Fact check: Photos of Hawaii lighthouse don't disprove sea-level rise

·4 min read

The claim: Images of a lighthouse in 1900 and 2021 prove sea levels haven't risen

Social media users shared photos of a lighthouse in Hawaii to falsely claim sea-level rise is a hoax.

A Facebook post on June 15 shows two images of a cliff-side lighthouse that were purportedly taken a century apart. One image is labeled “1900” and the other “2021.”

“SAME Lighthouse 120 years apart. The Ocean Levels haven’t changed ONE bit,” says text in the image.

There's 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.

Fact check: Scientific consensus says humans are dominant cause of climate change

USA TODAY was unable to reach the user who shared the post for comment.

Lighthouse wasn't built until 1912

Using reverse image search, USA TODAY identified the lighthouse 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 lighthouse's construction didn't begin until 1912.

"Construction was completed on May 1, 1913. It is indeed not 120 years old," Daubert said.

Fact check: False claim persists that planes weren't used in 9/11 attacks on World Trade Center

He suggested the image purportedly taken in 1900 was probably 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 explained that sea level can vary by several meters in inlets and bays, depending on tides.

Fact check: False claim ties Biden's climate plan to reducing meat consumption

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 shows sea levels are rising

Though long-term changes in sea level cannot be measured with the naked eye, government data shows sea levels are changing.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, sea levels have risen 6 to 8 inches around the globe in the past century. That rate of change is unprecedented over the past several thousand years, NASA said.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data shows sea levels in Nawiliwili Harbor in Kauai are rising at an average rate of 0.58 feet every 100 years.

Experts attribute rising sea levels 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."

Fact check: Frozen wind turbines don't deserve all the blame for Texas blackouts

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 confirms sea levels across the globe and near Kauai are rising because of climate change. Visual comparisons of shorelines do not reflect the effects of climate change; sea-level changes are often within a few inches and vary with the tide.

Our fact check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Hawaii lighthouse photos don't disprove sea-level rise

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting