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Vision Prize: scientists are worried the IPCC is underestimating sea level rise

Posted on 18 February 2014 by dana1981

The Vision Prize is an online survey of scientists about climate risk. It's an impartial and independent research platform for incentivized polling of experts on important scientific issues that are relevant to policymakers. Some of their previous survey results have found that about 90 percent of participating scientists believe that humans are the primary cause of global warming over the past 250 years.

In its latest survey, the Vision Prize asked participants questions about technologies to limit climate change, and about the latest IPCC report. Two of these questions asked about the likelihood that global average sea level will rise less than the IPCC lowest estimate (0.25 meters, or 10 inches), or more than the IPCC highest estimate (0.91 meters, or 3 feet) by 2100. These estimates are about 60 percent higher than in the 2007 IPCC report, which intentionally left out dynamic processes that cause effects like the calving of ice shelves into the ocean, because at the time they were not well understood. As expected, research has shown that the previous IPCC report underestimated the rate of sea level rise.

The Vision Prize results revealed that despite the much higher sea level rise estimates this time around, the survey participants are worried that the IPCC is still underestimating future sea level rise. 41 percent responded that it's likely or very likely that sea level rise will exceed the IPCC highest estimate, and 71 percent answering that it's at least as likely as not. Conversely, only 5 percent responded that it's likely sea level rise will be less than the IPCC lowest estimate, and 83 percent called this scenario unlikely.

Vision Prize sea level question answers

These results broadly agree with a recent survey carried out by scientists in Germany and the US. In this survey, 90 researchers who'd published sea level research in the last 5 years concluded that sea level rise by 2100 is likely to be between 0.7 and 1.2 meters if we continue on a business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions path. Two-thirds of the experts responded that sea level could rise more than the upper end of the IPCC's projected range by 2100, consistent with the Vision Prize survey results.

On the other hand, if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced strongly, the experts expected sea level rise to be between 0.4 and 0.6 meters by 2100. These results suggest that the Vision Prize participants may be pessimistic that we'll transition away from a business-as-usual emissions path.

Another Vision Prize question asked about the IPCC estimate of the planet's sensitivity to the increased greenhouse effect. The latest IPCC report estimated that the planet will eventually warm between 1.5 and 4.5°C in response to the increased greenhouse effect if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles. The 2007 IPCC report put the estimate at 2 to 4.5°C, but the three IPCC reports before that and the 1979 Charney Report had all estimated a 1.5 to 4.5°C climate sensitivity.

In the Wall Street Journal, climate contrarian Matt Ridley claimed that the change from the 2007 report to the latest version,

"...points to the very real possibility that, over the next several generations, the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet."

Vision Prize participants were asked whether they agreed with this interpretation of the revised IPCC estimate. 72 percent strongly disagreed, 87 percent disagreed, and only 9 percent agreed with Ridley's interpretation. Although the lower end of the estimated climate sensitivity range decreased back to a value consistent with expert estimates made between 1979 and 2007, this in no way suggests that climate change might be beneficial.

In terms of climate solutions, the latest Vision Prize poll reveals that carbon capture and storage is not thought likely to have a short-term impact. Just 16 percent of those surveyed believe the technology will measurably affect the global climate by 2050, and only 4 percent would choose this approach as a top priority for large private investment attempting to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. When it came to this type of spending, distributed renewables were the most popular choice, closely followed by energy efficiency. In third place was next-generation nuclear power.

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. The Vision Project results are revealing. It is clear that there is a very conservative bias in the attribution of effect of poorly understood, but potentially significant feedbacks.The following image shows that a significant portion of the polled scientists expect a warming signal that would necessarily result in a final 2100 TCR of over 4'C.

    In this case, there is indication for the Ross ice sheet dynamics that were present during MIS-31 to reoccur due to hemispheric climate changes associated with a slowdown of the MOC.

    This is a poorly understood dynamic that has a potentially high probability within the next 85 years.



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  2. Anyone interested in keeping up with all things related to accelerated sea level rise should keep an eye on postings by ASLR here

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed link

  3. Wili@2

    Your link, when accessed via Firefox, yielded a pop up warning me from connecting:

    "This Connection is Untrusted" and so on.

    Deleting the "s" from the https fixed this issue.


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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Fixed, thank Don

  4. "Vision Prize participants may be pessimistic that we'll transition away from a business-as-usual emissions path".

    Human nature and greed being what they are, I agree with that pessimism, with the codicil that the possible effects of Peak-Something may damage our ability to consume, thereby imposing a brake upon BAU. Short of Peak-Something, I forsee the world continuing to be ruled by Peak Consumption to fuel the all-powerful 'economic growth' mantra, until such time as adverse climatic effects render our vaunted Western society unviable. The fact that we can see the looming threat does not mean our lords and masters will choose to do anything to mitigate it. Homo Stupidus stupidus.

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  5. I'm still uncomfortable with surveys of scientists to see how many believe in one thing or another.  On the contrary side, there have been numerous cases where the only scientist that was correct was an individual against all the other scientiests.  I'm not suggesting that that is the case here.  The evidence for climate change and it's likely effects are pretty overwhelming and, I think, grossly underestimated but consenses is not part of science.

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  6. William...  Definitely, consensus is not how science progresses. But consensus is how we can evaluate relative risk for things we can never have perfect knowledge of.

    What surveys like this give us is a method by which to make value judgements required in order for action to take place. 

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  7. This will undoubtable mark me as a troll  of some type (I'm only vaguely familiar with the myriad sub-types)... but I'm not, I'm  a lay-person trying to keep up. I'm pretty strongly (~95%) on board with AGW and find no denialist or fake-skeptic credible. I'm somewhat confident to rebut many of their debunked claims and make the case for AGW.  Though not diligent enough, my main sources are SS, RC, Tamino, Crock.

    But, I'm finally spending some time with "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature" (John Cook et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024). I've downloaded the datafile.txt and randomly searching citations and going to the original articles online and, where possible, full article not just abstract.

    I'm somewhat surprised to see how many of those who "endorse" AGW without quantifying it (groups 2 & 3) seem mostly to be "accepting" it as a premise for their paper rather than forming a conclusion of AGW based on their paper. Which I'm guessing is perfectly fine, appropriate & expected and the little suprise may only reflect my own naïveté. Ever since Oreskes' study – which I accept as being very strong and persuasive – and based on my own observations of the lit, without thinking I had just assumed that 'active climate researchers actively  peer-review publishing,' and not rejecting AGW, were most often supporting their conclusion with more or less new data or new analysis (I recognize this does frequently apply).

    Am I mischaracterizing? Am I wrong in wondering or wrong in even remarking on it? I have to believe the denialists are squawking about it.

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  8. Prufocks @7, you have touched on a point which is a slight weakness of the paper.  One of the strengths of Oreskes' original study is that she identified papers that did not include direct assessment of anthropogenic contribution to global warming, and did not include them in those that affirm global warming.  This did not prevent her study being attacked by "skeptics" with the argument from irrelevent denominator (ie, the claim that she overstated support for the concensus because x papers did not support the concensus because they never directly address the issue).  In formulating the categories for Cook et al, Cook et al did not include a category for those papers that explicitly address attribution.  Consequently "attribution papers" tend to get sorted into "impacts", "methods", and occassionally "mitigation".  The problem is that we cannot, from the paper, directly address the propotion of attribution papers support consensus.

    Having said that, Dana has said on a couple of times that 100% of recent attribution papers support >50% anthropogenic contribution to recent warming.  I suspect his definition of an attribution paper in that comment may be a bit tighter than one that would have been used in the survey; but cannot be sure without conducting a mini survey of my own.

    It should be noted that the "obvious" problem with extending the analysis beyond attribution papers to those that merely accept AGW and go on from there is not a problem at all.  Scientists do not simply accept claims.  If they adopt AGW as a working hypothesis, it is because they have read a significant number of relevant papers, or at least review papers, and been convinced by the evidence.  I am sure there are exceptions, but not enough to distort the result.  That means that a general survey like Cook et al will pick up on whether or not controversy about a theory is general, or restricted to a small group unconvinced - and clearly the later is the case.  

    It should be noted that the criticism of the concensus paper is coming from people who, in general, accept the OISM petition as evidence that there is no concensus, ie, they accept that the signing of an internet petition by bachelors or vetinary science, is evidence that there is no concensus of climate science; but they do not accept that detailed discussion of the consequences of anthropogenic warming by climate scientists is evidence, if those climate scientists assume global warming in that study rather than prove it from first principles. 

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  9. william @5

    On the contrary side, there have been numerous cases where the only scientist that was correct was an individual against all the other scientiests.

    I wonder whether this is really true. It would be good to have examples, but to pre-empt the usually case quoted, here in Thomas Kuhn from "The Copernican Revolution" (Chapter 6)

    Therefore, when in 1616, and more explicitly in 1633, the Church prohibited teaching or believing that the sun was at the centre of the universe and that the earth moved around it, the Church was reversing a position that had been implicit in Catholic practise for centuries. The reversal shocked a number of devout Catholics, because it committed the Church to opposing a physical doctrine for which new evidence was being discovered almost daily ...

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  10. I suppose as a website devoted to the valuable activity of debunking denialist attitudes towards AWG you provide a valuable service, and as such, quoting 'consensus' information that supports AWG makes sense. But I suspect for a growing number of people AGW is all too real with 100% certainty, and for many people it is happening all too fast. Over the last few years there has been a continual stream of research papers that make the IPCC projections clearly conservative insofar as the pace at which climate change is occurring. In the last couple of weeks alone there were two research papers that continue the bad news.

    "Recent intensification of wind-driven circulation in the Pacific and the ongoing warming hiatus" by England et. al, Nature Climate Change adequately explains that the so-called surface temperature ‘hiatus’ has been caused by abnormally strong Pacific Trade winds, which have driven heat into the deep Pacific, and that when those abnormal trade winds abate, we're in for a continued and rapid surface temperature rise.

    The second is “Observational determination of albedo decrease caused by vanishing Arctic sea ice” by Pistone et. al.,
    PNAS, showing that the loss of ice albedo over the last 30 years is equivalent to an additional 25% of global CO2 forcing. I’m betting that isn’t part of any of the climate models, meaning those climate models vastly underestimate the rate at which climate change is happening. Hm, prehaps that's why we may expect a summer ice free Arctic before 2020, some 30 years ahead of the latest IPCC 'projections' (Maslowski et. al, Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci, 2012)

    I follow the literature rigorously and perhaps I’m simply blind to certain things but I have yet to see a single ‘good news’, peer reviewed research paper that has stood the test of time, and suggests that things are not as bad as they appear to be.

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