World that describes shrinking glaciers in Antarctica and Europe. The Washington Times in its monthly

weather review for November 1922 contains an account of a Norwegian expedition led by Dr Adolf Hoel in August of that year. An even more detailed version was later published by American Weekly (http://chroniclingamerica. seq-63.pdf). There is even more evidence in ice maps of the Arctic dating from 1893 to 1961 that are in the archives of the Danish Meteorological Institute and which are also accessible on the internet (for example at sea_ice_maps/1930/1930.pdf). There is of course no satellite record of sea

levels for the period because the record only began in the 1990s, nor would the tidal gauge records of the times offer much in the way of corroboratory evidence because of geographic changes in the meantime.

Sea levels

Measuring sea levels is a thankless task because the planet is not in a fixed state. The current belief presented as consensus is that sea levels are rising at the rate of about 3mm per year. As someone who has been required to arrange and interpret draught surveys on

ships I would question whether it is possible to measure a dynamic sea surface to that degree of accuracy, particularly as the STAR NOAA website ( smcd/spb/ccao/Jason/amr/index.php) states: “The Jason series of satellites provides sustained radar altimetry observations and continuous data on sea surface height (SSH) accurate to within a few centimetres all over the globe”. It goes on to mention that ‘the estimates of sea level rise do not include glacial isostatic adjustment effects on the geoid, which are modelled to be +0.2 to +0.5mm/year when globally averaged’. The reference to isostatic adjustment does

indicate that one of many factors affecting sea levels has been taken into account, although whether the models are sufficiently accurate is an unknown. I recall reading in one paper that in the UK some areas of Scotland could rise by as much as 10cm over a timescale of 100 years, while the south coast of England would subside by about 5cm over the same period. There is no mention on the website of the

effect of subsidence due to the weight of concrete and groundwater extraction in modern cities. Shanghai has reportedly sunk almost 2m since 1921 and the phenomenon is being repeated across the globe.

Other factors

In addition, the effect of displacement by erosion with cliffs collapsing and material being carried to the sea by rivers, underwater volcanic activity bringing material from within the Earth’s core to the sea bed, and plate tectonics all appear to have been given little if any consideration. On the subject of displacement, perhaps it

could be argued that shipping is contributing in a very small way to sea level rise because of the increase in the world fleet.

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