LONDON (Jan. 23) -- It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood disaster movie: Central and Southern Asia are hit by biblical floods when the Himalayan glaciers suddenly melt. After that cataclysm, water no longer flows from the mountains, leaving rivers like the Mekong and Ganges dry and millions facing permanent drought. That was the picture painted by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report, which said there was a "very high" chance that these glaciers would disappear by 2035 if the world kept warming.
But the IPCC, the U.N. body charged with investigating climate change, retracted that claim after it emerged that its predictions of a sudden melt weren't based on peer-reviewed evidence, but instead on an article that appeared in the popular science magazine New Scientist in 1999.
Subel Bhandari, AFP / Getty Images
While the Khumbu Glacier near Mount Everest is shrinking, the United Nations admits it overstated the threat of a total glacial meltdown in the Himalayas.
On Saturday, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri dismissed calls for his resignation over the error and said no action would be taken against the report's authors, The Associated Press reported. He expressed regret that the doomsday prediction was included in the report but said the mistakes should not obscure the fact that glaciers are melting at an alarming rate.
Climate change skeptics have lapped up the scandal, which they dubbed "Glaciergate," saying that it further erodes the credibility of climate science already damaged by last year's Climategate e-mail scandal. Global warming denier Peter Foster, writing in Canada's National Post, said the error showed how the "IPCC's task has always been not objectively to examine science but to make the case for man-made climate change by any means available."
But Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the IPCC, said the mistake did not undermine the report's key conclusions: that the warming climate is accelerating glacial melt and that this will affect the supply of water from the world's major mountain ranges, "where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives."
"I don't see how one mistake in a 3,000-page report can damage the credibility of the overall report," van Ypersele told the BBC. "Some people will attempt to use it to damage the credibility of the IPCC; but if we can uncover it and explain it and change it, it should strengthen the IPCC's credibility, showing that we are ready to learn from our mistakes."
The argument over the IPCC's melt date went public last November, when a paper written by Indian geologist Vijay Kumar Raina revealed that there was little consistency in the behavior of the Himalayan glaciers. Some were shrinking, he found, some expanding, and others were stable. If global warming were to blame, he asked, why weren't they all following the same pattern? "A glacier ... does not necessarily respond to the immediate climatic changes," he wrote. "For if it be so then all glaciers within the same climatic zone should have been advancing or retreating at the same time."
India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, endorsed the paper and accused the IPCC of being "alarmist" in its predictions. But Pachauri shot back that Raina's findings were "voodoo science" and accused Ramesh of repeating the claims of "climate change deniers."
Embarrassingly, it's now the IPCC that stands accused of sloppy science, as a rigorous system of fact checks would have kept the controversial assertion out of the 2007 report. The claim first appeared in a 1999 interview between a New Scientist journalist and the Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain, who speculated that the mountain range's glaciers could vanish by 2035.
Environmental group the World Wildlife Fund then repeated Hasnain's prediction in its 2005 report, "An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China." As this was only was a campaigning paper, it had not undergone a thorough scientific review. But its lack of scientific rigor didn't stop the IPCC using the WWF document as a source.
In chapter 10 of its 2007 report, the IPCC concluded: "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. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometers by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005)."
But many glaciologists believed those claims were overheated. As most Himalayan glaciers are hundreds of feet thick, only a sudden, huge spike in global temperatures could cause them to disappear before 2035. "The reality, that the glaciers are wasting away, is bad enough," Graham Cogley, a glaciologist at Canada's University of Trent, who played a key role in exposing the flawed claim, told the United Kingdom's Sunday Times. "But they are not wasting away at the rate suggested by this speculative remark and the IPCC report. The problem is that nobody who studied this material bothered chasing the trail back to the original point when the claim first arose."
Indian glaciologist Murari Lal, the lead author of that section of the IPCC report, last week rejected claims that the U.N. group had made a serious error. "We relied rather heavily on gray [not peer-reviewed] literature, including the WWF report," Lal told New Scientist. "The error, if any, lies with Dr Hasnain's assertion and not with the IPCC authors."
Unsurprisingly, Hasnain has refuted that attempt to pass the blame. "The magic number of 2035 has not [been] mentioned in any research papers written by me, as no peer-reviewed journal will accept speculative figures," he said to New Scientist. "It is not proper for IPCC to include references from popular magazines or newspapers."
That's a tough but obvious lesson, and one the IPCC is unlikely to forget.
Filed under: World, Science, Only On Sphere
Follow Sphere on Facebook and Twitter.
2010 AOL Inc. All Rights Reserved.
I didn't question that. I just have always found this subject very interesting. It turns out that climate change has driven our destiny since the very beginning as we had to more over the land masses (migrate) to pursue better climates for our survival. The fortunes of once Great Empires were ultimately determined by climate changess. What I also find very interesting is how we survived over that many 1000's of years that were far more hostile to us today and now the Drug Industry tries to convince us that we need their many chemicals to survive today. Every time my Doctor tries to precribe some damn chemical to me to improve my health I ask why is it that I need this today to survive since we survived the ICE AGES without these damn chemicals. I told him that if these chemicals were so vital to our health then we wouldn't be here today and finally managed to over populate the planet. I finally out lived him and I refuse to take prescription drug - legal commercial chemicals.
It's Climate Change, and you won't see it because Nebraska doesn't have any climate.
It is, however, most likely the 10,000 year cycle of warm and cold is turning the other way.
I'm turning up the coal furnace for now, and I'll run my air-conditioner on full blast this summer. This should make you feel better.
While I'm at it, why have waste dumps. We can put it all in Nebraska, where everything is a myth.
It is, however, most likely the 10,000 year cycle of warm and cold is turning the other way.
Unbelievable, someone who really understands what is going on!!
However, there are TWO Cycles. One is about 25,000 years and the other around 5,000 years. These cycles are a direct result of the Wobble in the Spin Dynamics of our Plantel. Our Planet Spins like a wobbling Top suspending in Inertial space. The Poles of this Spinning Top have a very well known, by Dynamists, "Wobble" of two primary Nodes which determine the Inclination of the Planet to the SUN!! These TWO primary nodes Collerate directly to the ICE AGES, 25,000 years, and to the many 5,000 years of Famine and Feast thru out the centuries. Even the Chinese have documented the 5,000 cycle. Moreover,over the complete life time of our Planet it has "tumbled" of 360 degrees with North and South Poles being completely reversed. We are "tumbling" today but that is very, very, very slow. The Wobble is faster. The Mathematical basis for this has been Published a century ago by a German Mathematician. I forgot who.
Unfortunately, Gore doesn't have a strong mathematical background and is incapable of understanding the complexities of the Spin Dynamics of Wobbling and Tumpling TOP!! That is what we live on and our destiny will be ultimately determined by that. Our Contribution to our climate is very, very Small.
If Gore really understood what is going on he would have never got the Nobel Prize. So it seems that Ignorance and studipity can be a very valuable thing. Go Firgure.
Enjoy it for now, things are going to difficult during the coming flooding of the land masses and then their freezing over as happened in the last Ice AGE. That repeats about once every 25,000 years - melting and then freezing over. We see today the recession of the last Glaciers everywhere. This is just the way that the Process of Creation did it. For what ever reason, if any at all. We are nothing more than a bunch of creatures running around on a Spinning Top that ultimately determines our fate. And it NOT conductive to our long term survival.
Sorry about that, but that is the way that it is...