Last winter, I spent several weeks in the Venice Florida area and enjoyed a good deal of time on various beaches. Walking along the beach is therapeutic, doubly so when it is 50 degrees warmer then at my home in Winterport. Those strolls along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico got me thinking about the many (hysterical) reports of rising sea levels.

My Florida walks often took me across a low bascule bridge, or what we non-mariners call a drawbridge. This particular bridge was built in 1969 and after almost 50 years, the road is still high and dry. Charlie, the bridge tender, sits in a small office all day, raising the bridge to as needed accommodate boat traffic.

Attached to the concrete piers supporting the steel bridge is a simple gauge that lets approaching skippers know the clearance from sea level to underside of steel beams. The higher the water’s surface, the lower the number visible on the gauge. Good information. If your boat is taller than the bottom number on the gauge, better have Charlie raise the bridge!

A few days ago I stopped in and talked with Charlie about the media reports of rising sea levels — after all, who better to give you a firsthand report? His exact response was too colorful for this family newspaper! Bottom line: Charlie has monitored the numbers on the gauge for many years and, as far as he can tell, the sea level is not rising. So what is the source of all this media hype?

I know a good bit about surveying. Establishing the elevation of a particular point is a simple and quick exercise, one that is done many times every day on construction sites. You see, for the building industry, controlling elevations is essential because multiple governmental studies have concluded that humans do not like bumps in their floors, roads and bridges. Bumps are bad. Flat is good. That’s settled science.

But, establishing the elevation of the ocean’s surface, hmmmm … that is going to be more complicated. For starters, the ocean is huge and full of bumps (waves). Every day, the gravitational fields of the sun and the moon pull on the water, causing the dramatic changes in sea level we call tides. In Maine sea levels rise and fall as much as 20 feet!

In addition to waves, wind blowing across the water piles up water against the shoreline or sucks it out to sea. Weather (barometric pressure) also impacts sea levels. High pressure pushes the water down, low pressure allows the water to rise, and really low pressure creates what we call storm surge. It was the combination of the high tide and storm surge from the remains of hurricane Sandy that flooded areas around New York City a few years ago.

Amazingly, even the gravitational effects of calving glaciers changes nearby sea level! Clearly, the ocean’s surface is ever-changing and calculating sea level is complicated. I may need another beach walk to figure this out.

After several more miles of sand and considerable head scratching, my conclusion is that due to the ever-changing influences of tides, wind and weather, it is impossible to determine the natural elevation of the ocean’s surface using traditional surveying methods. In fact, even the depths shown on nautical charts come with a warning that these are only estimated depths. All this begs the question: If we cannot establish the ocean’s surface elevation, how can we determine if sea level is rising (or perhaps falling)? More governmental studies would be my guess.

No doubt this expensive, taxpayer funded, research includes extensive computer modeling. But here is the thing, even computer modeling is subject to the laws of science, including the law of rotten data: Garbage in equals garbage out.

Guessing what is happening today and asking what this means for tomorrow is what we in the engineering world call a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess). But now, with the advent of computers, these SWAGs forecasting doom of mankind are taken as “settled science.”

It might be well to remember it is also computers that forecast our weather. You know, the weather forecasts that are wrong most of the time! What I can report with absolute confidence is that, so far, Venice, Florida, unlike Venice Italy, remains high and dry. Assuming the drawbridge is still above water next year, I will give you the 2018 update from Charlie.

This month’s Did You know: One of the few advantages of having been around over 60 years is an abundance of memories that lend perspective to today’s events. Here is my personal look back at a few past episodes of “settled science.”

1960s: As a kid, I visited the New York World’s Fair, where scientists announced that soon all electricity would be generated by nuclear power and proclaimed “it would be too cheap to meter.” But that was before Jane Fonda invented the "China Syndrome." Not a single new nuke plant has been built since that movie filled the big screen. Hollywood wags the dog. And not for the last time.

1970s: The '70swere a particularly bad time for “settled science.” At the University of Maine, my fellow students and I took a break from the rigors of academic drinking and recreational pot smoking (yes I inhaled) to line up in the Field House for our mandatory Swine Flu shots. Everyone. And I am not kidding. The plague was on our doorstep. But it ever happened. Strike One for settled science.

The good news was we all lived to “see” Kohoutec, the comet of the century. Kohoutec was forecast to be so bright you could read a newspaper by its light. And you could, but only before sunset. Strike Two. Not to be left out of the fear mongering of the day, the print media, including Newsweek and Time Magazine, ran scary stories about the coming Ice Age. That would be Strike Three. Lessons learned? Ah…none!

1980s: The calamity de jour for this decade was Acid Rain. Scientists proclaimed that pollution from coal burning Midwestern utilities (what happened to that clean nuclear power?) was killing our trees and acidifying our lakes. Yikes. But then, 10 years later, the results of a half-billion-dollar, National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) study said otherwise.

Only one species of tree at a high elevation suffered any notable effect, and acidity in lakes was traced to natural causes. NAPAP scientists reported that they had “turned up no smoking gun; that the problem is far more complicated than it been thought; that other factors combine to harm trees; and that sorting out the cause and effect was difficult and in some cases impossible.”

1990s: Remember Y2K? I worked for the state of Maine in the late 1990s and we had meeting after emergency meeting attempting to prepare for the worldwide disaster that would commence at midnight on Dec. 31, 1999. Alas, from what I can remember, no computers when haywire and no planes fell from the sky that night. All our emergency planning turned out to be a huge waste of time and taxpayer money.

2000s: Bathed in the fading limelight of inventing the internet, a bored Al Gore dreams up Global Warming. Obligingly, Hollywood produces the hit movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Global warming is settled science. In our schools, this new religion is force-fed to our kids like ducks being prepared for foie gras. Hollywood wags the dog. Again.

2010s: Global Warming is on the wane, replaced by “climate change” and the horror of rising sea levels! Or not. I plan to celebrate New Year’s 2020 on the causeway connecting Deer Isle to the mainland. Today that road is just above sea level. Come join me — if you dare! I’ll be the guy in winter gear and tennis shoes. Those of you who believe global warming and rising sea levels are settled science may want to go with summer shorts and Muck boots!