House Science Committee does not do science – Rocks causes sea level rise

House Science CommitteeIt turns out that the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has yet again demonstrated that when controlled by Republicans, they do not do science.

Rocks Cause Sea Level to rise

Below is the exchange that made Mr Brooks the object of much ridicule in the media. Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks questions Philip Duffy, a physicist and the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, a climate change think tank …

Mr Brooks asks … “sea levels have risen” since “human beings have been on the planet.

Dr Duffy then explains … “sea levels over the last 3 million years have gone up and down in line with the cycles of ice ages.

When pressed, Dr Duffy also said that “ground subsidence” is “a factor in some regions.”, but clarifies that this does not contribute to global sea level rise.

Mr Brooks, who also has a serious attitude problem that manifests as utter contempt for the subject matter experts, was not happy with these facts, so he then proceeds to offer his alternative facts with this now famous gem …

What about erosion? Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system and, for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems. And every time you have that soil or rock, or whatever is it, that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up. What about the White Cliffs of Dover, California, where you have the waves crashing against the shoreline, and time and time again you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea? All of that displaces water which forces it to rise. Does it not?

Dr Duffy then continues to yet again point out the facts, even when he knows it will fall upon deaf ears …

I’m pretty sure that on human time scales those are minuscule effects.”

Media Laughter

There simply is no rescuing Mr Brooks. His claim is not scientific or even rational. The man has presented himself as an idiot, and so the media quite rightly proceeds to mock him ..

It was just one small mistake, a misunderstanding … right?

Er … no. Even when in a hole, he did not stop digging. As reported by the UK’s Guardian (and others), he just kept going. After the observation by Dr Duffy that sediment will only have a minuscule effect, Mr Brooks proceeds to argue his case as follows …

Brooks added that Antarctic ice is growing. That was true a few years ago, and scientists say it does not disprove the theory of global warming because different factors affect the Arctic and Antarctic rates of melting.

“We have satellite records clearly documenting a shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet and an acceleration of that shrinkage,” Duffy said.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but the data I have seen suggests — ” Brooks said.

Duffy answered: “The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”

“Well, I’ve got a NASA base in my district, and apparently, they’re telling you one thing and me a different thing,” Brooks said. “But there are plenty of studies that have come that show with respect to Antarctica that the total ice sheet, particularly that above land, is increasing, not decreasing. Now, you could make a different argument if you want to talk about Greenland or the Arctic.”

Not only did he say all of this, but he stuck with it and went on to write an incredibly dishonest Op Ed that was utterly devoid of factual facts within news site a few days later on 19th May …

Over the history of planet Earth, far and away the #1 cause of sea level rise has been erosion and its resulting deposits of sediment and rocks into the world’s seas and oceans. There is no close second cause of sea level rise. At a minimum, over many millions of years, thousands of cubic miles of eroded material have been deposited into the Earth’s seas, forcing rising sea levels.

He claims this is a fact that anybody can “research”, and yet he offers nothing to verify any of his “facts” except a bit of verbal arm waving.

The Facts via FactCheck.Org

The FactCheck.Org summery is as follows …

  • Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks falsely claimed river sediment deposits and rocks falling from cliffs cause sea level rise, later writing that this was “the #1 cause.” Melting ice at the poles and ocean thermal expansion are the dominant causes.
  • Brooks also said global warming leads to more ice on Antarctica. That’s false. The continent has been losing ice since the beginning of the 21st century.
  • Texas Rep. Lamar Smith falsely said there’s “no correlation” between sea level rise and carbon emissions. Sea level rise is strongly linked to global warming, which is primarily caused by increased carbon emissions from humans.
  • Florida Rep. Bill Posey falsely claimed it was “30 degrees warmer when the dinosaurs roamed.” It was never that hot when dinosaurs lived. More importantly, it has never been close to that hot when humans lived.
  • Posey also claimed the last ice age “was caused by a cataclysmic collision of an asteroid.” That’s false. Ice ages are caused by changes in the Earth’s orbit and related factors.

Sea Level Rise

Here are the facts regarding sea level rise via factCheck.Org with links to the evidence …

According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, global sea level rise is “primarily driven by two factors,” both directly related to global warming.

First, the oceans are expanding because water swells as it gets warmer. According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the “oceans are absorbing more than 90 percent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity.”

Second, there’s also more water in the oceans because mountain glaciers and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting, explains the 2017 report.

We asked Steven Goodbred Jr., an environmental scientist at Vanderbilt University whom we interviewed for another piece on sea level rise, for his take on Brooks’ claim. He did say that “sediment does displace water,” but it has a minuscule effect “on shorter time scales (<100 years) due to the small volume of sediment relative to the immense volume of the oceans.”

On time scales longer than 100 years, “it has no real effect” because of a process called isostasy, where “the added weight of sediment to the oceans causes the crust to sink and the reduced weight of the sediment eroded from the land causes it to rise,” Goodbred added. In other words, there’s “no net change in water level relative to land,” he said.

Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, a geology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans whom we spoke with for the March 2017 piece on land loss in Louisiana, gave us the same explanation, adding that Brooks’ comments “are utter nonsense.”

Antarctic Ice

Here are the facts regarding the decreasing ice in the Antarctic via factCheck.Org with links to the evidence …

We wrote about ice levels in Antarctica and Greenland in January, after President Donald Trump falsely implied the globe’s ice caps are at “record” high levels. According to NASA, both of these ice sheets have declined in mass since 2002. “Both ice sheets have seen an acceleration of ice mass loss since 2009,” the agency adds. 

During the hearing, Brooks supported his claim by saying that he “made a trip down to Antarctica and met with National Science Foundation scientists and they all agreed with global warming and they emphasized that you’re going to have an increase in the amount of ice in Antarctica because of global warming.”

His explanation?

“[P]rojected global warming will LOWER sea levels because warmer Antarctic air will carry more moisture above the Antarctic land mass, and deposit that moisture in the interior of Antarctica, where it will take hundreds of years to glacially make its way to the sea,” wrote Brooks in his op-ed. NSF “scientists opined that the increase in Antarctic continental ice will more than offset the loss of ice elsewhere on planet Earth.”

We reached out to Brooks’ office to ask for the names of the NSF-funded scientists who gave him this information, but we received no response. We also contacted multiple researchers studying the topic, and they all agreed that Brooks’ explanation was inaccurate.

Santiago de la Peña, a researcher at Ohio State University who studies glacier dynamics, told us that, while he was there when Brooks and other politicians visited Antarctica in 2014, he did “not recall having said conversation” with Brooks.

“Current climate models do contemplate an increase of snowfall over Antarctica in a warming scenario, which is logical given a potential increase of moisture in the atmosphere,” he added, but “the increase would be of an order of magnitude smaller than total mass loss.”

Erin Pettit, an associate professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who studies glaciers, told us that she “did meet with the congressional visitors as a whole for about 10 minutes,” but she didn’t speak with Brooks specifically. “The vast majority of the peer reviewed papers in recent years would not agree with the congressman’s statement,” she added.  

In short, while there might be some ice gained in the interior of Antarctica, there’s a net loss because ice is retreating along the coasts at a faster rate. Other experts in this area — Eric Steig at the University of Washington, David Holland at New York University and Richard Alley at Penn State — also told us Brooks’ claim was inaccurate for the same reasons. 

Notice how FactCheck.Org, can cite actual scientific reports, and also cite multiple subject matter experts. This is a stark contrast to Mr Brooks who can cite nothing at all except his own opinions and claims.

Final Thoughts

All humans are fallible and will make mistakes. Mr Brooks however is an elected representative who has staff that can go find the facts for him. Even when that all fails and it is pointed out that he is wrong, it is easy enough to correct an honest misunderstanding. This however not what he did. Instead he simply doubled down and piled lie upon lie.

We do have a choice here. Mr Brooks is either deliberately lying, or he is incredibly stupid. There really are no other options.

If you are wondering which, then to add a bit of further information, it is perhaps also worth knowing that Mr Brooks happily supported both Roy Moore and also Trump without any hesitation.

What is also abundantly clear is that the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology does not do science when controlled by Republicans.

Leave a Reply