Fact Check: Photos Of Brazil's Sugarloaf Mountain Do NOT Prove Sea Levels Aren't Rising

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: Photos Of Brazil's Sugarloaf Mountain Do NOT Prove Sea Levels Aren't Rising Levels Rising

Do photographs of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, taken over the past 144 years, prove that sea levels aren't rising? No, that's not true: According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the sea level monitored at a station near Sugarloaf Mountain has increased by more than nine inches in 100 years, when compared to the land. Also, it's not possible to tell whether sea levels are rising or falling based on photographs of historic landmarks, shown without any context or explanation.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Facebook on June 1, 2024. The post included three photographs from ca. 1880, ca. 1910 and 2020 that seemingly showed similar sea levels. The post's caption read:

Oh yes, I forgot. Sea levels are rising!
I don't think so!

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of the writing of this fact check:

Screenshot 2024-06-07 at 10.02.40 AM.png

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jun 7 15:19:19 2024 UTC)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports (archived here) that the relative sea level trend (how the level of sea water changes relative to the land over a period of time) at Ihla Fiscal, a nearby island, is 2.35 millimeters (just under a tenth of an inch) a year, an increase of more than nine inches in 100 years. In other words, sea levels are rising in the Sugarloaf Mountain area, and they are rising globally, too. Worldwide, the average sea level has risen eight to nine inches since 1880, according to NOAA, which also reports that this rate is accelerating.

Photographs of historic landmarks that appear to show no change in sea levels are often used to perpetuate the myth that sea levels aren't rising. For example, Lead Stories has written about claims involving images of Plymouth Rock, the Statute of Liberty and Fort Denison in Sydney Harbor, Australia. But the photographs can't back up the claims.

The images of Sugarloaf Mountain, for example, are taken at such a distance that it would be impossible to determine whether sea levels are rising or falling. They are also displayed without any context or explanation; it's unclear at what time of the year they were taken and whether they were taken at low or high tide. By themselves, the photographs do not say anything about sea levels -- much less prove that they aren't rising.

At the time this fact check was written, USAToday had reviewed the same claim.

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  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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