Error-ridden University of Arizona press release hypes studyby Jonathan DuHamel on Jul. 16, 2011, under Climate change
It is sometimes amusing to see how scientific papers are promoted by university communications departments. The study in question is modestly titled “The role of ocean thermal expansion in Last Interglacial sea level rise.” (Full citation below.) That’s not nearly as exciting as the alarmist headline of the press release:”Rising Oceans – Too Late to Turn the Tide?”
I don’t have a problem with the basic premise of the paper itself but I do have a problem with the press release . The basic premise of the paper is “Melting ice sheets contributed much more to rising sea levels than thermal expansion of warming ocean waters during the Last Interglacial Period.” I agree.
Within the press release is this sentence: “But the question remains: How much of that will be due to ice sheets melting as opposed to the oceans’ 332 billion cubic miles of water increasing in volume as they warm up?” 332 BILLION? That is hyperbole since the actual volume of the ocean is 332 MILLION cubic miles (see here and here). Okay, maybe that’s just a typo, but should not communications departments proofread their papers and have enough scientific knowledge to recognize a mistake, especially if they write about scientific research?
But apparently the English language is also a challenge. Consider this sentence that captions an accompanying photo: “If sea levels rose to where they were during the Last Interglacial Period, large parts of the Gulf of Mexico would be under water…” The Gulf of Mexico is water. Of course the intended meaning is that if sea level rose, then the land along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico would be flooded.
And, there is this almost obligatory agenda-driven sentence in the press release: “As the world’s climate becomes warmer due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sea levels are expected to rise by up to three feet by the end of this century.” If the writer of the press release or the authors of the paper have some physical evidence that greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, cause significant warming, I would be most grateful to learn of such evidence because I have yet to find any.
The contention that sea level will rise at least three feet by the end of the century is highly speculative. The rate of sea level rise is decreasing in spite of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Questionable statements and spin in press releases are not confined to the University of Arizona. Unfortunately, this practice is becoming too common, perhaps in an effort to grab headlines and grants. It would be nice to see press releases written in the “Dragnet style:” just the facts Ma’am.
McKay, N., J. T. Overpeck, and B. Otto-Bliesner (2011). The role of ocean thermal expansion in Last Interglacial sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2011GL048280, in press.
Update: I notice that the University of Arizona has corrected the two errors that I pointed out in its press release. Good for them.