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Sea level blunder enrages Dutch minister
Published on:Thursday, February 4, 2010 - 10:24
A United Nations report wrongly claimed that more than half of the Netherlands is currently below sea level.
In fact, just 20 percent of the country consists of polders that are pumped dry, and which are at risk of flooding if global warming causes rising sea levels. Dutch Environment Minister Jacqueline Cramer has ordered a thorough investigation into the quality of the climate reports which she uses to base her policies on.
Climate-sceptic MPs were quick to react. Conservative MP Helma Neppérus and Richard de Mos from the right-wing Freedom Party want the minister to explain to parliament how these figures were used to decide on national climate policy. "This may invalidate all claims that the last decades were the hottest ever," Mr De Mos said.
The incorrect figures which date back to 2007 were revealed on Wednesday by the weekly Vrij Nederland. The Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency told reporters that the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) added together two figures supplied by the agency: the area of the Netherlands which is below sea-level and the area which is susceptible to flooding. In fact, these areas overlap, so the figures should not have been combined to produce the 55 percent quoted by the IPCC.
The discovery comes just a week after a prediction about glaciers in the Himalayas proved wrong. Rather than disappearing by 2035, as IPCC reports claim, the original research underlying the report predicted the mountain ice would last until 2350.
Questions are being asked on a broader scale too about climate-change data. US researchers Joseph D'Aleo and Anthony Watts, quoted in Dutch daily De Telegraaf, say the perceived global temperature rise may be an result of changes in the measuring methods.
There used to be 6,000 measuring posts, they say, but now there are just 1,500. A number of weather stations in colder areas like Siberia and the Arctic were dismantled, while the remaining stations were in more moderate zones. As a consequence, data from colder areas was no longer used in the calculations.
D'Aleo and Watts also point to discrepancies between terrestrial and satellite measurements. Satellite weather stations report that the temperature of the earth's atmosphere has remained stable, with a slight fall since 2001.
Earth-based weather stations report an increase in warmth which, according to the two Americans, reflects the process of urbanisation. Measuring posts that used to be in remote rural areas have gradually been surrounded by roads, buildings or industry, all of which produce heat.
Dutch researchers reporting to Minister Cramer on Wednesday said that global warming appears to be slower than had been assumed. In a brochure published by the Dutch Platform for Communication on Climate Change (PCCC) the academics say that sunspot activity was relatively low over the past decade and will continue to be low for the foreseeable future.
The lower the solar activity, the smaller the warming effect. According to the PCCC, the average temperature may even decrease by between 0.2 and 0.4 degrees, but they warn that this is just a slight dent in the much stronger rising trend. "The heat is still on," according to the PCCC report.