The claim: Images of a lighthouse in 1900 and 2021 prove sea levels haven’t risen
Social media users are sharing photos of a lighthouse in Hawaii to falsely claim sea-level rise is a hoax.
A June 15 Facebook post shares two images of a cliff-side lighthouse that were purportedly taken a century apart. One image is labeled “1900” and the other is labeled “2021.”
“SAME Lighthouse 120 years apart. The Ocean Levels haven’t changed ONE bit,” says text in the image.
There’s just one problem with that: The lighthouse in the images didn’t exist in 1900. The Facebook post also disregards the effect of tides on sea levels, as well as the science of climate change.
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USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post for comment.
Lighthouse wasn’t built until 1912
Using reverse image search, USA TODAY identified the lighthouse in the images as the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse in Kauai, Hawaii. It didn’t exist in 1900, as the Facebook post claims.
In an email to USA TODAY, Thomas Daubert, executive director of Friends of Kauai Wildlife Refuges, confirmed the images show Kilauea Point.
USA TODAY could not verify when each image was taken, but the first image could not be from 1900 because the lighthouse’s construction didn’t begin until 1912.
“Construction was completed on May 1, 1913. It is indeed not 120 years old,” Daubert said.
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He suggested the image purportedly taken in 1900 was likely taken several decades later.
“The (black-and-white) image shows a small piece of a building to the left of the lighthouse, which wasn’t built until 1929 with the advent of radar,” Daubert said.
Tides affect sea level hour-to-hour, day-to-day
Regardless of when the images were taken, the Facebook post disregards the effect of tides.
Sea levels would have appeared lower or higher at the lighthouse depending on the time, day and season each photo was taken. National Geographic explains that sea level can vary by several meters in inlets and bays depending on tides.
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Keryn Gedan is an assistant professor of biology at George Washington University who researches the effect of climate change on marine ecosystems and sea level. She told USA TODAY visual comparison is “a poor way” to measure sea-level change.
“It can be difficult to discern the tidal stage from a photograph. Depending on the location, tides can be up to 50 vertical feet,” she said.
Other photos of the Kilauea Point Lighthouse from similar angles show tides at varied heights.
Data prove sea levels are rising
While long-term changes in sea level cannot be measured with the naked eye, government data prove sea levels are changing.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, sea levels have risen between 6 and 8 inches around the globe in the last century. That rate of change is unprecedented over the past several thousand years, NASA says.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show sea levels in Nawiliwili Harbor in Kauai are rising at an average rate of 0.58 feet every 100 years.
Experts agree rising sea levels are due to climate change.
“Our best science, in the form of ever-refined global earth models, suggests that this acceleration will continue over the next century and result in much higher rates of sea-level rise than we have yet experienced today,” Gedan said. “It is important for coastal areas to prepare and plan for this eventuality.”
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In April, USA TODAY debunked a similar claim which falsely argued side-by-side images of Palm Beach in Australia proved sea levels hadn’t risen.
Our rating: False
The claim that images of a lighthouse in 1900 and 2021 prove sea levels haven’t risen is FALSE, based on our research. The timeline at the center of the comparison is inaccurate, as the Kilauea Lighthouse was not built until 1912. Official data confirm sea levels across the globe and near Kauai are rising due to climate change. Visual comparisons of shorelines do not reflect the effects of climate change, as sea-level changes are often within a few inches and vary with the tide.
Our fact-check sources:
- Yandex, accessed June 16
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, accessed June 16, Daniel K. Inouye Kīlauea Point Lighthouse Tours
- Thomas Daubert, June 17, Email correspondence with USA TODAY
- Friends of Kauai Wildlife refuges, accessed June 16, History Of The Kīlauea Lighthouse
- National Geographic, accessed June 16, Cause and Effect: Tides
- Keryn Gedan, June 18, Email correspondence with USA TODAY
- Tripadvisor, accessed June 16, Kauai Photo: Kaui’s Lighthouse
- Shutter Stock, accessed June 16, White Lighthouse set atop a cliff with a brilliant blue ocean in the background in Kauai, Hawaii, USA.
- NASA, Sea Level Change, accessed June 16, How long have sea levels been rising? How does recent sea level rise compare to that over the previous centuries?
- NOAA, Tides & Currents, accessed June 16, Sea Level Trends
- USA TODAY, April 23, Fact check: Photos show no change in sea level over 99 years but don’t disprove climate change
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