In new row, UN climate body to probe Himalayan glacier forecast

January 18, 2010 by Marlowe Hood

The UN's panel of climate scientists said on Monday it would probe claims its doomsday prediction for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers was wrong as an expert said he had warned of the mistake.

The Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is already under attack over hacked email exchanges which skeptics say reflected attempts to skew the evidence for global warming.

The new controversy focusses on a reference in the IPCC's landmark Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 that said the probability of glaciers in the Himalayas "disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high."

At the weekend, Britain's Sunday Times newspaper reported that this reference came from the green campaign group WWF, which in turn took it from an interview given by an Indian glaciologist to New Scientist magazine in 1999.

There is no evidence that the claim was published in a peer-reviewed journal, a cornerstone of scientific credibility, it said.

"We are looking into the issue of the Himalayan glaciers, and will take a position on it in the next two or three days," the IPCC's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, said in an email to AFP.

In an interview with AFP, a leading glaciologist who contributed to the Fourth Assessment Report described the mistake as huge and said he had notified his colleagues of it in late 2006, months before publication.

Loss of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 would take two or three times the highest expected rate of global warming, said Georg Kaser of the Geography Institute at Austria's University of Innsbruck.

"This number is not just a little bit wrong, but far out of any order of magnitude. It is as wrong as can be wrong.

"To get this outcome, you would have to increase the ablation [ice loss] by 20 fold. You would have to raise temperatures by at least 12 degrees" Celsius, or 21.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing... I pointed it out."

Asked why his warning had not been heeded, Kaser pointed to "a kind of amateurism" among experts from the region who were in charge of the chapter on climate impacts, where the reference appeared.

"They might have been good hydrologists or botanists, but they were without any knowledge in glaciology," he said.

The Fourth Assessment Report said that the evidence for global warming was now "unequivocal," that the chief source for it was man-made and that there were already signs of climate change, of which glacial melt was one.

The massive publication had the effect of a political thunderclap, triggering promises to curb greenhouse gases that had stoked the problem.

Kaser said the core evidence of the Fourth Assessment Report remained incontrovertible.

"I am careful in saying this, because immediately people will again engage in IPCC bashing, which would be wrong," he said.

But he acknowledged that the process of peer review, scrutiny and challenge which underpin the IPCC's reputation had "entirely failed" when it came specifically to the 2035 figure.

The 2035 reference appeared in the second volume of the Fourth Assessment Report, a tome published in April 2007 that focussed on the impacts of climate change, especially on human communities.

Part of the problem, said Kaser, was "everyone was focussed" on the first volume, published in February 2007, which detailed the physical science for climate change.

Work on this volume was "much more attractive to the community" of glaciologists, and they had failed to pick up on the mistake that appeared in the second, he said.

The question of glacial melt is a vital one for South Asia, as it touches on flooding or water stress with the potential to affect hundreds of millions of lives.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has repeatedly challenged the IPCC's claims.

The IPCC came under ferocious attack from climate skeptics last month ahead of the UN conference in Copenhagen.

Emails from scientists at Britain's University of East Anglia, a top centre for climate research, were leaked and seized upon as evidence that experts twisted data in order to dramatise global warming.

Some of the thousands of messages expressed frustration at the scientists' inability to explain what they described as a temporary slowdown in warming. Pachauri has vowed to investigate the affair.

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3.5 / 5 (13) Jan 18, 2010
The actual figure, of course, was 2350, and the paper that carried that number did not say that the Himalayan glaciers "likely" would "disappear" by that time or sooner.

Instead, the original source paper also stated that the Himalayan glaciers would be among those which would survive 2350 at current trends.

But, the WWF version of this fact was twisted to 2035 and it was used by the IPCC rather than tracking down the original study and using it. Of course, it was not as alarming as the WWF version so the original study might not have served the IPCC well.

I am glad that has reported this newsworthy event. I hope that Pachauri makes good on his claim of initiating a probe as to why the IPCC went to material that was not peer-reviewed or even firsthand material as is often claimed for their work (as I also hope that a probe already is underway regarding the CRU data).
Jan 18, 2010
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Jan 18, 2010
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1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 18, 2010
If America is not alarmed by the figure of 2350 for a significant glacial covering reduction, then they should not be alarmed by the numbers of Silicon Valley and University jobs going to Indian people. While the Indians face impending water shortages well before 2350 caused by the reduction glacia melt each spring, (just as in Colorado and California), America should be happy to fund the employment, accommodation an health of their young, well educated and ambitious youth ... rather than funding research into halting or reversing this climate trend, if that is at all possible.

The Himalayan glacia provides fresh water to rivers flowing into India and China. Both these huge populations are consuming more water whilst the source is being greatly reduced. Don't expect those populations to remain in situ once the cost of living there makes the decision to migrate a simple one - and possibly (even worse for America) humanitarian one.

Congratulations to Kaser for his "fifteen minutes".
3.2 / 5 (13) Jan 18, 2010
I am not alarmed by the true timeline. Technology changes too quickly in that amount of time. I doubt very highly that we will be operating at the status quo for that long without serious shortages in fossil fuels developing before that.

India is doing fine and will do fine. So long as monsoons continue to happen there will be plenty of water there for the foreseeable future--IPCC misrepresentations to the contrary notwithstanding.

In addition, I am glad that Kaser, who is one of several experts on glaciology, spoke up. We need more people to speak up when facts are twisted into something they are not.
3.2 / 5 (13) Jan 18, 2010
Two things to remember:
1) The summary for policy makers in the Fourth Assessment was written before the chapters.
2) Pachauri, not a climate scientist by any standard, is being investigated (by the press) for conflicts of interest. It appears that he is currently receiving money from companies that stand to make a great deal if 'green' becomes mandatory.
1.9 / 5 (7) Jan 19, 2010
@dachpyarvile: Flood water provides little if any drinking water, and usually pollutes the normal sources. Monsoons do not affect the entire Indian continent.

@GrayMouser: sources please. If you are talking about a draft summary having a limited distribution, (ignoring leaks to the press), before finalisation and printing of the complete report, that is perfectly normal procedure.

As for Pachauri "being investigated by the press", so is anyone else who takes any position in this politically explosive topic. Accusations of corporate back-handers without any evidence can be applied to just about anybody who speaks at any public forum.

Until any such corruption is proven and the verdict made public, your remarks might well be considered libelous if Pachauri's legal team were to read them.
2 / 5 (6) Jan 19, 2010

Monsoons supply more than just floodwater. They also supply high altitude, Asian temperate and low latitude, tropical glaciers with the needed moisture to keep them around.

Flood water also pollutes normal sources only due to mankind's activity in the form of raw sewage as well as people's idiotic practice of, so to speak, 'letting it drop' wherever they feel like it. Monsoons affect much, much more than parts of the Indian subcontinent. I know that many of the models do not reflect that yet but they should.
2 / 5 (4) Jan 19, 2010
India is doing fine and will do fine. So long as monsoons continue to happen there will be plenty of water there for the foreseeable future--IPCC misrepresentations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Perhaps you should have asked the Indians themselves, then if you don't trust the IPCC.

Nasa's GRACE satellite has recorded a 1 ft/year drop in water table levels in northern India.
3 / 5 (8) Jan 19, 2010
Land and water use--not climate change--caused the drop. Last I checked the glaciers still are there, too.
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 19, 2010
By the way, one of the worse things one can do is post broken links when someone is to read something.

Clicking the last link you provided above gives me:

"Error 404 - Not Found
Oh no! You're looking for something which just isn't here! The URL you entered or followed no longer seems to exist, has been removed, or has been replaced."

That is a very MikeyK thing to do, barakn. :)
5 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2010
The actual figure, of course, was 2350...

Oh phlease! As if we are likely to believe prediction more than 3 centuries in the future, when we have hard time reading the crystal ball "merely" 100 years ahead. In fact, I challenge you to name a single artifact of today's reality predicted 100 years ago.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2010
Oh, I agree. That is a good reason why policy changes and potentially economically damaging ones are a bit foolhardy at this stage of the game.

The science is not settled. People still are uncovering problems with the manner of presentation by the IPCC and related organizations.
2 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2010
The Fourth Assessment Report said that the evidence for global warming was now "unequivocal,"

non equi vocal. The voice is not equal. Since the voice of the "deniers" is not allowed to be heard in the mainstream media, it is easy to see how this term applies. When you are the only one who has the microphone, everyone else's voices are not equal.

So this is how they prove AGW, by denying real scientists a voice in the debate. This was the subject of the CRU emails involving elimination of debate and corruption of the peer-review process. Wonderful.
3 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2010
So this is how they prove AGW, by denying real scientists a voice in the debate. This was the subject of the CRU emails involving elimination of debate and corruption of the peer-review process. Wonderful.

Emails, climategate..blah blah blah. Funny how this is the deniers attempt to explain everything, a few emials out of thousands, taken out of context etc etc. Why don't you link to the emails that proves the scientists were trying to ensure the information was as presented as accurately as possible...go on..enlighten us!
Jan 25, 2010
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1 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2010
Why don't you point us with a WORKING link to a site of your choosing that has the email texts there and then someone can pick any number of them as needed. No one is going to link a sockpuppeteer to their own hard drive(s).

In all seriousness, the information is most pertinent to many a discussion as to the validity of information relayed to the public by the IPCC, as in the abovespoken 'row' about their errors in the Himalayan Glacier forecast.

But, your taunt regarding the emails is a distraction at best here. The IPCC were in error here in the Glacial information, had an expert in the field of Glaciology warn them of the inaccuracies but they went ahead with the publication anyway. And, to boot, they did not use a peer-reviewed publication as the source of their erroneoous information.

The IPCC screwed up. True or false? That is the topic of this discussion, not the emails.

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