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Nobel-Winning Panel's Warning on Glaciers Discredited

Posted by on Jan. 18, 2010 at 6:45 PM
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Nobel-Winning Panel's Warning on Glaciers Discredited

Published: January 18, 2010

A much-publicized United Nation panel's estimate about the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers from climate change is coming under fire as a gross exaggeration.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said in 2007, the same year it won the Nobel Prize, that it was "very likely" that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2030 if current warming trends continue.

That date has been much quoted and a cause for enormous consternation, since hundreds of millions of people in Asia rely on ice and snow melt from these glaciers for their water.

The panel is the United Nations' scientific advisory body on climate change and it ranks its conclusions according to a probability scale in which "very likely" means there is greater than 90 percent chance that an event will occur.

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a nearly decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, studies "index glaciers" and has more recently suggested that only small glaciers would disappear entirely.

The panel is considering whether to amend the estimate or remove it. "We are investigating this issue and our members have been asked for further input," said Brenda Abrar, a spokeswoman. The panel's reports are exhaustive compilations of climate science created through the efforts of hundreds of scientists, and no one person can make the change.

The revelation is the latest in a string of events that climate skeptic have seized on to support their contention that fears about warming are unfounded, or at least overblown. Late last year, hackers obtained private e-mails from leading researchers at the University of East Anglia suggesting they were altering the presentation of some scientific data in a way that emphasized the human influence on climate change.

The flawed melting estimate raises more questions about the vetting procedures used by the panel than it does about the melting of Himalayan glaciers, which most scientists believe is a major problem. But the panel's reports are the basis for global policy and their conclusions are widely heeded.

"The Himalayan glaciers will not disappear by 2030 - that is an overstatement," said Dr. Bodo Bookhagen, an assistant professor at University of California at Santa Barbara who studies the effect of climate change at high altitudes and last month attended a conference in Delhi on the issue. "That number somehow got incorporated into the I.P.C.C. report and that probably shouldn't have happened."

Still, he added: "It is very clear that there is glacier retreat and that it has devastating impact."

For example, he said that 50 percent of the water in some rivers, like the Indus, come from snow and glacier melt. Rice growing in some of the most densely populated parts of the planet depends on this water. "These areas are very sensitive to changes in the snow and glacial realm," he said.

There is mounting proof that accelerating glacial melt is occurring, although the specifics are poorly defined, in part because these glaciers are remote and poorly studied. In the Himalayans plateau, there have been a growing number of disastrous floods, called glacial lake outburst floods, that occur when new lakes created by glacial melt, burst out of their rocky confines.

At an international conference last year on Asia's glaciers, held at the University of California at San Diego, Yao Tandong, a Chinese glaciologist who specializes in the Tibetan Plateau said that "Studies indicate that by 2030 another 30 percent will disappear; by 2050, 40 per cent; and by the end of the century 70 per cent," he told a conference on Ice, Snow and Water, organized by University of California and Cambridge University, in San Diego.

He added: "Actually we don't know much about process and impacts of the disappearance. That's why we need an international effort."

by on Jan. 18, 2010 at 6:45 PM
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joci2203
by Group Owner on Jan. 18, 2010 at 6:57 PM

I'm am extremely skeptical about global warming in general, it is highly politicized.  I posted an article about actually:)


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