Ths Sydney Daily Telegraph has been running a series of articles claiming “Climate Change Science Being Stifled by NSW Labor Bureaucrats” (December 2), “The Code of Climate Silence” (December 3), “Holding Back the Tide of Alternate Views: (December 3) and “Academia on Path of Destruction” (December 5). The fellow Murdoch-owned paper, The Australian, has chimed in with “Blocked Sea-level Research Probed”.

The articles are based on the supposed supression of papers by Doulas Lord, past chair of Engineers Australia’s National Committee on Coastal and Ocean Engineering, by the Government. According to the newspapers, Doug Lord’s paper “revealed” that tide data from Fort Denison show much slower increase in sea level than IPCC projection.The Telegraph claims to have “exclusive reports” containing this data.

In reality, the data is hardly “exclusive” – it is freely available here.

The rate of increase in sea level at Fort Denison has been analysed in detail in published papers such as this one by P J Watson, Principal Coastal Specialist in the NSW Department of Environment Climate Change and Water, which shows that in the sixty years to 2000, the rate of sea level rise at Fort Denison was decreasing:

Sea Level Rise (by P J Watson)

Notice that this was published, and not supressed, by a Government scientist.

Unfortunately, the full data set (from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level) shows that the sea level is still increasing and that the period analysed in P J Watson’s paper is exceptional and gives a false impression.

Sea Level Rise (from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level)
Sea Level Rise (from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level)

Selective analysis can easily give a false impression like this. The Office of Environment and Heritage said the paper by Doug Lord and a colleague were withdrawn over “concerns raised by an independent statistician about the statistical analysis of tide gauge records”.  The Telegraph does not mention this.

Contrary to the Telegraph’s claim that the research contradicts evidence of climate change and rising sea levels, and that there is some sort of conspiracy between most climate scientists and governments, both P J Watson and Doug Lord are very clear that they are not denying sea level rise in general but merely pointing out a local anomaly.

The National Committee on Coastal and Ocean Engineering, which Doug Lord chaired, publishes Guidelines for Responding to the Effects of Climate Change in Coastal and Ocean Engineering. The Guidelines state that “sea level will rise by about 0.5m by the year 2100, with a range of uncertainty of 0.1 to 0.9m” (which is very similar the IPCC estimate of 0.48m with a range of 0.09 to 0.88m), but that “nearly all models project greater than average sea level rise in the Arctic Ocean and below average rise in the Southern Ocean. Almost all AOGCMs (including the CSIRO model) suggest Australia will experience sea level increases below the global average and some predict significantly lower values”.

P J Watson points out that the Fort Denison gauge is intended for day-to-day management of the port and does not take into account any vertical movement in the land.

To show overall sea level rise, he Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level has published the following graph reconstructing sea levels from 1700 to 2000 from data obtained from more than a thousand tide gauges worldwide. (The shadows indicate the range of possible error in the reconstruction.)

Sea levels from 1700 to 2000