GLOUCESTER POINT, 5 May 2013 (Richmond Times-Dispatch) – For years, computer simulations have predicted that climate change will cause East Coast sea levels to rise at an increasingly rapid rate.
In a 2010 study, Virginia Institute of Marine Science oceanographer John Boon looked at decades of tide-gauge readings for evidence of this ever-faster-rising water.
Boon didn’t find the accelerating sea levels, and he was skeptical that they existed.
But using a more sophisticated statistical method, Boon looked at the tide-gauge readings again in a 2012 study. This time, he found that sea levels are indeed rising at an increasing rate from Norfolk to Nova Scotia.
To a layman, this might look like a flip-flop. But to scientists, this is how the job is done.
“A skeptic is basically a normal scientist at work,” said Boon, 73. “You look at the evidence and say, ‘I need to be convinced.’”
Boon added that he was a skeptic — not a denier.
Two other studies last year, by Old Dominion University and the U.S. Geological Survey, also found rising sea-level rates along much of the East Coast. Using differing methodologies, the three studies in effect validated each other.
The studies portend a major threat to cities such as Norfolk, New York, and Boston. Sea levels there aren’t going up in a straight line but are climbing increasingly fast, the way a debt can soar with compound interest.
In low-lying Norfolk, neighborhoods are flooding more frequently during storms. Rising seas mean more flooding, more property damage and the prospect of people having to find new homes.
Using 1992 as a starting point, Boon projects that the sea level at Norfolk could rise about 2 feet by 2050.
That follows thousands of years in which the sea level went up only about a foot a century.
Boon said that if present trends continue, 2 feet could go up to nearly 6 feet by 2100. That would be devastating for coastal Virginia, but Boon said he is much less confident in projections that far off.
Some people who don’t believe in climate change seized on Boon’s first study as proof that they were right, said Carl Hershner, a Virginia Institute of Marine Science professor who relies heavily on Boon’s work to relate sea-level issues to the public.
“There were people who were only too happy to say, ‘Aha, your own scientists don’t see this in the data,’” Hershner said, declining to name names.
Hershner praised Boon’s approach. “Having drawn a conclusion and reported it, he did not feel like his reputation depended on always having that particular perspective.” [more]