Worst Chart Ever?

Kevin Drum posts this chart with a straight face as "proof" that sea level rise is out-pacing forecasts.

I don't really think I need to even point out the problem to most of my readers, but you can see the differences in ending value is because the starting values are different.  Likely the two are drawing from different data sources with a shifted zero value.  The slopes are the same, confirmed by the fact that the 3.2 mm trend per year is well within the IPCC forecast range that was centered, if I remember right, around 3.3 mm per year.  It is also well under Al Gore's forecast, which was for 20 feet by 2100, or about 61 mm per year.


  1. MingoV:

    Satellites cannot accurately or precisely measure sea level. (They also cannot accurately and precisely measure temperatures.)

  2. Mole1:

    Sorry, I don't see it. The satellite data, which the post refers to, extrapolates to zero in 1990, just like the green and blue IPCC reports lines. The unlabeled yellow trace is off zero in 1990, but not by nearly enough to close the gap. What are you talking about?

  3. mesaeconoguy:

    Doomed, I tell's ya...doomed!!!


  4. HenryBowman419:

    In 2002 or thereabouts I attended a talk by Steve Nerem at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Nerem is a geophysicist at the University of Colorado; his talk concerned the reconciliation of historical tide-guage measurements of sea level with modern satellite observations.

    Early in his presentation Nerem stated that one should not believe sea-level records that are less than 30 years long. Then he went on to explain that sea level has been rising at a rate of 1.75 mm/year since the mid-19th century.

    In conclusion, however, he stated that sea-level rates of change had recently (within the past 10-15 years) increased to about 3 mm/year, thus directly contradicting his admonition not to trust such short records!

    For more detail see Cazenave, A. and R. S. Nerem, 2004, Present-Day Sea Level Change: Observations And Causes, Reviews of Geophysics, 42, RG3001, 20 pages.

  5. NormD:

    Could you expand on this. I thought that satellites measured sea level using radar from a known fixed location in space. Of course the sea is very frothy and changes day-today so trying to define a level accurate to a cm may be problematic. What is the best method to measure sea level?

  6. obloodyhell:

    The ignorance of Dum's readers is impressive. One of them couldn't even properly spell "Corps of Engineers" (spelled it as pronounced, "core"), but still felt he was qualified to express a worthy opinion on a complex scientific issue.

    I mean, after The One Genius Intellect so publicly screwed the pooch on that one a couple years back, one would think they'd at least have THAT one down correctly.

  7. obloodyhell:

    The data points start in different years, Mole. This means they come from different data sets. You can't put data from different data sets on a graph without special care to make sure you aren't comparing apples and oranges -- in this specific case, the actual numbers are almost certainly "massaged" to what is called a "normal" value, which is designed to deal with different factors such as measuring systems and different stations. These sets may, each one, have a different normative value.

    This CAN be done correctly, but it's a virtual certainty that Drum had no clue what the hell he was doing and just put the different lines together on a chart, making no effort to reconcile any differences in basis points.

    This manipulation, by the way, is a major part of the complaints about the global temperature numbers turned out by various bodies like NASA and Hadley in the UK -- not that they are doing it, but that they KEEP THE PROCESS SECRET. The proper thing to do is to release the RAW NUMBERS, and the methods used to adjust them, AND the final resultant data sets. This allows other scientists to look over what is done and say, "Hey, you can't do that!!" and publish their arguments to that end. This is how TRUE science is self-correcting. And is important because it's part of how change in ideas occur, and why "consensus" doesn't mean eph-all in science. Every idea now part of the "consensus" started out in one lonely guy's head, and worked to become accepted... and tomorrow something may happen in ANY field, and all the "consensus" might get tossed out the window by it. For a classic example, wiki "Lumniferous Aether" and "Michaelson-Morley Experiment".

    The climate "scientists" don't do this -- they release the final data sets and you're supposed to "trust" them with their manipulations being valid. It's crap, it's been crap, and it will always be crap.

  8. obloodyhell:

    I would say Mingo is almost certainly wrong, but I'll allow him to advance his arguments first.

  9. FelineCannonball:

    A little basic internet skill would allow you to follow the chart back to it's original source (not Kevin Drum). There you would read that the satellite data (red) and tide data (orange) are normalized using their 1993 to 2010 mean. Both measure the same physical surface so it's hard to argue that there should be a substantial offset. The origin for the projections is based on the trend of the satellite data (which they argue is better, less noisy, data). And middle of the road projections for IPCC 3 and 4 are below the observations. Measured sea level rise appears to be near the high-end of the projected uncertainty range in the two IPCC reports. The authors argue that the IPCC projections are likely based upon poor modeling of the processes affecting sea level rise. The high-end projections for IPCC are probably based on models which overestimate past temperature increases -- so them being "more correct" is probably not the answer. Instead it appears that their is a systematic bias in all the sea level models, perhaps related to greater Greenland melt or slower antarctic snow accumulation with a moderate temperature increase.

    The raw satellite and tide gauge data is publicly available. Older satellite data had some serious calibration problems but now we've addressed some data analysis problems and have data from four different satellites with significant temporal overlap. The data has largely been reconciled with tide gauges and is consistent with buoy data from the Argo network and indirect measurements of ice loss.

    And thanks for the gracious spelling correction :)

  10. FelineCannonball:

    "The slopes are the same, confirmed by the fact that the 3.2 mm trend per year is well within the IPCC forecast range that was centered, if I remember right, around 3.3 mm per year."

    Sea level rise is projected to be an upward curve. Not linear. 3.3 mm/year was IPCC's projected rise over the next century. If it's accurate we would expect less than 2 mm/year today. Instead, over the last 17 years of tide and satellite data we've gotten 3.2 mm/year. Actually, the discrepancy was noticed a decade ago. It's just the more data we get, the more sure we are about it. This is a big part of validating models and finding physical processes that poorly represented in them. The models will get better for it.

  11. wes dean:

    Screw the sea level. The worst that happens is we move to Greenland, Antarctica and Siberia, spread tons of seaweed, livestock poop and coffee grinds on the ground and grow some nice veggies and citrus fruits. What I wanna know is how long we gonna keep printing money till the confidence poop hits the fan? Some pukes say we can kick that can down the road forever, some others say no. When will currency, electronic savings and investments go tits up? Or what, yo?

  12. Mole1:

    The y-axis shows "Sea Level Change". Change means subtraction. If you are claiming they are just lying, the burden falls on you. The original post says there is something obviously wrong with that chart. I see nothing obviously wrong, and your claim certainly isn't it.

  13. saber_springs_mark:

    At least the reader wasn't referring to an engineering corpse!

  14. obloodyhell:

    }}} Both measure the same physical surface so it's hard to argue that there should be a substantial offset.

    It depends on a LOT of things. What mechanism is being utilized? Satellite feeds, or measuring stations? Which measuring stations, and where? If not the exact same stations between sets, they need to be adjusted to deal with that difference, too.

    It's not like ocean "height" doesn't vary substantially from location to location based on a lot of different factors, including air pressure and temperature, water temperature, and the gravity flux from point to point (you DO realize THIS is relevant, right?). Then, when you're measuring in MILLIMETERS of difference, how are you adjusting for the simple matter of WAVES? Oh, and then there's other factors -- for example, tectonic shifting -- both latitudinal/longitudinal and vertical. And lastly -- high tide? low tide? Mean? This literally varies from point to point -- you don't get "high tide" at exactly the same moment short of the exact, precise-to-the-microsecond longitudinal line.

    You do realize that there is a corrective factor applied, for example, to sports metrics, such as occur in the Olympics Yes, when you are given a "world record" for the shot put, they actually take into account things like the altitude (lower gravity by a tiny percent) and air pressure (density). And that's one heck of a lot more "absolute" than the concept of "sea level".

    Here's a photo taken at mean high tide in 2004, of a mark made at mean high tide in 1841**. Notice it's ABOVE the water level, not BELOW it. Despite this "obvious" suggestion that sea levels have dropped substantially since then (note that the difference isn't in "millimeters" for damned sure), there are all manner of claimants that this is not the case, that sea levels have risen steadily since then.

    **Note -- the site itself is moribund, the proprietor having died about 6 years ago. If you want its intellectual descendant, try Greenie Watch, or, of course, Warren's own climate blog fork (I like to have alternate sources -- more authors, so I prefer to mostly only pay attention to warren's climate stuff when he deigns to mention it in the main blog)

  15. FelineCannonball:

    I think you'll find that the researchers working on the problem have thought about it even more than yourself. I'm also aware of the complexity and will agree that there are potential uncertainties and errors. Definitely not an easy calculation or curve to generate, and it will get refined and tested with time.

    Don't kid yourself that scientists don't understand subsidence, uplift, gravity, tides, etc.

  16. obloodyhell:

    BTW, the linked article below contains the following comment:
    if somebody messed with the USGS benchmark elevation data from Mt. Diablo California on a regular basis, and the elevation of that benchmark kept changing in the data set, then all measurements referencing that benchmark would be off as well.

    It DOES change. I have a close friend who is a civil engineer. These reference points constantly drift on all three axes. The movement is checked and a new “epoch” is created. Surveys done in one “epoch” must have the drift of the benchmark accounted for if they are being applied to the current “epoch”. If you have a datum from 1973, it may not be in the same location in 2012. It might have moved a foot or more depending on where it is and how long ago the survey was done.

    As I note -- you have to KNOW about the data sets, how they were made, and what possible interactions might make them apples and oranges.

    And no, I'm not claiming they are outright lying. I'm claiming that the individuals in question may well be incompetent and not know better. This happens a LOT more in my experience than is often realized. The number of incompetent people out there outnumbers the competent ones in any field.

    One advantage of bureaucracy is that it tends to neutralize the effects of incompetents in a given arena, but, with Climate Religion, the Septic Tank Rule of Management applies -- the really big chunks float to the top. The pointy haired bosses get to say what is decided, not the competent ones.

  17. obloodyhell:

    Ma'amselle, I am more than competent in a number of arenas -- my own background is in math, physics, and computers -- and one thing I noted a long time ago was the number of quacks and charlatans passing themselves off as seriously knowledgeable. In certain arenas -- math, computers -- It's very difficult to spoof me, and in a number of them I can ask pertinent questions and catch the subtle "What ISN'T getting asked? What IS getting a handwave that shouldn't?"

    I am not, in my comments, speaking of true scientists, but quacks and charlatans masquerading as scientists.

    I am a dilettante when it comes to economics, but when "Nobel Prize winning economist" Paul Krugman writes a column (more than once, actually) that promotes the "Broken Window Fallacy", I know enough to not trust him on anything, ever, with regards to economics. He's left the field of expertise and moved over to the primary function of quack and charlatan pushing an agenda.

    I know enough about math and computers myself to know that the kind of accuracy claimed by these computer models is VASTLY beyond the current capacity of the modelling software, the mathematics involved, and our understanding of them. The baselines being treated as reliable are beyond ridiculously short, given that climate has at least a half a dozen major cycles that we know of and only a couple of them have actually repeated during the time frame during which we've been making vaguely reliable measurements across America and Europe... note the large missing areas that we don't even have a full cycle of measurements on, even for the short cycles.

    I'm also old enough that I've seen all this crap before. Seriously. They started this crap back in the 70s with the Club of Rome, and the really Big Quack then was Paul Ehrlich. First it was overpopulation, then it was Global COOLING. Yes, cooling. Now it's the IPCC and the BQ is Al Gore, with Hansen and Mann his two sidekicks. The one thing they ALL call for is a vast project to "solve" this sudden, desperate problem that absolutely MUST - MUST - MUST - be tackled now now now now!!!!!!!!! The rule of law must be put aside, the expensive price MUST be paid to create the government forces necessary to FIX THIS PROBLEM!!!

    It was crap then, it's crap now.

    Most of the people citing this crap don't have f--k all of a clue what science even IS. If you asked them to explain, in simple terms, what The Scientific Method is, they'd fail abysmally. If you asked them to define what is and isn't "Science" they'd fail miserably. Hint: If they EVER EVER claim "consensus" as though it were relevant, they're incompetent in matters of science. Science isn't about consensus. AT ALL. Not even a LITTLE BIT. You can have 100,000,000 scientists telling you one thing, and one guy working out of a garage can be 100% right and your millions of scientists 100% wrong. That doesn't mean you swallow any little thing anyone claiming to be a scientist tells you, but it does mean you pay careful attention to how they are making their arguments. If they are attempting to silence the opposition without discussing things, without offering any direct cause for rejecting a proposition, they're quacks, not scientists. When they claim "all scientists agree", while ignoring the hundreds of thousands who have signed petitions making it clear that they don't agree, then they're quacks and charlatans. Just the list of NASA astronauts -- most of whom are trained SCIENTISTS -- who have come out against AGW theory as "proven" is more than amply enough to make one sit up and take notice IF one isn't pushing an agenda or in the process of swallowing one whole.

    As I noted -- just look up Lumniferous Aether and Michaelson-Morley, for one of physics' most blatant examples of "consensus" vs. reality.

  18. Mole1:

    From this original post to the published paper is two clicks. You obviously didn't bother to click before making your first arguments. Now that it has been pointed out to you, you are flailing about, casting a wider net of more vague accusations of incompetence and/or misconduct, still with nothing to back them up.

    Look, if you have better data, tell us where it is. The one data point you showed, from John Daly, compares a claimed 1841 mean sea level mark with a 2004 LOW tide level (read the caption!), and it is obvious from the same picture (and consistent with the caption) that the high tide level is well above that mark. Furthermore, if you are going to cast aspersions about the competence of people making today's sea-level measurements, shouldn't you apply the a greater level of doubt to random sailors making sea level measurements made in 1841? Seriously, for how long did "Antarctic Explorer Capt. Sir James Clark Ross" stay on the Isle of the Dead to make sure he had an accurate mean sea level? I doubt it was a whole lunar cycle.

  19. obloodyhell:

    }}} Satellites cannot accurately or precisely measure sea level.

    OK, using that article as the basis point, Mingo is, indeed, effectively wrong. He's confusing a baseline "reference frame" problem with an impossibility. The "BLRF" needs to be created and then the satellite data needs to be re-evaluated using the stronger BLRF. The data itself is mostly still going to be good, but it is currently lacking a fixed frame of reference that is reliable and sufficiently sharply measured. It has internal consistency, but the meaning that can be derived from it until that sufficiently accurate BLRF is created is effectively zero.

  20. FelineCannonball:

    The article is arguing that the models are wrong and do not provide results that agree with observations (albeit those observations are also difficult). Global climate models are highly simplified and generally engineered to give a reasonable representation of a few long-term features of global climate. Details (like rainfall in Kentucky, or the exact amount of ice loss and oceanic expansion due to warming) are likely poorly represented. Testing models against paleo records or modern climate is one way to understand where deficiencies may lie. Understanding these biases will get a lot better 100 years from now, but incremental improvements are getting made today. To represent changes in weather patterns you have to superimpose higher resolution models and it's still more of a qualitative understanding their reaching for. To represent natural decadal climate cycles you need different types of models and you'll likely only get something that gives you a better, albeit cartoonish, idea of what might be the cause of these cycles. Global climate models do help us understand crude processes and where uncertainties are rooted. Other models allow us to explore specific processes and natural mechanisms in more detail.

    Forget about the modelling though. It should be possible to reconcile instrumental records alone so that we can better understand the last 20 years of apparent global sea level change. The last 20 years of weather, ocean temperature profiles, rain and snow fall, ice melt, and sea level should all converge on one answer. If the satellite data is bad it won't converge.

    Science is split into disciplines in such a way that it is incredibly difficult for people in neighboring fields to rapidly assess the state of science in a field. It's easy to come up with a large number of questions that should be addressed and that might create pitfalls. It takes a lot more energy to figure out how and why these questions have been addressed or dismissed -- and which questions are believed to be a continuing source of uncertainty. If you just peruse the recent literature you don't have a clue which papers are written by grad students who have only been in the field for a year, which are written by sub par academics, and which are written by visionaries who are on the right track. Some journals specialize in sensational headlines (nature and science for instance produce a fair proportion of this type of work), so if it's revolutionary or exciting it's best to see it as more of a scratchpad for new ideas that may or may not be right. Anyone who has been in a field for more than decade knows that they have to be willing to dismiss what they were taught in undergrad or graduate school. Science is not frozen and we know a lot of our ideas are simplifications or incomplete. With respect to anthropogenic impacts on climate there is plenty of debate and uncertainty.

  21. Mole1:

    Well, given that you feel that the total time we've been making measurements is too short for us to make any reasonable predictions, why are you so vested in claiming all of these measurements must be wrong? It is entirely reasonable that they are just natural variations, right?

    By the way, you lose credibility when you claim consensus is irrelevant in science (which you then follow by making arguments that there is consensus on AGW but it isn't strong enough). The fact that accepted scientific theories have been replaced by other accepted scientific theories simply points out a reality of scientific progress. Nevertheless, at any given moment, you have the best odds of being right if you go with the current consensus. How could it be any other way? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question, I mean it quite seriously. I challenge you to name scientific theory you accept without relying on the scientific consensus behind it. Do you accept Newton's Laws? Maxwell's equations? If you do, it is because of the scientific consensus behind them.

  22. marque2:

    There are cases in climate science where the scientists do understand but choose to ignore. For instance AGW enthusiasts choose to ignore the effects of the Sun on earths climate snootily claiming it has little effect.

    Not saying the scientists don't know more than a bunch of boobs on a bulletin board, but scientists do have fallibilities themselves including being in an echo chamber devoid of outside analysis, and outside points of view, need to please the funders, need for acceptance, and fashionable POV's.

    Not saying obloodyhell is correct, but then stating that the scientists in a field know what they are doing, isn't exactly the complete truth either. This is especially true when the field becomes politicised.

  23. FelineCannonball:

    You can't really put out a general statement: "scientists in a field know what they are doing". It's never true. It's likely a fair number of them do, but you might have trouble wading through the chaff as a layman.

    I could go on about problems in academia. I'll just say that it's inefficient and problems are more likely to revolve around personal egos than political biases. In my experience there's some selection bias in who gets into a field, but the science part is for the most part rigorous and critically reviewed. The big egos would rather tear you down and look smart than validate their political views.

    There are also some perspective problems where people in a field have their noses a little too close to the subject. Sometimes a new comer from a different field makes the big advances. In general there is a lot of this and obvious stuff doesn't get overlooked for long in a field where there is enough new blood coming in. I'd say climate modelling is one of these fields with a lot of talented new blood with perfect GRE scores and a lot of experienced outsiders looking in. I'm not saying they've converged on one answer with no uncertainty. I'm saying there are people in the field who are on top of the subject and making progress.

    Things are different in other countries. Hierarchical structures and big egos controlling funding. Some Russian science fields are literally 40 years behind because of it.

  24. marque2:

    The rub is just what does "critically reviewed" mean? And just what is correct? I find this a problem with my daughters in school. They are learn math in the wackiest way? Why, when just memorizing the addition and times tables worked so well 30 - 50 years ago, because to get a PhD in Education, you need to come up with something different. Now there is this weird triangle method for learning math that kids don't get, the parents don't get, and now I have to make the flashcards myself and teach my kids the old fashioned way.

    I am sure, whoever came up with their triangle method of math, had it rigorously reviewed as part of their doctoral dissertation.

    Actually there is a lot of new research showing rigorously reviewed science, isn't all that rigorously reviewed. The reviews are mostly making sure a dropped negative isn't pushed through a formula rather than whether the foundations of the formula are actually correct. Usually the docs are reviewed by friends before being published. There is a lot of trash science out there. I think part of it is because the government has gotten so involved in funding it.

  25. FelineCannonball:

    I can't tell you about reviews in education, economics, social science, or law (well actually I could tell you about law but it's not happy story). In science there is a significant element of competitiveness and reviewers love taking people out with venom if they see anything remotely off. Particularly with funding. A lot of NSF programs have acceptance rates around 1 or 2 percent.

  26. marque2:

    You can't tell me about reviews in anything, like me, you are a just a boob posting on a blog. And no, my personal opinion is that I think science has been taken over by the need to get government grants.

    And No we have seen from the CRU emails, that the reviews were done politically, and those who objected were silenced, so I don't buy your thesis.

    As for your colleague pouncing on you for bad science - you might have to work with that guy some day, and he might be on some government advisory board which is going to dole out funds, so you better treat him with light gloves. We don't have the science of the 1950's any more. Can you imagine being a climate scientist looking for NASA funds, writing a critical review of James Hanson's work? Guffaw!

  27. FelineCannonball:

    Hah :) Academics are just as big of boobs. Well, probably bigger. I've been in academia since 1992 and have plenty of out of context emails I could share.

    Bad reviews are almost uniformly anonymous. Anyone who has something to lose doesn't put their name on them.

    I just don't buy that academics have some grand organization. In fact they've turned the skeptic community into a kind of cash cow. More money is spent on climate science because of the controversy than would have been spent without. Probably by a factor of two or three.

  28. marque2:

    At last something we both agree on!

  29. Brian McNary:

    Read the thread. Wow. You folks will argue any level of minutia.
    I got an arc 40x40 cubits. Built her myself. You are welcome aboard in another 1/2 million years when some water laps up a foot of Califonia topsoil.

  30. Ryder S:

    This whole thing astounds me... data aside... it's the overall lie being told.

    This is the history of things: The IPCC originally surveyed the literature, and came up with sea level rise projections at the low end of 3mm/yr, and at the top end, 10mm/year. Of course the media seized on the 1 meter by the end of the next century thing, and Al Gore was on a rampage... so that's what the world remembers.

    Skeptics said that this was all being blown out of proportion, and were hated for it.

    Fast forward to today.

    The IPCC has had to revise downward it's projections, vindicating the skeptics entirely. Nobody is talking about 10mm/ year anymore, and now the BEST data we have is right at the very bottom of the original projections. The satellite data agrees with the skeptics.

    But instead what are we treated to? Endless news stories about how the rise is faster than previously predicted!

    How do we get from failure on the part of the IPCC, and complete vindication of skeptics... to "it's worse than previously thought!"?

    All data aside, fellas..."it's worse than previously thought!" *IS* the message, and the public believes it. This message contradicts the truth of the matter. The real story should be that the early scares on global warming were wrong. The best data puts us at the very BOTTOM of those projections, in accord with what the skeptics have been saying all along.

    Yet "worse than ever" is the current message... and it's gaining traction.

    Talking about the specifics of one graph... while not entirely useless... is wonky to the point of missing the point.