Exclusive: Global Sea Level Data Agency Hits Back After Unfounded Attacks from Breitbart and Climate Science Deniers

Australian beach with signs showing potential levels of sea rise in 2030 and 2050

A British government-backed research project that coordinates data from tide gauges around the world has hit back at climate science deniers who wrongly accused their scientists of faking findings.

The Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level, based in Liverpool, UK, at the National Oceanography Center, dismissed the claims made by two Australia-based scientists who both reject the well-established links between greenhouse gas emissions from human activity and global warming.

The claims gained wider attention after Breitbart’s James Delingpole, a climate science denier, screamed it was certain evidence PSMSL had been “caught red-handed tampering with raw data in order to exaggerate sea level rise.”

PSMSL said despite the claims, tide gauges and satellites showed that sea levels around the globe were rising and the rate of rise had increased in recent decades. Recent adjustments to the tide gauge data under scrutiny, in Yemen, had actually resulted in a decrease in the rate of sea level change, a spokesperson said.

The paper by Albert Parker and Cliff Ollier appeared in the new “open access” journal Earth Systems and Environment and claimed that data from a tide gauge in Aden, Yemen, did not show that sea levels there had risen.

As well as gaining attention from far right outlet Breitbart, the “research” was also covered uncritically by the UK’s MailOnline, which repeated the claim that PSMSL had made “arbitrary” adjustments to their data.

But senior scientists who are experts in sea level, and who spoke to Snopes and DeSmog, rubbished the claims, saying the study was flawed because the conclusions were unsupported by any methodology.

Unintelligible Research

Leading sea level scientist Dr. John Hunter told DeSmog the research was “close to being unintelligible.”

A spokersperson for PSMSL, at the National Oceanography Center, told DeSmog that MailOnline had approached them for comment, but published the story before scientists had a chance to respond. No other outlets contacted them to check.

The spokesperson wrote: “Any adjustment applied is never ‘arbitrary’ but is based on documentation of benchmark heights held by the PSMSL stretching back many years. An ongoing job of the PSMSL is to determine whether the adjustments made are correct, especially when new documentation becomes available or if there is a reanalysis of the existing documentation.”

PSMSL said the Aden, Yemen, gauge was assessed in 2008 and again in 2013 and this information was published on the PSMSL website.

The 2013 reassessment resulted in a decrease (and not an increase) in the estimated 19th-20th century rate of sea level change at Aden,” the spokesperson wrote, adding that PSMSL was submitting a response to the journal.

Global sea level is both rising and accelerating, and the data set compiled by PSMSL provides important input to this. This is detailed in the IPCC AR5 report chapters 3 and 13 … Specifically, PSMSL data inform us that sea level has risen by about 1-2 mm/year during the 20th century, and together with data from satellites, the rate over the last couple of decades has been over 3 mm/yr.”

Dr. John Hunter, a renowned expert on global sea level rise from the University of Tasmania, has analysed the Parker paper. He told DeSmog it was “hard to be sure what [Parker] has done” with the data because the paper, like others by the same author, were “close to being unintelligible.”

But he said the PSMSL broadly made two kinds of adjustments to data, which were “not arbitrary” but necessary.

One type of adjustment was to take the raw data and convert this to an average sea level height over a particular time period. A second was essentially a calibration exercise that matched the height of the zero mark on the tide gauge to a fixed point on the land.

Hunter said: “Broadly, PSMSL base the adjustments on whatever trustworthy information they have — if they don't have satisfactory information, then they don't convert that section of record from Metric to [Revised Local Reference data*]. They document what they do and why they do it.

On the other hand, Parker's papers are often close to being unintelligible, so it is hard to be sure what he has done.

Parker and Ollier (2017) appear to completely ignore the background information and instead fiddle around with the sea-level records only, matching break-points as best they can, using techniques which tend to yield adjusted records with virtually no trend.”

Hunter added that tide gauges and satellites all showed that sea levels were rising, and there was good understanding that this was being caused by thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

Who is Albert Parker?

Dr. Albert Parker is a mechanical engineer and former Fiat motor company researcher who, as reported by DeSmog, has also published papers under the name Alberto Boretti. He appears to have begun using the name Parker in about 2013 — around the time he took a role at RMIT University, which he has since left.

Boretti has refused to say why he uses two different names. Boretti and his sometime research partner Cliff Ollier, of University of Western Australia, are both listed as members of Principia Scientific International.

PSI is a fringe climate science denial group that publishes materials that deny that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

Parker is prolific with his research and tends to target little-known and poorly regarded journals.

In early 2017, Parker and Ollier claimed that Australia had not warmed since the end of the 1800s, even though all temperature data shows a clear warming. The pair again argued that data, this time temperature readings, was being nefariously altered.

Journals Under Investigation

Parker and Ollier have co-authored several papers in a separate journal, Environmental Science: An Indian Journal, where the pair have also argued against human-caused climate change.

The publication Environmental Science: An Indian Journal is run by an organization called Trade Science Inc, which is owned by Indian “open access” publisher, OMICS.

OMICS is currently under investigation by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for alleged deceptive practices. The FTC is questioning OMICS claims that its journals are properly peer-reviewed, and the agency alleges deceptive marketing practices. OMICS denies the allegations.

A brochure advertising the network of OMICS trading names includes Trade Science Inc, and a contact address for Trade Science Inc is the same as OMICS International’s headquarters in Hyderabad.

Parker has had several university affiliations in recent years, including RMIT, the now defunct University of Ballarat, and James Cook University.  In his latest research he listed no academic affiliation.

In 2013, Parker wrote a paper with a fellow Australian, Thomas Watson, again arguing that sea levels were not rising. 

Watson also thinks global warming is not caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, but instead says the Earth’s climate is controlled by “magnetism.”

*Revised Local Reference data are used in time series analyses ”[i]n order to construct time series of sea level measurements at each station,” according to PSMSL.

Main image: One prediction of where rising sea levels could end up at Cottesloe Beach, Perth, Western Australia. Credit: GoGreenerOz (CC BY-ND 2.0)