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Conference on Climate Change: Shifting Science and Changing Policy


14 October 2011

Phirozeshah Mehta Building , Mumbai University ,

Vidyanagari, Kalina, Mumbai

Session 2: Changing Sea Level


  • Prof. Nils-Axel Morner: Sea Level Changes in the Indian Ocean: Observational facts (Read Abstract)
  • Dr. Nils Finn Munch-Petersen: Marketing normal atoll dynamics as sea rise effects in the Maldives (Read Abstract
  • Dr. Yuanzhi Zhang: Impact of sea level change on coastal erosion and flooding: A case in Hong Kong (Read Abstract
  • Dr. A.S. Gaur: Shorelines changes and sea level fluctuations along Gujarat coast(Read Abstract)

Abstracts of papers to be presented in session on Changing Sea Level.

Sea Level Changes in the Indian Ocean: Observational facts

By: Nils-Axel Mörner

President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives repeatedly claims: ”we are drowning, our nation will disappear, we have to relocate the people”, and others claim that “millions of people will become refugees because of a rising sea level flooding the low-lying coasts of Bangladesh”. All this talk is totally unfounded in observational reality, however. In order to assess the reality, we need investigations carried our by real sea level specialists in firm field studies in areas under discussion themselves. Computer modelling by persons not even having visited the sites in questions is simply not good enough.

In year 2000, we started an international sea level project in the Maldives, where several distinguished sea level specialists took part. Personally, I have been there six times, out of which three were as leader of major research expeditions.


What is to be seen in nature itself, from island to island, is clear and straightforward: there is no ongoing rise in sea level at all. At about 1970, sea level fell by about 20 cm, and has remained quite stable there after (i.e. for the last 30-40 years). We have investigated several different shore environments (open coasts, rock-cut platforms, sandy shores in erosion as well as in progradation, lagoons, lakes, fens, etc.) with respect to stratigraphy, morphology, biology and chronology (with 55 new C14-dates). Such an overwhelming mass and quality of observational facts must, of course, outdo idle talk (like what is being claimed by IPCC and exaggerated by President Nasheed). Scientific reports are published in, for example, Global and Planetary Change (v.40, p.177-182, 2004) and Internationales Asienforum (v.38, p.353-374, 2007).


In 2009, I visited the Sunderban delta area in Bangladesh and was able to observe clear evidence of strong coastal erosion but no rise in sea level. The stratigraphy, morphology, vegetational evolution and habitation record a minor sea level lowering at around 1960, followed by 40-50 years of stable sea level. Those sources of information are superior to local tide-gauges in the Sunderban delta, which seem quite unstable. A scientific report is published in Energy & Environment (v.213, p.249-263, 2010).


It seems significant that both the tide-gauge of Mombai and Visaakhapatam in India record a significant sea level drop in 1955-1962 followed by 50 years of stable sea level (op.cit.). In the Laccadives, the locals are quite aware of the fact that sea level is not at all in a rising mode today, rather that new land has been added, leaving previous shore to become overgrown and invaded by terrestrial snails.


In conclusion, there is no sea level rise going on at the moment in the Indian Ocean. All talk about an alarming ongoing rise in sea level is nothing but an illusion to be abandoned the sooner the better, because it steals the limelight from real problems in the real world.


Marketing normal atoll dynamics and the 2004 tsunami as sea rise effects

By : Dr. Nils Finn Munch-Petersen

For no obvious scientific reason the Maldive Islands have become an international symbol of global warming and sea rise. The "Maldives' sea rise" was first marketed by the former president of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, an Islamic scholar, and is now perpetuated by the present president Mohamed Nasheed, a former journalist. Mohamed Nasheed, has been given the "Champions of the Earth Award" by the UN, figured in Newsweek as "The Green Guru", named by Foreign Policy Magazine on its list of "Top Global Thinkers" as well as lauded by Times Magazine as "Hero of the Environment".

This means significant income for the Government of Maldives in the form of foreign aid, while huge international resort constructions continue unabated on uninhabited islands within the 1,200 island archipelago. The presumed sea rise does not seem to deter foreign investors.

Also the general Maldivian island populations have not noticed any sea rise, while there have certainly not been any noticeable sea rise effects on the island of Minicoy, only 121 kilometers to the North, or anywhere else in Lakshadweep Archipelago.

Meanwhile foreign journalists and politicians from Europe and the US are being invited to the Maldives and shown the effects of normal atoll erosion; erosion caused by coastal construction activities, and the effects of the Tsunami in December 2004. To advertise the supposed sea-rise as a fact a number of islands affected by the 2004 tsunami, such as the island of Kandholhudhoo in Maalhosmadulu Atoll, are shown to visiting journalists and dignitaries.

Also saline intrusions into island fresh water lenses are cited as sea-rise effects, supposedly causing a die-off of flora; however no such “sea-rise” effects are seen in either the Maldives, Laccadives, Aminidivi or the on the island of Minicoy.

Coral atolls are dynamic entireties where islands form and vanish over time due to coral growth, changing currents and the effects of storms. Cyclones and island dynamics has been registered during the last centuries prior to 1981, during which time new islands have formed while and other islands have vanished, also islands have been rendered uninhabitable due to cyclones in 1812, 1819, 1821, 1898 and 1955. There is no indication that a sea-rise should have altered Maldivian atoll dynamics during recent years.

Impacts of sea-level change on coastal erosion and flooding: A case in Hong Kong


By:  Dr. Yuanzhi Zhang and Jinrong Hu


In recent years, sea-level rise has been paid more and more attention. What causes the sea-level rise or fall is a key issue of attention. The factors affecting sea-level change are so complex that we still not completely understand its processing so well. Sealevel change would lead to not only shoreline retreats and submerged lands, but also the enhancement of marine motivation and the un-stability of currently coastal sustainability.


In this study, we present the analysis of the causes and possible trends of sea-level rise or fall, and the discussion of potential impacts of sea-level change on coastal erosion and flooding in Hong Kong as a case study.


Shorelines changes and Sea level fluctuations along the Gujarat Coast: Study based on the archaeological proxies


By: Dr. A.S. Gaur



Shoreline shift coupled with sea-level change have always remained intriguing aspects due to wider ramifications for the populations living on the coast. Different methods are employed to understand and explain their causes and quantum. In this presentation an attempt is made to explain shoreline and sea-level changes during the last 4000 years on the basis of archaeological evidences.  Changes in the shoreline at any point could be due to various reasons such as tectonic disturbance or shift in sedimentological regime causing erosion or deposition. Many scientific investigations, focusing on the palaeo-shoreline vis-à-vis sea level fluctuations in India based on numerous geological techniques, have indicated that at about 6000 BP, the sea level was stabilized at the present one with minor fluctuations.


We use archaeological data suggesting maritime practices, as an indication for palaeo- shoreline of Gujarat. Examples from archaeological sites belonging to the Harappan period have been cited to indicate shoreline movement in relation to the last 4500 years.


Archaeological excavations at Bet Dwarka island suggest that the Early historic habitation was situated below the present high water line. This is an indication of a lower sea level during that period of settlement. Analysis of sea level versus ancient settlement suggests that around the Christian era sea level was lower by 2 m than the present around the island of Bet Dwarka. Similarly, at Pindara on the northwest Saurashtra coast an 11th century AD temple complex is exposed during low tide about 300 m from the high waterline, indicating a lower sea level during this period. 


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