Why Are Sea Levels Rising? GOP Lawmaker Says It's Because of Falling Rocks

During a Thursday meeting that was supposed to be about using technology to address climate change, lawmakers on the House's Science, Space and Technology Committee sparred over the cause of rising sea levels. Some conservatives at the meeting shared their denial that climate change is, in fact, a real phenomenon.

The nadir of the meeting arguably came when Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama said that falling rocks and moving dirt are to blame for oceans rising across the globe. 

“Every time you have that soil or rock deposited into the seas, that causes the sea level to rise, because now you’ve got less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up," Brooks said, speaking over Philip Duffy, a climate scientist who previously served on the White House National Science and Technology Council. E&E News, a publication focused on environment and energy, was first to report the exchange. 

GettyImages-182136335 U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) on his way to the House Chamber for a procedural vote on the House floor September 28, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

“What about the white cliffs of Dover, California, where time and time again you’re having the waves crash against the shorelines, and time and time again, you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea," Brooks pressed on. "All that displaces water, which forces it to rise, does it not?”

Duffy, who now leads the climate-focused Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, told the lawmaker that, on the human time scale, falling rocks have minuscule effects. Thousands of studies have attributed rising sea levels to global climate change, several of which he mentioned during his testimony.

Florida Representative Bill Posey also took a stab at the debate. Along with other conservatives, he has previously pushed back against climate science, arguing that a large chunk of the science and research is politically motivated. 

"What do you say to people who theorize that the Earth as it continues to warm is returning to its normal temperature?" Posey asked Duffy. 

"Look, if you want to characterize a temperature above today's temperature as normal, you're free to do that, but that doesn't mean that's a planet we want to live on," Duffy quipped in response. 

Based on 25 years of satellite data, a study published in February by NASA found that the rate of global sea level rise has been accelerating, mostly due to ice melting in Greeland and Antarctica. 

At its current pace, sea levels are expected to rise about 26 inches by 2100, an uptick that would cause "significant problems" for cities along the coast.

There is more than a 95 percent chance that the change is caused by human activity since the mid 20th century, NASA reported.

The full meeting can be viewed here: 

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