Return of the Guru

New Sea Level Data Casts Doubt on Threat of Melting Ice

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, September 22, 2011

Climate science is an exercise in speculation, and because it is, insurers who want to accurately forecast risks connected with climate change—natural or man-made—are in quite a quandary.

In the latest example of this, NASA scientists have found that the global sea level this summer is a quarter of an inch lower than last summer, in sharp contrast to the gradual rise the ocean has experienced in recent years, according to a recent Washington Post article.

The change stems, the article notes, from two strong weather cycles over the Pacific Ocean—El Niño and La Niña—which shifted precipitation patterns, according to scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The two cycles brought heavy rains to Brazil and the Amazon, along with drought to the southern United States.

The Post adds that this year the continents got an extra dose of rain, so much so that global sea levels actually fell throughout most of last year. Climate scientist Josh Willis, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is quoted in the article as warning that this water will eventually return to the ocean, and the long-term trend of rising sea levels will continue. He goes on to say, however, that “we really have a lot left to understand” before being able to offer a more precise estimate of future sea-levels.

Interestingly, information from the European Space Agency (Envisat) shows that a two-year decline in sea levels is continuing at a rate of 5mm per year. So what is the poor property/casualty insurer to make of these numbers? Are they proof that fears of melting ice caps and consequent floods over the next nine decades are ill-founded—or are they mere momentary reverses in a larger overall trend that will take the levels higher over the next 90 years or so?

The truth is that no one knows the answers, and that anyone who says he or she does is just guessing. Meanwhile, all this political and academic posturing leaves insurers out in the cold in terms of solid data on which to plan for future risks. Opinions on this very important topic vary almost as much as the numbers do.

The Post article notes that the question of how much the ocean could rise due to warming is a topic of intense debate. “In the past two decades global sea levels increased at a rate of roughly 0.12 inches a year, compared to 0.07 inches from 1961 to 2003, according to satellite data." A recent tide gauge study of sea levels in Australia and New Zealand, published in the Journal of Coastal Research, provided readings that suggested the rate of ocean rise has declined in the past decade.

So it’s up and it’s down, kind of like a marine version of the wild and wooly stock market gyrations. Where will insurers place their bets? My hunch is that carriers will publicly speak the politically correct line of preparing for dire consequences, but behind closed doors they will do little changing until a more definitive trend is established. That’s just they way we roll, and with the uncertainty that continues to beset us daily in both the financial and global climate markets, it is perhaps the wisest course.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

Add Your Comments...

Already Registered?

If you have already registered to Insurance Networking News, please use the form below to login. When completed you will immeditely be directed to post a comment.

Forgot your password?

Not Registered?

You must be registered to post a comment. Click here to register.

Blog Archive

Mobile Device Management – Find That Middle Ground

There's a tug of war over BYOD, but neither those in favor nor those against should tug too hard.

Social Media for Insurers — Stop Counting and Start Measuring

Measuring goes beyond just accumulating fans and followers: it looks at the contribution to business.

Vendors Embrace Mobile Technology

IT leaders at software firms clearly recognize the importance of mobility to drive their businesses forward. Almost 70 percent see mobility as mission critical or important to their organization today.

Digital Vision vs. Harsh Reality

Much work remains to reconcile insurers' digital vision with the digital reality that seems to be arriving for other industries.

Big Data Is Paying Off

Insurers are getting business benefit out of their big data projects, but these projects alone won't grow their business.

What Can Insurers Learn from Home Depot?

The latest cyber-attack highlights the importance of helping policy holders defend themselves.