Willie Soon, “I just don’t understand”

Joanne Nova blindly promotes Willies Soon’s criticism of Sea Level measurements. It’s strangely titled “Five or more failed experiments in measuring Global Sea Level: Willie Soon” – does Willie get confused by numbers greater than five?

Willie “I don’t understand” Soon introduces himself to the audience with “Many of you are as qualified as I am to speak on this issue of sea level”. For the record, Soon has ZERO publications on the topic of Sea Level Rise, so it’s quite possible that some of his audience are better qualified. His claims that all the science is wrong stems from his own lack of understanding; Anything Willie cannot understand must therefore be, in his opinion, “bad science” rather than an inability to understand on his behalf. Personally I don’t fully understand Einstein’s theory of relativity, but I won’t call that science “sick”, a term Willie uses to describe things he can’t explain.

Willie’s opinion on the topic of sea level rise does not coming from having performed science, does not originate from understanding the technology behind the measurements, doesn’t come from performing any kind of statistical analysis but instead comes from, and I quote, “Over Christmas I happen to ah, all the dots and everything fall into places”.

Willie makes many off-hand remarks about scientists chasing funding, ironic given his own history of funding from the fossil fuel industry. (more from Desmog), But let’s examine his claims in further detail …

Medieval Sea Levels – Graph Trickery

@6:30 Willie makes reference to the graph cited as Grinsted 2009 and wonders why we are so worried when sea levels were greater before. Two things to note, Firstly the graph Willie uses has been altered to remove the latter years. The Grinsted graph can be found here and it clearly demonstrates why the sea level rise is of concern. Secondly Grinsted’s paper specifically mentioned why the sea level rise is different from Medieval times.

Having established models linking temperature to sea level rise, we project 21st century sea level using IPCC projections of temperature as forcing (Fig. 7, Table 2). We find that IPCC projections of sea level rise 2090-2099 are underestimated by roughly a factor 3 (Table 2). The likely rates of 21st century sea level rise far exceed anything seen in the last 2000 years.

Grinsted 2009 - Willie

Willie makes no mention (perhaps unaware?) that the sea levels in the past responded to small amounts of warming. We are set to warm the planet well beyond the Medieval Warm Period.

Pevensey Castle

@7:20 Willie says that evidence for great change in sea level comes from Pevensey Castle, specifically that one thousand years ago it was on the coast. What evidence is there for this? He cites one person’s tale; Great van der Rol who “loves writing science fiction with a large dollop of good old, healthy romance”.

Currently the ground around the Pevensey Castle, according to Google Earth, is about 7 meters above sea level. Willie thinks the sea receded 7 meters in the last 1,000 years based on the word of someone he met that likes to write science fiction.

I’m a bit more sceptical and prefer hard evidence, however this does provide an excellent insight into the lack of critical thinking Willie Soon exhibits. He is willing to accept anecdotal evidence from one person instead of looking at the paleoclimate evidence or even perform basic validation. Did he ever wonder why there is no physical evidence of a 7 meter drop in sea level? Or stop to ponder why/how did they build a moat around a castle that already bordered the sea?

Not so bright Willie!

Hansen & Sato 2012

@10:15 Willie attempts to Hansen & Sato’s work which looks at past warm periods and examines the relationship between the temperature and the sea level.

What reasoning does Willie provide that falsifies their work? Nothing; oh unless insults count.

Willie says

Those people are so out of their mind, in my view, my humble view. By the way I speak freely as myself again. … These people are playing with this kind of crazy curve and they call this science. Do you think that can I say this is sick science. I mean really sick in my view.

Willie just calls it “sick science” without actually addressing, or giving any reason as to why it might be “sick”. The curve was created, based upon the melting that we’ve seen in Greenland and Antarctica, as shown in this image.

Ice Mass

Fast Change

@16:37 Willie seems so much in a hurry to say that we’ve seen rapid change before, that he forgets to realise that it took only small amounts of change in the Milankovitch cycles along with the natural feedbacks in order to cause such a rapid change. This rapid sea level change of the past, when there were no cities, is why we are so concerned about the amount of warming we are causing today.


There have been a number of satellites that have observed the ocean heights over the years.


With regards to how scientists use millions of sample of decades of years, resolve to determine the rate of sea level change to within millimetres, @19:20 Willie says

I have a little problem understanding that one … I just don’t believe any of this is achievable.

Once again Willie can’t understand something so he therefore assumes it cannot possibly be true. Yet teams of other scientists seem quite capable of independently performing this task and arrive at almost exactly the same results.

University of Colorado: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr

AVISO: 3.2 ± 0.6 mm/yr

CSIRO: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr

NOAA: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr (w/ GIA)

@23:05 Willie says

If this results is valid I really think I should quit science.

Frankly, we’re waiting for you to start science. So far we are twenty three minutes into the video and not ONE piece of scientific evidence has been provided. Just a little anecdotal evidence and some head shaking saying “I don’t understand”.

@23:48 Willie says

I don’t know where it come from. I just don’t trust this sort of work

Yes, we get it Willie. You don’t know how they do it.

ENVISAT vs Jason

@27:20 Willie shows a graph plotting two different satellite raw data and complains that they adjusted the data and he doesn’t know why. Willie complains

Please somebody gotta explain me why they can pull this up.

Firstly, of course they adjusted the data, it MUST be adjusted to correct for real world physical reasons. Had Willie followed his own link he would have arrived at the document that explains the adjustments that were made.

Carl Wunsch

@29:10 Willie quotes a paper by Wunsch, “It remains possible that the database is insufficient to compute mean sea level trends with the accuracy necessary to discuss the impact of global warming”. But Willie fails to mention that the paper is limited to data between 1993 and 2004. Notice too that Wunsch is specifically mentioning the IMPACT of global warming; that shouldn’t be confused with the ability to measure to the mm accuracy.

Accurate enough to detect El Nino

Willie now contradicts himself. Moments ago he was saying that the satellite could not possibly be accurate, now @30:50 he says

the high peak there is something related to the famous El Nino of 1997-8.

Satellites that Willie says are not accurate, detected the few millimetre difference made by the warmer water of the El Nino (which expands) causing a slight temporary rise in sea levels.

Kempton & Dhanju

@34:15 Willie talks about the work of Kempton and Dhanju 2007 in which they add up the sea level rise that would occur if parts of Antarctic and Greenland were to melt. Willie cites the 15 meter figure (Greenland 6.55 and West Antarctic 8.06). These figures are not controversial; other studies are cited for the numbers and there are various papers giving similar figures.

Kempton’s 15 meters projection is not for 2100, another figure Kempton mentions is 64.8 meters if East Antarctica were to melt. I think Willie would have a fit over that one.

But Willie seems happy to lead his audience into thinking that Kempton’s 15 figure was a 2100 year projection – it is not.

“Unbelievable” say Willie, once again not actually providing anything to actually counter the science.

@34:40 Will says

So you got 15 meter you go multiply by 3.3, I don’t know how many foot is that but is a lot.

In my head Willie, 15 * 3 is 45, 15 * 0.3 is 4.5, 45 + 4.5 = 49.5.


Once again Willie is clear about his level of understanding, @36:30 he says

I really don’t understand this kind of work … all I know is that the result doesn’t seem to be too valid.

Yep. Willie doesn’t understand, therefore the result can’t possibly be right in his mind. He quotes a section of research from Peltier suggesting that the oceans are not gaining mass; is that right?

As listed on the CU Sea Level Research Group’s website, Peltier says

Since GRACE also provides a measurement of the rate at which mass is being added to the oceans, we are now in a position to ask whether this rate of mass addition to the oceans matches the rate at which mass is being removed from the continents. As demonstrated herein, the mass component of the budget of global sea level is closed within the observational errors.

Not the words of someone that supposedly disputes sea level rise.

On the CU Website, on the topic of Glacial Isostatic Adjustments, Peltier says

…the upward correction of 0.3 mm/yr to the rate of sea level rise being measured by the altimetric satellites Topex/Poseidon and Jason-1 is a correction that was first pointed out as necessary by myself.

@41:18 Willie says of himself

It’s really a lot of ignorant on my part

Willie doesn’t understand. I wonder if he ever will.

Tide Guages

Willie now turns his attention to tide gauges and mentions his old friend Nils-Axel Mörner who’s effort we have covered earlier – I won’t bother going over old territory.

Most of Willie’s commentary from here on is simply information about the tide gauges, rather than an analysis of how they affect our current understanding of sea level rise. Willie attempts to cast doubt by citing a paper by Houston to suggest that subsidence is a significant issue being over looked. I expect Willie is misinterpreting the science given that Houston’s latest paper says

Sea-level rise projections from 1990 to 2100 are 0.18, 0.48, and 0.82 m at 5, 50, and 95% confidence levels, respectively.

@47:15 Willie pulls up some data from Ballu et all 2011 with GPS data showing that subsidence and rapid change from large earthquakes cause more sea level rise in Vanuatu than anything else. Indeed it did, but what else did they find? From the abstract …

From 1997 to 2009, the absolute sea level rose by 150 +∕− 20 mm. But GPS data reveal that the islands subsided by 117 +∕− 30 mm over the same time period, almost doubling the apparent gradual sea level rise.

So 33mm of actual sea level rise occurred between 1997 to 2009, that’s 2.75mm/yr, very close to the global average. Willie conveniently over-looks this fact.

Willie’s voice reaches shrieking level as he suggests that the scientific world is ignoring the sedimentation. Perhaps he could explain why the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for the Government of Australia specifically mentions the Ballu paper?

Sick Science

Willie describes science that he disagrees with or cannot understand as “sick science” and “rotten”. Willies failure to agree with something seems to depend upon his inability to understand it.

@10:08 Willie says

I don’t know, it’s really sick. This science is not healthy. They are really doing something bad because I don’t understand what they [are] doing.


This statement sums up Willie’s attempt to discredit the science. With an over-inflated perception of his own ability, when faced with something he personally does not understand, rather than admit that he lacks the capacity, he instead called the science “sick”.

Willie’s “sick” scientists include four major independent bodies that all arrive at nearly the exact same result.

University of Colorado: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr

AVISO: 3.2 ± 0.6 mm/yr

CSIRO: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr

NOAA: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr (w/ GIA)


Willie just don’t understand it.

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12 Responses to “Willie Soon, “I just don’t understand””

  1. Nice One Says:

    Nice post. You could have saved yourself some typing and just list quotes by Soon.

    I have a little problem understanding that one … I just don’t believe any of this is achievable.

    So you got 15 meter you go multiply by 3.3, I don’t know how many foot is that but is a lot.

    I really don’t understand this kind of work … all I know is that the result doesn’t seem to be too valid.

    It’s really a lot of ignorant on my part.

    They are really doing something bad because I don’t understand what they [are] doing.

  2. Dave Hills Says:

    You only have to look at the plots that are not seasonally adjusted to realise that they can resolve the sea level to millimeter accuracy. They show the ocean expanding and contracting by more than ten mm over the coarse of the year, with an underlying long term increasing trend. Soon neglects to mention this.

  3. Mike McClory Says:

    Pevensey Castle is an odd place to use as a reference point since the UK is still going through isostatic rebound from the last period of glaciation.

  4. Another Week of Climate Disruption News, August 4, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered Says:

    […] 2013/08/04: ItsNotNova: Willie Soon, “I just don’t understand” […]

  5. Marco Says:

    Mike…odd? Not odd at all. The cherry pick that ‘confirms’ the desired result! Don’t add any caveats, only climate scientists need to do that, and they should not forget the unknown unknowns, which magically all are expected to expand uncertainty in one direction only.

  6. Happy Heyoka Says:

    Epic rebuttal, great links, excellent post.

  7. Mike McClory Says:

    My apologies, on further investigation it turns out that the post-glacial rebound in the UK has caused the south of the country to subside over time. But Pevensey is an area of reclaimed marshland, so it’s still not surprising that the coast there has changed dramatically.


  8. tomwys Says:

    4 independent bodies??? Get real!!! The four charts are all EXACTLY the same Topex/Poseidon/Jason1&2 graphics. ONE source, and one that has some known and serious deficiencies.

    • itsnotnova Says:

      CU: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr
      AVISO: 3.2 ± 0.6 mm/yr

      Not quite EXACTLY the same now is it? But sure, you’d expect them to be very similar.

      I am interested in your theory for where all the melted land-ice is going.

  9. tomwys Says:

    You’re more than welcome to attend one of my talks in the US! Let me know your travel plans, and I’ll try to accommodate.

    I spoke in Perth & Fremantle a few years ago, but have no current plans to go “Down Under” in the near future, but if that changes I’ll let you know.

    As “…for where all the melted land-ice is going,” it has to melt first in more than trivial quantities.

    • itsnotnova Says:

      When you figure out something relevant to say instead of just hyperbole, let me know and I’ll be bothered to listen. At the moment you’ve provided NO evidence to support your claims.

  10. Messi Says:

    Willie Soon has not disclosed his conflict of interest in any of his work. he’s been paid 1.2 millions dollars by the fossil fuel industry.


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