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How Fast Are Himalayan Glaciers Really Melting?

January 18, 2010

A UN report that said climate change would melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after new evidence that the claim was simply speculation, AFP reported.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2007 that glaciers in the Himalayas were receding faster than in any other part of the world and could “disappear altogether by 2035 if not sooner”.

However, Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper reported over the weekend that the 2035 claim was taken from an interview given by an Indian glaciologist to New Scientist magazine in 1999.

The paper reported that the claim was of questionable scientific value and may not have been backed up by research, but the campaign group WWF used it before making its way into the IPCC’s research in 2007.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said during comments broadcast on the CNN-IBN network that they would take a look into any misleading reports.

The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted Pachauri as saying: “We are studying the new evidence.”

Meanwhile, the IPCC is likely to retract the figure, which would be a humiliation and a further boost for climate skeptics after a scandal last month dubbed “climategate,” the Sunday Times said.

The IPCC is meant to provide a consensus of credible scientific evidence on climate change that can be used as a basis for international policymaking.

Scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia, a top center for climate research, had e-mail hacked and stolen last month by climate change skeptics””who used it as evidence that experts twisted data in order to dramatize global warming.

The IPCC warned in its fourth assessment in 2007 that the rivers of the Gangetic Basin, which supply hundreds of millions with water in northern India, could run dry once glaciers high in the Himalayas melt completely.

“The 2035 forecast was an egregious error that may have originated in an older document predicting a massive melting of glaciers by 2350,” said J. Graham Cogley of Trent University in Canada.

BBC quoted Cogley saying that the authors of the IPCC report “misread 2350 as 2035.”

Scientists in India are split on how fast Himalayan glaciers are receding and whether or not climate change is the culprit.

But other experts, like environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, has repeatedly challenged the IPCC’s claims, saying there is no “conclusive scientific evidence” linking global warming to the melting of glaciers.

Ramesh recently backed a controversial study by Indian scientists that supported his view, causing Pachauri to label his support “arrogant.”

Once it was published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study and even suggested the likelihood of the glaciers melting was very high — a probability of greater than 90 percent.

The report read: “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.”

One expert said the IPCC’s reliance on the WWF was “immensely lazy” and the organization needs to explain itself or back up its prediction with another scientific source.

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