Coffee House

Why the Maldives aren’t sinking

3 December 2009

The President of the Maldives recently held a Cabinet meeting underwater, saying his islands may be submerged. In an open letter, taken from the climate change supplement in the latest issue of the The Spectator, Nils-Axel Mörner assures him his country is safe:

Dear Mr President,

You are obviously very concerned about the effect that sea level rises may have on the Maldives. Your Cabinet has been photographed meeting underwater, and you have even declared that ‘we are going to die’ if the climate change summit in Copenhagen fails. I am now writing with what I hope will be some good news. The scientific side of the situation is quite different to that which you imagine. You are, in fact, not going to die.

Before I continue, I should perhaps state my credentials. I have been a sea-level specialist for 40 years. I launched most of its new theories in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. I solved the problem of the gravitational potential surface, the theory that it changes with time; the rotation of the earth, how it affected the redistribution of the oceans’ masses — and so on. Last year, I was awarded a prize from Algarve university for my ‘irreverence and contribution to our understanding of sea level change’.

We both know that the 1,200 islands of the Maldives are all low-lying with the highest point only some 2.5m (8ft) above sea level. Hence, your nation is vulnerable to extreme storms, tsunamis — and, of course, any possible sea level rise.

The IPCC vision is a rise that by the year 2100 may amount to between 30cm and 50cm. This is based on model calculations. Our figure is a 5cm rise, plus or minus 15cm. In a newspaper article, you have suggested that sea levels may rise by between one and eight metres. Those figures, however, do not concur with the physics and known rates of ice melting. So those figures must be dismissed as impossible.

I have been on no fewer than six different field expeditions to the Maldives. We worked in the lagoon, we drilled in the sea, we drilled in lakes, we looked at the shore morphology — many different environments. We have always found the same thing: a total stability for the last 30 years, preceded by a 20cm drop in sea level in the 1970s.

We have presented a detailed documentation of the sea level changes in the Maldives over the past 4,000 years. The record of the last 500 years may be of special interest to the situation of your islanders. It shows:

The people of the Maldives had no problems surviving the 17th century, which was 50cm higher than now. Nor the last century, where it rose by 20cm. This bodes well for their prospects of surviving the next change.

I recently visited Bangladesh, a country cursed by floods. In the Sundarban delta, I documented very strong coastal erosion despite zero changes in sea level. So, even here, there is no global sea level rise going on today — just as in the Maldives, in Tuvalu and in Vanuatu, to mention a few famous sites claimed already to be in the process of becoming flooded.

By the end of this century, sea level may have risen by between 30cm and 50cm according to the various IPCC scenarios. Our records suggest a maximum of 20cm. Neither of those levels would pose any real problem — simply a return to the situation in the 17th and the 19th to early 20th centuries, respectively.

So why the scare-mongering? Could it be because there is money involved? If you inhabit a tiny island and can convince the world that its very existence is under threat because of the polluting policies of the West, the industrialised nations will certainly respond. The money is likely to flow in more quickly than the ocean will rise.

This is the fourth time I have written to you. Unfortunately, I think there is a problem with your email service because so far I have not received an acknowledgement. For this reason, I have decided to write this open letter in the pages of The Spectator.

So, Mr President, you and your ministers in the Maldives really don’t need to worry about a future life beneath the waves. You should pass on this message to the people of the Maldives. It is high time to release them from this terrible psychological burden.

Nils-Axel Mörner

A former lead reviewer for the IPCC, Nils-Axel Mörner was head of Geodynamics at Stockholm University until his retirement in 2005.

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Show comments
  • Shareef

    Great article :)

  • Steve Hollar

    This is so insane. I have been hearing for 20 years now how the ocean would drown the islands and coasts. Usually they have said 20 years. Well that time has come and gone and the sea level has gone down by the latest figures. Aw, no problem, they now say by the end of the century. Of course, none of the doomsayers will be around then. My point is wouldn’t all the catastrophes we have heard about for decades be showing up by now? What I am seeing are increases in volcanic activity and what sure looks like a direct correlation between sunspots and climate change. The liberal, scaremongering mind is truly genetically defective.

  • delphisangel

    Climate change or no climate change, the world has experienced far more fundamental changes during it’s existence than climate change is accused of. So while it is good to be accountable, act responsibly by doing our bit to preserve what we have and for the general good, a little perspective and applied common sense will probably do us all more good. If you are concerned that erosion, climate change, natural disasters and/or man made disasters will prevent you from visiting this tropical paradise, don’t wait to visit the Maldives. Go now, go tomorrow or next week. We have so little control over the way of the natural world that sometimes you just have to get on with life… What will be, will be – just make the most of the opportunities that come your way.

  • Dowsing Expert

    read a little further into the story…

  • Namron7

    @ FatSean
    December 3rd, 2009 5:52pm
    ‘I must say I am disapointed by the people who refuse to believe the case of human-caused climate change. They seem to be the same set of people who believed the claims (now proven to be lies) about Iraq which resulted in the deplorable military action of invasion and occupation.’

    Huh?! Get with the programme, innit? i.e. If you look very, very, very closely with a very, very special magnifying glass at the politicians, parties and MSM outlets who are involved in the propagation of the AGW theory, you’ll find that they are the same ones who made the claims about Iraq.

    No, I didn’t believe them about Iraq in 2002/2003. And no, I don’t believe them about AGW either.

    Fool me once….shame on ……er….er ….or something.

  • Chris B

    “I’ve described here previously how a pompous-assed “dowsing expert”
    named Nils-Axel Morner, associate professor of geology from Stockholm
    University, has consistently refused to be tested for the Pigasus

    And his work has been called into question before now:

    “Without any real evidence for a hitherto-unrecognised process which could lead to a sea level change as significant as that proposed by the fieldwork team, one concludes that a rise in sea level of approximately half a metre during the 21st century, as suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report, remains the most reliable scenario to employ in future studies of the islands.”

    And his associations with the energy industry call his findings into question, too:

    “Listed as an “allied expert” for a Canadian group called the “Natural Resource Stewardship Project,” (NRSP) a lobby organization that refuses to disclose it’s funding sources. The NRSP is led by executive director Tom Harris and Dr. Tim Ball. An Oct. 16, 2006 CanWest Global news article on who funds the NRSP, it states that “a confidentiality agreement doesn’t allow him [Tom Harris] to say whether energy companies are funding his group.”

    DeSmog uncovered information that two of the three directors on the board of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project are registered energy industry lobbyists and senior executives of the High Park Advocacy Group, a Toronto-based lobby firm that specializes in “energy, environment and ethics.””

    Just to take small issue, too – I don’t think Mörner was ever a lead author for the IPCC. In fact, it was Mörner who said they’d falsified a decade of sea level changes.

  • philip c

    I’d really like to Gordon Brown call this man a “flat-earther” to his face

    a physicist at CERN shows strong correlation between solar radiation and climate variations.

    This is Newton compared to the epicycles of AGW

  • Gary Aronsson

    Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the hot topic for climate scientists was Global Cooling!
    The hurricane which struck Britain in 1987 was blamed upon this cause and reported by the BBC as being clear evidence of COOLING.
    The invention of Global Warming stems from the collapse of the Soviet empire as this led to the collapse of the temperature reporting system across the Soviet section of the Arctic circle.The sudden loss of so much data in the coldest region of the northern hemisphere led to a sharp jump in the AVERAGE temperature recorded,the myth of global warming was born.
    Anyone who doubts this must answer a few questions,why has temperature in the Southern Hemisphere NOT increased? Why has temperature in the USA NOT increased? Why do the supporters of Global Warming have to LIE and CHEAT to win the argument,why do they manipulate data in a manner that would get you jailed if you were trying to sell a pension?Why do they “lose”data? And why not prove the accuracy of their computer forecasts of future events by publicly using old data and comparing the forecasts they produce with what we already know happened?Because they will forecast a series of catastrophic events that never took place!

    • Rob Pender

      Gary, that is actually a myth…the “Global Cooling” craze comes from an article in Time magazine in 1974…not written by climate experts…In fact, climatologists have been predicting the warming since the 1950’s. Your other positions on the subject have also been sufficiently debunked. If 97 out of 100 doctors told you that you had a disease and you should do something about it, you’d listen, right? So why do you have such a hard time paying attention to the 97% of experts in the field?

  • Stuart Seacole Smith

    You couldn’t make it up. The Danes must be reading Speccie blogs! Re my Christiania suggestion on Dec 5th, the BBC World Service dedicated an inordinately long section of today’s propaganda, erm I mean morning news, to a report from Christiania where they are holding their own alternative summit, called the “bottom” summit (as opposed to the other “top” one).

    This “colourful” (in the words of the reporter) event involves a heavy emphasis on sprituality, and they’re keeping a fire burning on which various offerings are immolated, including a coca leaf “to keep the police happy”.

    An NGO representative was wheeled out to earnestly warn us how “angry” activists would be if meaningful emissions cuts aren’t agreed. So… permission for lower lip to wobble time?

    It seems any enviro fruit loop is welcome on World Service these days, but anyone with ideas or concerns remotely connected to reality is usually treated with sneering contempt.

    Anyway, I wonder if Miliband has dusted off his bike yet?

  • Walter Atune

    anyone who mentions the temperature dropping since 1998 is following the same lofty principles as a fund manager, pick the two points which look best for your argument (1998 and 2008) and ignore all the rest.

  • Stuart Seacole Smith

    I see the Nepalese govt is in on the act now – the “Everest declaration” signed 17,000 feet up mt Everest. I’m still curious about the orchestration of these stunts, but it has also led me to wonder – what next? Time is short!

    Perhaps Miliband could stage a nude cycling protest through London yelling “Deniers! Saboteurs!”

    Maybe the Danish PM might want to get in on the act with a televised hash-fuelled public debate in Christiania?

    Porrit could then play the role of the saddened sage, gently shaking his head and gazing dolefully into the BBC camera…

  • John Levett

    Meanwhile, over at the BBC on 4 December, the Jeremy Vine show permits a lobbyist to tell us proles that the Maldives are definitely going to drown unless we give them lots of money.

    They only signed off the new airport contract at the beginning of November: I hope it’s got a good get-out clause. And perhaps they can give us the spec for their non carbon-emitting aircraft? If you or your friends are planning a trip there, better choose somewhere a bit higher – get the word out!

  • Frank P

    Ian C

    If HFC’s tip didn’t work, just click into and scroll back through his articles. It’s worth keeping an eye on Gerard Vanderleun; one of the best sites in the blogosphere; not only does he produce brilliantly written whimsy and hard hitting politics, he links to all the other stuff that’s worth reading on his side bar. It’s good medicine, recommend twice daily in a rigorous regime. Keeps you sane too, albeit with some allegorical spasms.

  • Beer Moth

    Eric Anderson.

    As in ‘not severe at all’.

  • Ian

    An interesting letter but a misleading headline. The letter says past and current changes in sea level have had little impact on the Maldives. But it doesn’t actually say why that is!

  • Jerry

    Thanks Nils, thats an absolutely excellent letter. Rather puts the whole Maldives thing in its box. I suppose it was always just a money grab really. They almost had me convinced for a while.

    Fatsean, I studied hard at school too. Result: a string of degrees inc. a BSc and a sceptical mind. You must have missed the class on equalisation of fluid levels. This applies to the sea also – as modified by a number of variables eg gravity.

    Never mind, just keep the credulity coming and you will be fine on top of your hill.The world needs gullible people. Just ask any snake oil salesman eg Blair.Its all part of life’s rich pattern!

  • Stuart Seacole Smith

    Love the letter. Chortle-tastic! One thing that interested me about the whole Maldives underwater cabinet meeting was that it was such a spectacularly shameless publicity stunt. Somehow, a bit unusual. It might be that Morner’s suggestion is correct – the allure of big fat Western guilt-cheques could have prompted it. I’m sure it’s part of it. But to me, the stunt had NGO stamped all over it. I’m not aware of whether that aspect was ever really investigated and reported. Like, was it an NGO that came up with the idea? Or maybe a PR firm? Anyway, I’d be astonished if the bureaucrats and politicos in the Maldives dreamed it up on their own – generally speaking they’re not a very imaginative bunch.

  • John Adlington

    Dirty Euro, please get your facts right. If the earth keeps warming at the current rate we will have a little ice age upon us within a century as the global temperature has been dropping since 1998.

    Naomi, even with the FOI act we cannot get our hands on the CRU data as it has been destroyed. Yes, the raw data, the temperatures and grid references and times of readings have been deleted from the CRU record. All we have now are the manipulated data. They cite the inadiquacies of 1980s data storage facilities but that sounds like pony to me.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    prawns, did you eat a burger during the Major years? Mistake.

  • prawns

    When I recover from my skin cancers caused by the hole in the ozone layer, I will be able to set my immune system to fighting the bird flu virus that has been waiting to take hold of my body since the 1990’s. After that, a trip to the orthopedic surgeon to repair the broken bones that happened when the 747 fell out of the sky and landed on me, courtesy of the Y2K bug, and finally back into hospital with the rest of the population for a flu shot to save my sorry arse from swine flu. Is it any wonder I haven’t got time to go out and demonstrate against global warming, sorry climate change, before it cooks me like a Friday night Dominoes pizza. (BBQ meatlovers). But hang on, I’m 50, fat, healthy (sort of), and happy. The rest of the world seems to be 25, slim, ripped and depressed about the future. I must be missing something, maybe I should be on the bandwagon too.

  • Dan Watson

    Hey FatSean,

    I studied hard too, PhD in Chem Eng. I hate to tell you but the majority of technical people thing AGW is very much overblown. The only people really concerned tend to work in schools or national labs supported by grant money. If you have a technical background in physical chemistry you can probably see this for the sham that it is. However if you don’t a history lesson in yellow journalism may be appropriate. A google search should provide you with all the info on journalistic sensationalism that you need.

  • Jack Okie


    A couple of points:

    1. The Iraq war was to enforce non-proliferation. There were 22 reasons in all. The situation with Iran demonstrates that non-proliferation without enforcement is political onanism.

    2. Perhaps you can provide links to pro-AGW climate research that does not rely on the tainted CRU datasets.

  • Chuck near FatSean

    Mr FatSean,

    I too am glad you live on a hill. When the water comes, I will too. As will many of my friends and probably a lot of folks neither of us know. I’m sure we’ll all be fine though. TIA for the accomodations.

    Your friend,

  • John Cooke

    Hooray – some sense.

    Yes, the climate is changing – it always has. What’s good to see here is a bit of real data showing that in fact things are rather more complex than a simplistic steady rise in sea level that we are repeatedly told about by the scaremongers.

    One of the biggest problems is that people don’t live long (geologically speaking) and expect things to stay the same, in a world that is evolving and always has evolved, due to all sorts of causes, including us. People just aren’t very good at facing change.

  • Mike


    Seems you never were warned while you were studying so hard, against that seedy little man down road that hands out free sweets to the little boys every afternoon, or maybe you did find out why, it’s maybe the reason you need your privacy on top of the hill today.

  • James Allison

    “because of one badly group of scientists”
    Unfortunately it was this one group of scientists who have deliberately mislead everybody during the last 20 years. They have particularly mislead their funding source – governments into believing human cause global warming is causing catastrophic events to occur such as uncontrollable sea level rises. As Climategate unfolds it will show that we the general population have been subjected to the biggest scientific hoax in the history of humans.

  • Snowman

    Another real scientist speaks out. Did the East Anglian mafia give him a chance to contribute?

    Why do we reward the Gores, and neglect the ones who possess true knowledge?

  • Eric Anderson

    Actually, Beer Moth, sea level rises aren’t severe anywhere at present or for the foreseeable future, as far as I am aware.

  • Steve (Paris)

    December 3rd, 2009 5:52pm

    CRU is not just one group of bad scientists but the very heart of the machine. The numbers originated with them. The (Broken) Hockey Stick is there’s. Try paying attention.

  • Rex Burr

    I think it more likely that those who don’t believe in AGW are the same people who DIDN’T believe in Sadam’s WMD.
    They are people who have a healthy resistance to mind manipulation by the ruling classes.

  • Beer Moth


    You should have studied a little harder at school mate. You might then have learnt that rising sea levels are no less severe in the north.

  • HFC

    Ian C

    From ‘the page you requested could not be found’ click on Archives. There, choose November2009 in Article Archives. Then, in the grey background menu you can select Climate Challenges (3rd title down). Off you go!

  • FatSean

    I must say I am disapointed by the people who refuse to believe the case of human-caused climate change. They seem to be the same set of people who believed the claims (now proven to be lies) about Iraq which resulted in the deplorable military action of invasion and occupation.

    The deniers will say the whole concept is dooooomed because of one badly group of scientists…I wonder what would happen if they applied the same standard to anti-terrorism practices and anti-copyright-infringement practices.

    Oh well, I studied hard in school and own a house on a hill. When the sea levels rise and displaced persons head north to survive, I’ll be cool.

  • H20 ain’t rising
  • Ian C

    The SCAR report had nothing to do with helping outtheir mates at CRU or their fundraising requirements while everyone gets the hots at Copenhagen and they’re forgotten down there!

    Frank P – can you put the link up again. That one did not work.

  • Frank P
  • Frank P

    A good piece by John Linder bodes well for the Copenhagen shindig.

    He’s a Republican Representative who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. Looks as though he has thought up some ways and means of putting an end to anything that may be dreamed up at the Copenhagen Climate Conference involving financial penalties on the US. The bullshit emanating from the AGW lobby seem to be the major source of pollution on the planet at this moment in history.

  • JohnPage

    So that’s several places which won’t need to tap the Commonwealth sinking fund. Can we have our money back, please? (Not that we had it to give in the first place.)

    What’s that? Oh, the science is settled…?

  • Dirty Euro

    The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) calculated that if temperatures continued to increase at the present rate, by 2100 the sea level would rise by up to 1.4 metres — twice that predicted two years ago.

  • Naomi Muse

    Love it! Thank you Nils-Alel Morner (sorry no umlaut on this text)

    Now, on the basis of Freedom of Information can we get the original data released so that we can find out what is computer modelling based on that needed for a disaster movie and what is realistic in any eventuality.

    We need to start with the assumptions which is usually where statistics go badly wrong.

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