James Hansen’s apocalyptic sea level study lands to mixed reviews

hansenOne of the most eye-catching climate studies of 2015 has been finalised after mixed reviews from experts.

The draft by James Hansen and 18 other scientists last July outlined an alarming scenario of multi-metre sea level rise this century.

In the final version published on Tuesday, the headline changed from “2C global warming is highly dangerous” to “2C global warming could be dangerous”. Otherwise, the conclusions are largely the same.

That doesn’t mean they have been fully accepted by the scientific community. Thanks to the transparent approach adopted by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, you can read all the responses.

The paper attracted more than 60 comments, an exceptional number for an open review. Leaving aside the 20 that denied the foundation of climate science – that greenhouse gases cause global warming – there were many heavyweight critiques.

Peter Thorne, climate science professor at Maynooth University, Ireland, was invited to be a referee. “The initial submission was highly political, written largely as a blog article,” he told Climate Home. “It was overly long and I had real questions as to whether the journal was the right journal.”

Nor was he satisfied with the way Hansen responded to criticism. For example, Dutch scientist Sybren Drijfhout and colleagues advised the author not to describe as “dangerous” impacts that were unlikely to occur this century.

Hansen answered: “Hmmm, yes, I guess that we should not be worried about anything that happens 85 years from now- the dickens with those characters. The Dutch can migrate to Switzerland, after all.”

That tone was “unprofessional” and “grossly inappropriate” to Thorne. “I expect this kind of thing of my kids. I do not expect this behaviour to be out there in the public domain for all to see amongst leading scientists in the field.”

As for the apocalyptic picture painted, Thorne said it was “marginally more likely than me or you buying a winning Euromillions [lottery] ticket today”.

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