Glaciers are retreating, but won’t be gone in 2035

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(Nederlandse versie hier)

In the latest IPCC report the claim was made that the Himalayan glaciers would very likely be gone by 2035, if present rates of warming continued. That is not the case. The source for this statement was a WWF report, which in turn relied on a report from the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI). This report however mentioned the year 2350, which was mistakenly taken over as 2035 in the WWF (and subsequently the IPCC) report. I.e. the IPCC used a secondary source, apparently without checking the primary source. Even then, the year 2350 is only based on extrapolation and is not strongly supported, as William Connolley points out.

This is absolutely wrong, and much more problematic than the whole stolen emails-affair. This statement should not have made it through the rigorous review process that IPCC reports undergo. It appeared in the working group 2 report, about effects of climate change. The scientific basis for this field (and apparently also the level of review) is not as strong as that for working group 1, about the physical workings of the climate system.

It doesn’t mean that everything is fine with the glaciers. The vast majority of glaciers worldwide are retreating, just not suddenly 25 times as fast as they did in the previous 40 years. The scientific basis of how and why the climate is changing (i.e. the topic of working group 1) has not been tarnished, despite claims to the contrary from the usual suspects. However, the chance of such a blunder occurring again should of course be absolutely minimized.

One of the Indian scientists involved, Murari Lal, has been falsely cited as having put the 2035 number in the report for political purposes; a quick check with him personally revealed that he didn’t. This kind of witch-hunt seems to have become the norm in climate science reporting, a very sad state of affairs.

See also the reaction of the IPCC, RealClimate and several other bloggers (SkepticalScience, Stoat, Deltoid, and a detailed account by Nielsen-Gammon and ClimateScienceWatch) and a good presentation about changes in glaciers, with on page 40 the context of the erroneous 2035-statement.

Update: More good posts at MoD, Deltoid

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3 Responses to “Glaciers are retreating, but won’t be gone in 2035”

  1. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/health/pachauri-calls-indian-govt-report-on-melting-himalayan-glaciers-as-voodoo-science_100301232.html

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/global-warming/Glaciologist-demands-apology-from-Pachauri-for-voodoo-remark/articleshow/5477796.cms

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LA21Df05.html

    “Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in 2007 appointed a panel of Indian scientists to study the Himalayan glacier melting. In one of the most exhaustive studies of the region, the ministry’s panel analyzed 150 years of data by the Geological Survey of India from 25 Himalayan glaciers. The body concluded that while Himalayan glaciers had long been retreating, there was no acceleration of the trend and nothing to suggest that the glaciers would vanish.”


    “When his panel’s report was released in November 2009, the IPCC’s chief, R K Pachauri, dismissed it as “voodoo science” and called the findings “school science”. Accusing Ramesh of arrogance, Pachauri said that such skeptical claims were reminiscent of “climate change deniers”. ”

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,674087,00.html

    “In mid-January, the New Scientist confessed to its own sloppiness, exactly one day after IPCC Chairman Pachauri and his glacier expert Hasnain had announced a joint venture involving TERI, Iceland and the United States to study the Himalayan glaciers, with half a million dollars in funding from the New York-based Carnegie Foundation. “Perhaps Pachauri was so hesitant to look into the matter because he was trying to protect the research projects being conducted by his own institute,” says climate statistician Storch. Pachauri, however, claims that he was simply pressed for time: “Everybody in the IPCC was terribly preoccupied with planning for several events that were to take place in Copenhagen,” he said, referring to the climate change summit held in the Danish capital in December.”

    ———————————

    Sorry, if this is all true, Pachauri has to resign in my opinion or the IPCC will suffer serious credibility problems.

  2. Bart Says:

    Heiko,

    I think the study you refer to was headed by Raina. Amongst its conclusions are “All the glaciers under observation, during the last three decades of 20th century have shown cumulative negative mass balance”. It has been spun by media (and the authors themselves? Not sure.) as if it countered the claim that human emssions were respsonsible for the retreat, but it doesn’t. The authors correctly noted that the 2035 number was way off, but the report has been touted as way more than it delivers.

    See eg http://simondonner.blogspot.com/2009/11/himalayan-glaciers-and-virtue-of.html and

    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2009/11/india_arrogant_to_deny_global.php

    Pachauri made some very unfortunate statements. Whether they are a valid reason to call for his resignation, I don’t know. I suspect many such calls are given in by the desire to have a scapegoat. At this time, newspaper and magazine articles are about the worst to go by to judge somebody’s behaviour. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be a good idea to look more closely to his role in all of this mess. I’m not very interested in doing so however.

  3. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    I had seen that post by William at the time, but had not read it too carefully. The comments are one thing.

    But the appearance that he chose to misrepresent the science to get research funding is quite another.

    http://www.eu-highnoon.org/nl/25222819-%5Blinkpage%5D.html?opage_id=25222886&location=-714253156641779,10305425,true,true

    Anastasios Kentarchos from DG Research explains here how High Noon came about. Namely, he specifically cites the 2035 number as justification for producing the call for research. Pachauri’s TERI was the lead organisation on the Indian side in the proposal that won. It’s about 3 million Euros of research money.

    Quoting from the presentation:

    After careful consideration of the
    proposed areas for further research, it was
    decided to have a call for proposals in the
    area of Himalayan glaciers retreat.
    Topic of high scientific and societal
    importance !
    • IPCC 4AR: ‘Glaciers in the Himalaya
    are receding faster than in any other part
    of the world and, if the present rate
    continues, the likelihood of them
    disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps
    sooner is very high if the Earth keeps
    warming at the current rate’ …….. ……….
    • ‘as a consequence of climate change could
    likely affect the economies in the region’.

    ENV.2008.1.1.6.1 Impacts of Himalayan glaciers retreat
    and monsoon pattern change on the water resources in
    Northern India, and adaptation strategies
    (Specific International Cooperation Action: new FP7 tool
    designed to facilitate international cooperation actions)

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