Truth Sinks Into The Mud: How German N24 Public Television Grossly Misled Viewers On Sea Level

German public television seems to have gotten extremely sloppy and misleading lately. Gone are the days of critical reporting and fact-checking, it seems.

Not long ago flagship ARD television, using tricky wording, sadly misled viewers into thinking that the more than 15,000 deaths caused by the Japan tsunami of 2011 were caused by the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown (Reality: not a single death has yet to be attributed to leaked radiation).


Image licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The latest gross deception, by what Germans are starting to call the “Lügenpresse” (the lying press), comes from German NDR public television site which got the entire science on Sundarbans sea level rise wrong.


River delta in India and Bangladesh sinking away: N24 forgets to mention sediment compaction as an important reason for rising waters

Climatic apocalyptic mood on 19 February 2015 at n24:

Extreme climate change: The Sundarbans have 15 years left
Climate change is threatening all of humanity, but some are especially impacted. In the Sundarbans already the livelihoods of 13 million people are threatened. […] Sea water has already swept over the spot of land on the Indian island of Bali where Mondol grew rice and operated fish ponds – just like earlier generations since about 200 years ago. Water has taken everything else away – and one day it will also take away the hut. ‘Every year we have to move a bit further inland,’ he says. Bali is considerably smaller than the Indonesian island with the same name. Mondol lives in the Sundarbans, a low lying delta region between India and Bangladesh that has 200 islands and round about 13 million inhabitants. Most of the homes are in an impoverished condition. The sea level in the region is rising about twice as fast as the global average. Tens of thousands already have become homeless. According to estimates by scientists, a large part of the Sundarbans could be submerged in 15 to 25 years.”

Delta regions are known for the gradual stabilization of their sediment – so-called compaction – sinking. This small detail was simply left out by n24. Here on April 30, 2013 Nature India explicitly pointed out that the flooding was not solely due to climate change:

Seven years after the first report on the ‘vanishing islands’ of Sundarbans, Subhra Priyadarshini revisits the fragile delta in the Bay of Bengal to find that it is not just climate change that threatens the existence of this world heritage mangrove tiger-land spread across the Indo-Bangladesh border. […]In the last 25 years, the rate of relative sea level rise comes close to 8 mm/year, significantly higher than the rate of 3.14 mm/year in the previous decade,’ he says. In a recent report he co-authored for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)3, Hazra says besides global warming and the subsequent thermal expansion of water, the rather rapid subsidence of the Bengal delta (2-4 mm/year), compaction of silt and other local causes may be responsible for the exceptionally high rate of relative sea level rise in the Indian Sundarbans.

Science has already intensively studied the subsidence problem, and so it is peculiar that n24 did not mention this result. Geologist Till Hanebuth reported in 2013 on results from the delta region of Bangladesh. His team found natural subsidence of more than 4 millimeters per year. This rate is considerably higher than the climatic-related sea level rise. In the description of results of a project by the Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Association) it is stated:

Assessing the recent subsidence of the central coastal Delta of Bangladesh by dating submerged kilns The densely populated low lying Ganges‐Brahmaputra Delta is highly vulnerable to the global sea‐ level rise. In order to estimate the subsidence of the delta, we examined submerged salt‐producing kiln sites in the coastal Sundarbans. These kilns were built just above the previous winterly spring high‐tide level, but are currently located ~155 cm below the corresponding modern level. According to optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, the kilns were ultimately fired ~300 years ago and salt production was terminated by a catastrophic event, which affected the kiln sites at different levels and locations. AMS‐14C ages of charcoal at the kiln’s base and associated mangrove stump horizons support the OSL dates. Based on the elevations and the ages, the 300‐year‐average rate of sinking of the outer delta is 5.2 ± 1.2 mm/a, which includes 0.8 mm/a of eustatic sea‐level rise. Reasonably postulating that the subsidence rate will not change during the next few decades and accepting the estimates of current sea‐ level rise of 1.8–3.0 mm/a or 2.7–7.1 mm/a, a RSL rise of 6.4 ± 1.7 mm/a or 8.9 ± 3.3 mm/a, respectively, must be assumed along the Sundarbans coasts.”

Similar subsidence was also found by Stanley & Hait (2000).


6 responses to “Truth Sinks Into The Mud: How German N24 Public Television Grossly Misled Viewers On Sea Level”

  1. Henning Nielsen

    More about this delta here:

    But I am surprised that n24 neglected the shifting sandbanks in the river, they have so often been used as “proof” of the sinking Bangla Desh.

  2. DirkH

    “The sea level in the region is rising about twice as fast as the global average.”

    Looks to me like the level of ignorance in Germany is rising at least twice as fast as the global average.
    Or maybe the foundations of reason in Germany are subsiding.

  3. DD More

    Find a map from the British Navy from the late 1700 and everything 20 miles from the current open sea line was underwater. Bangladesh has gained that much ground in the last 300 years from silt of the Ganges River. Cry to your ancestors for picking a lousy place to reside.

  4. Frederick Colbourne

    Among journalists (and the public too) there is profound ignorance about the physical Earth. I recall from a beginning physical geography course that deltas subside and that also the great rivers gradually extend seaward by depositing silt and clay.

    When I worked in Bangladesh last year on an urban development project last year, I found that other false claims are being made too: that offshore islands are being destroyed by climate change. However, the reality is that offshore islands drift with currents in the Gulf of Bengal.

    So many myths about the Earth! There are even vestiges of the Garden of Eden myth: the belief that at some time in the past, the Earth was benign. Nature is neither benign nor malevolent.

    Nature is indifferent to the affairs of Man. The geographical disadvantages of eastern Bengal are ancient but made worse by growth of population to over 100 million people in a land that has few resources apart from land and rivers. These rivers flood about 40% of the land each year.

    Religious and political conflicts led to Partition of British India 65 years ago. Since then Bangladeshis have suffered a war of independence and military rule, either overt or behind the scenes. Bangladesh is one of the worst-governed countries in the world.

    Climate change is the least of Bangladesh’s worries.

  5. Dick Cobus

    The problem in Germany as in US is a lack of honest science. Everyone jumps on the Al Gore train and make outrages statements with no scientific proof. If we do get some data you have to first find out who they are working for and who is paying their salary. When you do this you can predict what the outcome is and will be.