The Australian's War on Science 55: Michael Asten

The Australian takes another one of its shots against science with a
piece by Michael Asten who claims:

A recent peer-reviewed paper by Svetlana Jevrejeva from Britain's National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, provides a calculation of 0.6m-1.6m by 2100 using a range of climate models. However, these models also show predicted sea-level change rates of 4.2mm-5.4mm a year for the first decade of the 21st century.

I contrast these predictions with just published observations by Riccardo Riva from Delft in The Netherlands and international colleagues who use satellite technology to measure actual global sea level rise in this same decade to be in the order of 1mm a year, which happens to be about the rate of sea-level increase that has been observed during the past century. In other words, the observational data suggests the problem as modelled may be overstated by a factor of five.

Asten manages to get both papers wrong, as well as showing that he is unaware of what observations of sea level rise show. Here's the graph from the CSIRO that you not likely to ever see in The Australian:


The title of Riva's paper Sea-level fingerprint of continental water and ice mass change from GRACE should have told Asten that Riva was only estimating the sea level change from the change in the mass of the oceans and was not including sea level rise from thermal expansion as the oceans warm, which is the largest factor in current sea level rise.

Asten also gets Jevrejeva et al's paper wrong. The numbers he gives (4.2mm-5.4mm per year for the first decade of the 21st century) appear nowhere in their paper. As far as I can tell, he has estimated these numbers from the graphs in their paper like the one on the right showing a hundred year projection. I tried this myself and got 3mm-6mm a year, taking into account the grey region of uncertainty. Asten has ignored the fact that Jevrejeva's model is fitted to observed changes in sea level, so it is no surprise that it agrees with observations. They write that sea level is "in excellent agreement with available observations".

Even after his errors were pointed out to him, Asten still got it wrong with this inadequate correction (which The Australian chose to publish as a letter, rather than correcting the article):

It has been pointed out to me that I erred in The Australian today, in that in quoting the work of Riccardo Riva I failed to consider the added sea level rise associated with expansion of the oceans as they warm. The discrepancy is smaller than I give (ie, a factor of two to 2.5 rather than 5).

And Asten has form: a year ago he had another article in The Australian which drew a stinging rebuke from the scientists whose work he misrepresented:

In his opinion piece "Climate claims fail science test", Professor Michael Asten has misrepresented our recent research by suggesting that it casts doubt on the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global warming.

Our study, published in the journal Nature, is a reconstruction of atmospheric CO2 levels 33-35 million years ago when the ice cap first appeared on Antarctica. In the paper we clearly state that the results are in line with expectations from climate model simulations and theory on how the global carbon cycle ought to respond to the growth of an ice cap over very long periods of time.

Michael Asten says that climate after the ice cap grew was similar to the present day, despite higher levels of CO2. He ignores a vast amount of geological data to the contrary and our clear and fully referenced statement that the world at this time was 'warmer than today, with no evidence for sustained continental ice caps in the northern hemisphere, and possibly West Antarctica, until much later'.

You'd think that after that, The Australian might have at least fact checked his latest piece, but support for the editorial line is more important than accuracy to The Australian.

As well as misrepresenting the science, Asten also likened his opponents to the scientists who provided support for Nazi Germany's racist policies. See Dorothy Parker's commentary.

Hat tip: Michael Ashley.

Update: Michael Asten responds.

More like this

I didn't score a hat-tip this time? Wow, tough gig :)

By James Haughton (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

You should check out the Joanne Nova "rebuttal" of David McKnight's 11th Dec article, which was (fairly) criticising the AGW-sceptic lobby; in some ways, this is a great follow-on from Mr Asten's masterpiece. She feels that the recent opinion piece by McKnight makes him nothing more than a totalitarian, and complains bitterly about the ad-hominem attacks upon the inaccurately called climate sceptics. Oh the richness of this vein of confected outrage (thanks, John Howard, for that rather useful expression) tapped into by the likes of Nova.

And in her attack upon McKnight, she fails to achieve the very thing she accuses him of failing: to put a climate science fact in an accurate context, ie in support of a claim made by the author.

By Donald Oats (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

Amazing that Monash Uni pays Asten to teach people (I presume that's what he does there). But perhaps things rarely change in geology and it doesn't matter that he can't read scientific papers.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

Sorry James, Michael was first!

Observer, I trust you spotted Goddard's trick to hide the incline.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

If rising sea levels are a problem, then beach-side property values should be collapsing as a consequence.

Happening globally? Not in the Maldives or Tuvalu so far.

Even Boystown continues to sell its beachside dwellings in its lotteries - no sign of any impending loss of property values for beach front locations.

My mother owns a prime beachfront property in Sydney and rising sea level has not deterred the developers from offering obscene amounts of money for selling.

If the impending doom of sea level rise were actually true, then the spivs selling property would have abandoned the game long ago.

Its the spivs selling global warming who have yet to hear the message who have a problem.

By Louis Hissink (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

Geez Louis, so much for the good old days (on Jen's site) when you argued that sea level rise was due to ground-water extraction. Now let me get this straight; it was rising then but isn't now because seaside property values haven't crashed. Notice any inconsistency in your thought bubbles me old gaffer ?

Just can't keep up with how quckly you denidiots tear down your fundamental beliefs only to rebuild them into something completely different. Does my head in.

Hey! That's a very good point. I'm not a scientist and I usually just take an expert's word for it when they're talking about a subject in their field of expertise. But now I'm beginning to doubt all that "doom'n'gloom" stuff about climate change.

After all, why would the fossil fuel lobby keep pushing for inaction on carbon emissions if there really was a problem? Wouldn't the market dictate that the demand for cars, roads, toll-ways, oil, coal, gas etc.. collapse if climate change was real?

It's really that simple. If/when climate change is real the market will tell us.

Although I'm a bit doubtful of your assertion that property prices on Tuvalu are anything to hang your hat on.

Apart from that though, good points. Since when have spivs ever sold things that really aren't a good buy?

Louis Hissink: "impending doom"? Can you not read a graph? Sea level rise will be slow and inexorable. The reason it is so serious is because it is mostly irreversible, and will continue long after we reduce carbon emissions.

Property developers are all about making money today. What will happen in 100 years really doesn't cross their minds (although it should).

By Didactylos (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

Louis Hissink's electric universe doesn't seem to operate inside his cranium.

Now there's an irony for you...

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

Congratulations to Louis Hissink for managing to come up with a new denialist meme. Ignore the fact that every National Academy of Science has released a clear statement of the reality of AGW, the science is not correct because spiv property developers in coastal areas do not believe in it.

For goodness sake, can you stoop much lower?

By GWB's nemesis (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

Hey Louis, would you be interested in buying a bridge?

Would it be wrong to think that global barometric pressure changes would cancel out over time? If not, then shouldn't we look at sea level change without the inverse barometer correction? I think what I'm asking is, for example, if there's a trend in barometric pressure in coastal regions that influences sea level there, then that's really part of what we're interested in. Right?
Obviously I don't know enough about this to ask the question well.

The trend is basically the same without the pressure correction, but there is more variation.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

Thanks Tim. I don't understand why there's so much variation (after seasonality is removed), but it's good to know that there's nothing with long-term importance being hidden by subtraction of the variance.

Louis Hissink:
"If the impending doom of sea level rise were actually true, then the spivs selling property would have abandoned the game long ago."

You answer your own question by calling them SPIVS!
I'm always amazed how often some people shoot their own feet with their own comments.

But in any case, I would suggest 'beach' properties are under longer term threat. Regional effects aren't necessarily going to reflect the global scene, I think most intelligent people are going to be aware of that.

Given your own personal conviction about your scientific abilities, I would have thought you wouldn't be making such trivial comments about regional implications of sea level rise.

>*Oh look, the always gullible Andrew Bolt was taken in.*

I guess Bolt didn't read Asten's inadequate retraction that the Oz hid in the letters section. Double embarrassment for NewsCorp.

Michael Asten thought climate scientists are saying CO2 is the sole cause of "climate change" (I presume he means global warming). He said "it actually lags temperature change at every point" while ignoring the elephant in the room that it is massively leading temperature change at the moment. If there's a 100 ppm rise in CO2 recently (comparable with the rise at the end of an ice age), where was the temperature rise comparable with the end of an ice-age 1,500 years ago that caused this?

He also makes the intellectually dishonest argument that if a restricted set of places were as warm in the MWP then the whole world must have been as warm. He also gives the impression that because the rate of warming in one place (the Swiss Alps) was comparable in the MWP then the rate of global warming was also comparable in the MWP. There is, of course, absolutely no evidence of the rate and magnitude of GLOBAL warming that has happened in the last 40 years happening during the MWP.

At least he didn't fall for the "cooling in the last X years" argument, so his mathematical understanding is OK. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for his scientific understanding.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 19 Dec 2010 #permalink

I see that Bolt has made a change (very hidden) in his post to cover his "mistake" - nothing obvious because he would not want to draw attention to the fact that he (and the original article) made a mistake. Go figure.

Chris, it always amazes me that people who can understand that CO2 will rise as a consequence of temperature rise fail to be concerned that, quite logically, CO2 will rise beyond the contribution of emissions and deforestation that, in the current case have been preceding temperature rise. Temperature rise leads to CO2 rise, no matter the initial trigger. This particular phenomena, far from being an assurance of nothing to worry about, is in fact reason to be deeply alarmed.

By Ken Fabos (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink

Temperature rise leads to CO2 rise, no matter the initial trigger. This particular phenomena, far from being an assurance of nothing to worry about, is in fact reason to be deeply alarmed.

Indeed the warming of the oceans will reduce the oceans' ability to absorb CO2 and I believe this is already happening with the surface layers that are absorbing CO2 now. I'd guess that it won't actually reach the point where the CO2 concentration in the deep oceans will actually decline because of rising temperature because the higher CO2 level in the atmosphere will counteract this. But the oceans will absorb a lot less CO2 than they would have if they had not warmed.

It's interesting that the oceans currently hold a similar amount of anthropogenic CO2 as the atmosphere, 100 ppm, and this is similar to the amount they released coming out of the last ice-age. Of course, the anthropogenic 100 ppm the oceans hold now is concentrated near the surface while the extra 100 ppm they held in the last ice-age would have been distributed much more evenly.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 20 Dec 2010 #permalink