December 13, 2022

More Climate Misinformation and Factual Errors in the Seattle Times. Should You Care?

Perhaps I should not read the Seattle Times anymore.  

During the past weeks, there have been several climate-related stories and opinion/cartoon pieces that are just plain wrong.  Clear factual errors, or hyping/exaggerating the impacts of global warming.

And there are dozens of additional examples of profound errors in Seattle Times climate pieces over the years, several discussed in this blog.   Newspapers should be about communicating the truth, not advocacy of a certain politized viewpoint.  

The citizens of a democracy must be well informed about important issues of the day, with newspapers playing an important role.  As shown below, the Seattle Times is failing in its responsibilities.  

Worse than that, the Times has suppressed information contradictory to their problematic information.

Let me provide some recent examples.

Is Climate Change Inundating the Quinault Nation on the Central Washington Coast?

It started with an article about how the Feds are providing funds to move a Quilayute Village away from the coast because of climate change:  The ST claimed that rising sea level and stronger storms resulting from global warming was the cause.

The article is quite specific about this:

And the Seattle Times doesn't stop there.    Seattle Times editorial cartoonist David Horsey has a "Climate Carol".   Nearly all of it is wrong.

 

And he makes the claim about the Quinault village.  The ocean is rising and coastlines are sinking from climate change.  And yes storms are getting bigger.

The problem?  None of this is true.  And it can be PROVEN not to be true.

Let's start with the claims that storms on the Washington Coast have increased.  This is not true.  To illustrate below is the plot of the annual maximum sustained wind (blue color) and wind gusts (red line) on the Washington Coast for roughly the last 50 years.   No long-term trend.
The same is true of other parameters (like the lowest pressure on the coast).  Storms are not getting stronger  The UW Climate Impact Group examined regional climate models for the upcoming century (link here) and found no increase in storms in our region: 

"The global model ensemble confirms the results from the regional climate models, with no consistent trend toward more extreme wind storms over western Washington in future climate projections"

What about the claims about sea level going up on the Washington Coast due to global warming?

Well, it turns out that sea level is no rising because the land is rising!  Yes, the ocean water levels are going up slowly as the earth warms up.   But if the land rises, the actual water level on the coast can stay the same or go down.

The coastal terrain of Washington is RISING, with sea level going DOWN or steady.

There are two reasons for this.   One has to do with the deep glacial ice that covered the northern Olympic Peninsula, pushing down the land.  When the glaciers melted out about 16,000 years ago, the land started to rebound upward.  And it is still rebounding.


Along the coast, another geological feature is contributing to the coastal land being pushed up:  the subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate under the North American plate (see figure). As the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is pushed downward, coastal land is elevated.


In fact, using very sophisticated GPS-derived measurements, the Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array has found the area around the Quinault coast village in question is rising around 2 mm per year (see below). 

Based on satellite altimetry, sea level rise offshore has been about 2 mm per year (see results from 1993-2020 below).   Again, global warming is contributing to this.

Based on this information, you would not expect much sea level rise along our coast because the land is rising.  But let's check the data from NOAA.

NOAA has a sea level trend website with data from three local coastal sites (Astoria, Neah Bay, and Toke Point near Westport).   Neah Bay and Astoria have the longest records (back to about 1930).


Neah Bay, on the northwest side of the Olympic Peninsula, has sea level DROPPING by 1.74 mm a year.  Small uncertainly compared to the trend (+-.27 mm/year)

Astoria has a decline in sea level as well, but much less (.16 mm a year) and the uncertainty is larger than the trend.  

Toke Point near Westport, has a much shorter record (starts mid-70s).  It nominally shows a small rising trend (.38 mm a year), but the uncertainty is large (twice the trend).  The problem with such a short record is the trend would change with a slightly different start date).  For example, starting around 1980 there is essentially no trend.


Or take a look at the La Push tide gauge for the past two decades (see monthly values below).  LaPush is very close to the Quinault village in question. There is no upward trend in the monthly peaks.




The bottom line in all this is the Seattle Times' claims of global warming causing more flooding at Quinault coastal village is clearly bogus.  Sea level is not rising much on the coast (and falling at many locations) and storms that would push water onto the coast are not increasing.

In another blog, I will describe the factual errors in another recent Seattle Times article, claiming that global warming is causing a "tipping point".for Western Red Cedars.  You will be stunned by how sloppy the article was.

Seattle Times Censorship of Contradictory Viewpoints.

This is, perhaps the first  "Twitter files" for the Seattle Times climate coverage.  On some of their problematic articles, I have occasionally left some comments, providing information about the actual state of scientific knowledge.   I have published over 150 papers, many on Northwest weather and climate.

Imagine how surprised I was to find that the Seattle Times removed all my comments from all articles and froze my ability to leave anymore.   Below is the message.   They were accusing me of providing disinformation about climate change.  


I protested this obvious ploy to silence differing viewpoints and asked for a single example of my making a scientific error.  Crickets.   I finally emailed the management of the Seattle Times and that led to them reversing the decision.

David Horsey is constantly doing editorial cartoons on climate.  The Seattle Times has been unhappy about folks' comments about his "work" and they now forbid comments.  Here is their message:

Editor’s note: Seattle Times Opinion no longer appends comment threads on David Horsey’s cartoons. Too many comments violated our community policies and reviewing the dozens that were flagged as inappropriate required too much of our limited staff time.

You have to feel sorry for the Seattle Times.   Because it took too much time to moderate/censor the comments about the Horsey work, they kill the ability to leave comments.

I learned a lot about the Seattle Times' censorship of conflicting views, with their Sea Change article in 2012.   They claimed that increasing CO2 was killing baby oysters in factory facilities.  It wasn't true and the oyster business has done quite well during the last decade.  But I criticized their science in a blog at that time and they stopped talking to me after that. 

The strange thing is that I used to have a very close relationship with the Seattle Times when they cared about the truth.  When they had dedicated science journalists like Hill Williams and Dedtra Henderson.  They wanted to get the facts right.   But things have changed in the newspaper.

Anyway, the decline of science coverage and the move to climate-change advocacy at the Seattle Times has not been in the best interest of anyone, particularly the Times.  They are misinforming the public.  Global warming is a serious issue that requires a fact and a science-based response.   


50 comments:

  1. You say "move a Quilayute Village" but that's a different tribe in a different location.
    Per the EPA, "Taholah is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, and river flooding – all of which are expected to worsen with climate change. The village is also concerned with the potential threat of tsunamis (which has not been scientifically connected to climate change). " https://www.epa.gov/arc-x/quinault-indian-nation-plans-relocation . You may disagree with EPA's assessment but the Times isn't wrong to mirror that assessment.

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    1. I meant Quinault. Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out. Tsunamis ARE a good reason to move the village. That is what the article should have stressed. Not climate change!

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    2. Cliff- I really enjoy your blog and presentation of data driven science. Global warming could be causing increased river flooding at their village. It's well documented that the Anderson Glacier at the head waters of the Quinault River has disappeared in the last few decades due to global warming. The meadow at Enchanted Valley along Quinault River has shrunk by 60% due to the river having higher flows with higher sediment loads. It’s possible that Lake Quinault buffers out the increased flow and higher sediment loads. But if the lake is not buffering out the higher flows increase bank erosion would be expected between the lake and the Pacific. My guess would be that diving into the science of exactly how global warming is impacting the village is more than the EPA’s committee had the resources to do.

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    3. Yes, I understand that they actually had to move the Enchanted Valley Chalet a couple years ago to save it from the river. I have been there.

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  2. ps - forgot to add the comment that spurred me to write again (let my own grudge get in the way), you said nearly everything in the Horsey cartoon is wrong. Now ignoring the fact that you're griping about the accuracy of an editorial cartoon, in my first read through it I can find a few exaggerations (again, it's an editorial cartoon) and inaccurate information about the Quinault land based on what you explained above, but the majority of the lines appear to be backed by pretty strong consensus views, including ones you yourself have reiterated many times (climate change is real, glaciers on Rainier are melting). So "nearly all of it is wrong" seems again to be an exaggeration to fit a narrative.

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    1. John...there are many other examples of errors in that cartoon, but I used the Quinault village part in my blog.

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    2. For example, the fact there will be palm trees near the North Pole due to climate change. You think that is true?

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    3. Can't the North Pole penguins fly a coconut up there if it's attached to a string?

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    4. Is it a consensus view that being hugged by Polar Bear on ice while standing in water in a bathing suit is good science? The cartoonist forgot the bottle of Coca-Cola®.

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    5. Touché! Also people hugging with a polar bear is not realistic. Polar bears are wild animals and do not cuddle with people!

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    6. Yeah, let's lay off of Horsey. He's mainly trying to amuse us...

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  3. Cliff your efforts over the years to call this out have been admirable. But there's nothing you can say or do that will change this. These folks have an agenda and it's no longer reporting facts or the truth. It's about drama, and drama sells. All one can do is turn it off and hope it dies by starvation. Unfortunately it will take 2 to 3 generations to undo the damage.

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    1. You may be right...but one has to try to get facts and truth into the public domain.

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    2. It's more than drama, it's the totalitarian fascist left wing cult that has taken over much of media, education, and politics. It doesn't matter if you are a far right christian, a libertarian, conservative, liberal or even left leaning liberal, if you speak out against the established narrative you will be censored, silenced, even canceled. Facts don't matter anymore. Just like with climate change, anything regarding covid and vaccines receives the same treatment. Prominent figures in the medical community have had their board certification removed for speaking out against what the CDC, Dr Fauci, and the media have decided is the "truth". We are living in perilous times and I take my hat off to people like you who aren't afraid to speak out. I rant and rave all the time but I am a nobody, you are a public figure and not only have a lot to lose and are more of a threat to the fascist cult. Cudos, Professor Maas!

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    3. It is not about creating a false, alarmist narrative to sell. The people writing these stories believe they are telling the truth - and not just that - one they believe is crucially important and feel strongly about. Unfortunately they are just lay-people though who simply pigeonhole into pre-existing, popular advocacy-designed templates, of which there is a highly developed one regarding global warming. It's madlibs, but this is how all news works. Lately it just seems much of media fancies themselves as some sort of righteous crusaders though so it makes the unexamined, lazy narrative all the more dangerous and glaring precisely because it is NOT cynical. It's very much like how religious institutions used to rule the masses.

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  4. Cliff, I just came here to point out that in 2012 and the years following there was a massive die off in artificial oyster production across the entire west coast. The source was traced to an influx of carbonic acid laden water from upwellings off the coast. Many facilities that were pumping deep sea water into their facilities were hit hard and only recovered by beginning to buffer incoming water. Inland areas were not hit as hard and the effects were offset by larger than average recruitment in natural estuarine environments that have a natural buffering capacity. The oyster business has been going well since then but was indeed effected by rising oceanic CO2 and still is. I know this because I produce oysters artificially and have to deal with these issues in real time. If you're gonna talk disinformation maybe make sure that information you post in your blog is indeed factual. Ask an oyster farmer. We know because its our job. speaking of jobs, my job is often much easier because of the great job you do explaining the weather forecast. Id love to see more of that and less opinion pieces. Just saying

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    1. I have spoken to folks in your business, and I think I have the facts right. I confirmed this with local experts at the UW and NOAA. The problem in 2012 was strong upwelling (which is natural) and intake of low pH water that caused problems at the oyster hatcheries. Once they realized their mistake (with help from my colleagues at the UW), the problem was resolved. It was NOT due to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (the upwelled water is old water...in contact with the atmosphere decades before). Anyway, if I got any of this wrong, let me know. Particularly, explain how rising CO2 is directly influencing your oyster production. Glad you find the blog useful...cliff

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    2. Right, and as I said before it was CO2 IN THE WATER, not necessarily the atmosphere that was causing the issue. I'm sure these upwelling events occur from time to time naturally, however in your blog you stated that it was NOT TRUE that CO2 caused a die off. I'm here to point out that it was indeed true. Whether or not climate change is ultimately responsible I will leave up to the experts. The fact of the matter remains that acidic water kills oysters. I would just be careful with your wording I suppose, especially in a blog meant to address disinformation. Looking forward to your next post on the upcoming weather forecasts!

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    3. My point is that increasing CO2 is NOT the problem. It wasn't the problem in 2012. If CO2 in the atmosphere was the same as 50 years ago, the situation would be the same. They made an error in pulling in primo upwelled water during the morning. The waters are NOT acidic. They will NEVER be acidic. There has been a small decline in pH but the water is still basic.

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    4. You are correct, ocean waters are basic. When I used the term "acidic" it was more in relative terms. I should be more careful of my wording. I should have said lower than average pH kills oysters.
      I guess what is sticking in my craw about this is the die offs were directly linked to raised CO2 content in the WATER. The cause of the upwelling events remains to be seen. I'm more than willing to believe that they are part of a natural cycle that remained hidden until it caused the problems we saw. My issue is that in your blog you said:

      "They claimed that increasing CO2 was killing baby oysters in factory facilities. It wasn't true and the oyster business has done quite well during the last decade."

      All I'm saying is that increased CO2 in upwelled waters DID cause problems. It was true, whether or not it was directly linked to climate change and atmospheric CO2 levels. I never read that Seattle Times article and any baseless claims made regarding the incident indeed deserve to be elaborated on.
      All I ask is that you update your blog to reflect all of the points you made here in these replies as the current wording of it reads like a denial that there even was an issue.

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  5. Ride bicycles more, drive less.

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    1. You remind me of Mike McGinn, once Seattle's mayor by way of Brooklyn. He appeared in my neighborhood when I lived there, and like all of the "progressives," he brought a bunch of ringers with him. One of them said that anyone from 7 to 70 can ride a bicycle. When I told him that I have multiple sclerosis and cannot ride a bike, he smirked.

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  6. "Perhaps I should not read the Seattle Times anymore."

    No one else is reading that rag, so why bother? Like the rest of the MSM, they have one foot in the La Brea Tar Pits, and the other is already a couple of inches deep.

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  7. Coastal land rise is an interesting argument to make w.r.t. the impacts of sea-level rise. When discussing AGW we are typically thinking of 50-100 year timescales, right? What are the odds of the next Cascadia subduction earthquake over that same period? Based on historical recurrence, the odds must be approaching 50/50 over the next century, or somewhere in that ballpark. When the big subduction event happens, all of the coastal land rise will be given up to start the cycle anew, i.e. land rise/fall is a cyclic phenomenon. Thus, isn't it at least a little disingenuous to juxtapose that against sea-level rise, a phenomenon which is not expected to reverse for the forseeable future (centuries)?

    This does not invalidate your other points, of course.

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    1. Walter Szeliga, a UW professor, modeled out the Fukushima earthquake GPS data, translated onto our similarly locked Juan de Fuca fault zone. In the event that it next ruptures, WA's Ocean Shores could be thrust 150ft west, and 30ft down.

      The fault last ruptured in 1700, with an average of every 500 years for a full length rupture (Every 250 years for the southern portion, off Oregon/CA).

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    2. A valid point. Thanks for making it. Coseismic subsidence in the event of a subduction event is likely to be at least 1 meter and possibly as much as 2 meters, from Central Coastal Oregon to Central Coastal Washington, based on research done studying previous events. http://cascadiageo.org/documentation/literature/cascadia_papers/leonard_etal_2004_subsidence.pdf

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  8. Thanks for debunking this Cliff. This story has been on CBS news 2 or 3 times, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/quileute-tribe-climate-change/ . Always with very emotional content but never any empirical data. I'm glad the tribe is getting a new school. They need to be terrified of a tsunami, not sea level rise, since it is negative in their area. Shame on the Seattle Times. We have anchored our sailboat in Neah Bay a couple of times, but never been into La Push.

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  9. A famous science writer once said he wouldn't contest bad science articles from Vox any more, because "They can publish as many bad articles as they want, & I lose reputation each time I try to review them. Effective Gish Gallop strategy."
    The same thing is happening here.

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  10. Great blog for when you want some facts about the case - thanks!

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  11. It is honestly pretty frustrating that climate change gets blamed for situations like this. River mouths and barrier islands are inherently unstable and building permanent settlements on them will still be a bad idea even if we magically reduce atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels. Blaming all weather we don't like on climate change is one of the stupidest things that has happened to journalism in the last 15-20 years.

    (The real issue here is that federal policy effectively forced the tribes to build permanent settlements in these places so for that reason it is entirely reasonable for the feds to foot the bill to move the towns. That's an actual interesting story yet we get this dumb framing instead.)

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  12. Thank you for your objective and science-backed reporting. There's too much propaganda out there to fit narratives and actual facts and science becomes completely lost.

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  13. Cliff, do you believe that climate change is currently threatening and/or will threaten the Quinault Indian Nation?

    Tectonic uplift is a much larger factor than isostatic rebound on the coast. It is caused by the plates being stuck together in torsion. When the tension between the plates is released during periodic large earthquakes, the uplift that occurred since the previous earthquake is suddenly lost, dropping something like 6-8ft.

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  14. A bit off topic, but the winderground forcast is showing snow almost everyday next week with totals of 12" or so for the week in the Hood Canal area.
    I know it is a ways out, but...what's up with that ?

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  15. Can we please just let this go? The Seattle Times never explicitly had a defined purpose to provide the truth or any other media outlet for that matter. Thier job is to make money, first and foremost. By selling subscriptions, advertising and maybe even print editions. It's all info-tainment and echo chambers. Cliff, you are well aware that other individuals take your science that you so diligently provide and twist it to push their own agendas. Well, there is no law against it and the same goes for the Seattle Times twisting information to appeal to their customers. This is the USA. MONEY UBER ALLES. Truth? Yah, that doesn't sell.

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  16. Cliff, you're right about this specific story of course. But at some point the Washington coastline will start to see impacts from sea level rise and those won't be mitigated by the geologic factors you mention. Right?

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    1. That is not clear. the land will continue to rise and so far sea level rise has been steady with little acceleration. I am optimistic that we will slowly move to non-fossil fuel energy and our coastal areas will remain intact.

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    2. The land will only continue to rise until the next great subduction-zone earthquake, which can reasonably be expected in a similar time-frame to the worst impacts of AGW. At that point, all of the land uplift will be given up and we will be back at year-1700 elevations, while the sea-level rise will still be in effect. I don't know if sea-level rise will be particularly significant on the west coast generally, but claiming that subduction-caused uplift will cancel it out is pretty misleading, no?

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  17. Thank you Cliff for your continued efforts ...what you do on this blog is extremely important. .

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  18. The Legacy media has been a disappointment. But encouraging new sources of information have emerged (you're reading one now) that are quite promising. On the whole I am encouraged and hopeful for our future--well, at least today I am.

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  19. Cliff. You're right, you should stop reading the ST. But you should also give your "science" a rest. People know what they are experiencing. What we are experiencing is different from the way it used to be. Case in point- I grew up in Indiana. There used to be a "Tornado Season" But that has changed. See the headlines about Tornados in Alabama? That's change. You may be able to explain with graphs and data, but that doesn't change what people experience.

    I believe in Science, I believe in Education, I believe in Empirical Data. But none of that helps me to believe that Humans are in serious trouble.

    I've seen it, I've experienced it. It's happening. BTW, the models aren't always right. Just the way it is.

    Happy Hanukkah.

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    1. How is it possible to read this as anything but a religious chant? It's a "in this house we believe" sign copy-pasted to the internet with no indication of conscious thought behind it. Terrifying.

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  20. How audacious and maddening that a highly respected scientist with a substantial record of publishing in esteemed peer-reviewed journals was, for a time, booted from offering his expertise to The Seattle Times. I hope that in restoring your commenting rights, the Seattle Times offered an apology and acknowledged the error in booting you.

    I am not a Ph.D. scientist, but I have on several occasions comments rejected or removed from mainstream news sites (and have also had many other comments selected as "New York Times picks", a testament to their "quality"), comments that strike me as innocuous as a baby blanket. I can only imagine that the comment moderators are hypersensitive risk-averse 20-something ninnies who, as my grandma would often say, "don't know their butts from their elbows" (an analogy that would no doubt be banned from many news sites).

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  21. I too, lament the loss of the Anderson Glacier. However, we only witnessed the last gasp of the original glacier which extended downstream of White Creek, according to trimlines on the valley wall. The glacier has been receding since long before humans started photographing the glacier in the 1920s, and probably several hundreds of years before industrialization effects. The nearby Lindsley Glacier is still contributing a good amount of icy water to the system, although it is in rapid retreat.

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  22. Looking at the model forecasts for the upcoming weather event, it's understandable that the forecasters at NWS Seattle are hedging their bets.

    For up here in Bellingham, the snow depth forecasts next Thursday are 0" - ICON model, 2" - ECMWF, 4" - GFS and the GEM is going for 12-16 inches. That's quite a range!

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  23. Who's worried about our coast, with its high, rocky bluffs to provide protection? Not me! I'm worried about the Everglades, Florida's beaches, Hatteras Island, Padre Island, the Bahamas, Tuvalu, etc. etc.

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  24. Thank you for fighting the good fight for truth.

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  25. don't forget the subduction sea level rise will reverse abrubtly one day..and cause flooding.

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    1. even if that is true, it would have little to do with climate change

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    2. True, but subduction is responsible for 1mm/yr on the charts you published, half or more of the total. And, looking at historical geologic spring back shows it is going asymptotically toward zero.

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  26. Scientific American Nov. 2022 article on Antarctic Collapse if correct will make uplifting insignificant. And it could happen sooner than expected.

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