Sea Level Science Agency Publishes Response to 'Completely Unwarranted' Attacks from Climate Deniers

Signs on an Australian beach showing future sea levels under certain climate change scenarios

Scientists at a British government-backed agency have formally responded to “completely unwarranted” claims from climate science deniers that they were engaged in a conspiracy to arbitrarily adjust data from tide gauges around the world and misrepresent sea level rise.

A research paper by two Australian climate science deniers claimed the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL), based at the UK’s National Oceanography Center, had “arbitrarily” altered sea level data from Aden, in Yemen.

The research, from Australia-based pair Albert Parker and Cliff Ollier, was published in December 2017 in the new journal, Earth Systems and Environment and reported uncritically by the UK’s MailOnline.

On the right-wing website Breitbart, climate science denier James Delingpole claimed the research was proof scientists at PSMSL had been “caught red-handed tampering with raw data in order to exaggerate sea level rise.”

Delingpole’s story ran under the headline: “Tidalgate: Climate Alarmists Caught Faking Sea Level Rise.” Several climate science denial websites also echoed the claims.

Unfounded Claims

At the time, PSMSL told DeSmog it rejected the claims made by Parker and Ollier. Fact checking website Snopes also checked the claims.

Now PSMSL has placed its criticisms of Parker and Ollier on the record by issuing a response in the same journal.

Dr. Lesley Rickards, the director of the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level, wrote in the journal: “The most serious assertion of the authors is that the PSMSL conspires to make [Revised Local Reference data*] adjustments in an arbitrary way such that sea level appears to be rising faster than it really is. This assertion was picked up by several websites that are keen to comment negatively on climate-related research. It is an assertion that is completely unwarranted.”

Parker, who has no current academic affiliation, and Ollier, a retired professor from the University of Western Australia, had claimed that adjustments to data were “always in the direction to produce a large rise in sea level.”

But Rickards points out that in the case of the Aden data, the most recent review had “resulted in a decrease (and not an increase) in the estimated 19th–20th century rate of sea level change at Aden, contrary to the impression one might obtain from the Parker and Ollier paper.”

Rickard’s response also reveals that PSMSL had emailed Parker almost a week before his paper was submitted, explaining the reasons for a 2013 review of the Aden data.

Throughout the response, Rickard explains how all the data, methodology, and adjustments made by PSMSL are in the public domain, countering claims from climate science deniers of a secretive conspiracy to deceive.

Climate science deniers often make unfounded claims that scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to deliberately “tamper” with data with the intention to make climate change impacts appear worse than they really are.

DeSmog asked Parker to respond to the PSMSL article. Parker did not address the questions, but instead complained he had not been given the chance to respond to the PSMSL article before it was published.

Parker wrote: “Have they received some pressure by somebody interested to suppress the fair peer review? This is certainly a question to pose to the editors. Is the 100 percent consensus only the result of preventing peoples to talk? Or, in tnis [sic] case, authors of peer reviewed and published papers prevented to reply to comments in the same journal?”

In his email response to DeSmog, Parker also CC'ed several climate science deniers and journalists, including James Delingpole, The Australian newspaper’s Graham Lloyd, climate science denial blogger Joanne Nova, and News Corporation commentator Andrew Bolt.

*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: GoGreenerOzCC BY-ND 2.0