Is there anyone interested in the topic of climate change who is unaware of the recent flap over the glaciers of the Himalayas? An ad showing an image similar to the one above was running on the New York Times Science page for some time during the recent conference in Copenhagen. The image on the left is from 2007, while the one on the right is from 1921, clear evidence of melting, right? So, we have this story, widely circulated in the media world (all emphasis added):
October 5, 2009 (CNN) — The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding quicker than those in other parts of the world and could disappear altogether by 2035 according to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.[link]
This follows on an earlier alarming report on CNN:
Glaciers a canary in the coal mine of global warming
August 8, 2009 (CNN) — U.S. scientists monitoring shrinking glaciers in Washington and Alaska reported this week that a major meltdown is under way.
A 50-year government study found that the world’s glaciers are melting at a rapid and alarming rate. The ongoing study is the latest in a series of reports that found glaciers worldwide are melting faster than anyone had predicted they would just a few years ago.
It offers a clear indication of an accelerating climate change and warming earth, according to the authors. [link]
But not everyone agreed. After the 2007 report of the IPCC came out, the Indian Ministry of Environment did its own research and published a report that concluded the melting of the glaciers was part of a natural cycle going on worldwide. The response was quick and furious, a veritable snowball fusillade:
November 9, 2009 Guardian.UK: India ‘arrogant’ to deny global warming link to melting glaciers
IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri accuses Indian environment ministry of ‘arrogance’ for its report claiming there is no evidence that climate change has shrunk Himalayan glaciers. [link]
November 16, 2009: Indian Express – Pachauri rubbishes report on glaciers
Rubbishing the claim by a government-backed study that melting of glaciers was not due to climate change, leading environmentalist R K Pachauri on Sunday dubbed it as “totally unsubstantiated scientific opinion” and flayed Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh for endorsing it.
Pachauri, head of the Nobel prize winner Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said it was universally acknowledged that glaciers were melting because of climate change and the same applied to Indian glaciers.
“Everywhere in the world, glaciers are melting due to climate change, the Arctic is melting because of climate change. What is so special about Indian glaciers?” Pachauri said.
The study by former deputy director general of the Geological Survey of India V K Raina has claimed that while most glaciers are in the process of retreat, some Himalayan glaciers, such as the Siachen glacier, are actually advancing and some others, such as the Gangotri glacier, are retreating at a rate lower than before.[link]
As the snowballs flew to and fro, some people started to look into it:
December 1, 2009, BBC News: Himalayan glaciers’ ‘mixed picture’
A scientific debate has been triggered over the state of glaciers in the Himalayas.
Some recent findings seem to contradict claims that the glaciers are retreating rapidly. Some glaciers are even said to be advancing. There are clear signs of glacial retreat and ice melt from other parts of the world, but few field studies have been carried out in the Himalayas.
Its glaciers too were widely believed to be receding fast. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said that Himalayan glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world.
The panel observed: “If the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.” [link]
Eventually, we heard from the Indian Minister of Environment in his own words:
NEW DELHI December 2009 – Recession of Himalayan glaciers part of natural process:
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh said the recession of Himalayan glaciers was part of the natural cyclical process which could be attributed to various reasons, including global warming. Replying to supplementaries during Question Hour, he said the melting of Arctic ice and Himalayan glaciers could not be compared as ecological conditions in each case were different.
According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Himalayan Glaciers are receding faster than in any part of the world and if the present rate continues, there is a likelihood of their disappearing by 2035, he noted.
However, Ramesh said the studies carried out by the Geological Survey of India have revealed that majority of Himalayan glaciers are passing through a phase of recession, which is a worldwide phenomenon.
“The recession of glaciers is part of the natural cyclic process of changes in the size and other attributes of the glaciers. These changes could be attributed to various reasons including global warming,” he said…
He said long term studies are required to conclusively establish the causes and impacts of melting of Himalayan glaciers. [link]
Finally, alas, it all turns out to have been a little mistake:
December 5, 2009 – BBC News: Himalayan glaciers melting deadline ‘a mistake’
The UN panel on climate change warning that Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of current levels by 2035 is wildly inaccurate, an academic says. J Graham Cogley, a professor at Ontario Trent University, says he believes the UN authors got the date from an earlier report wrong by more than 300 years.
He is astonished they “misread 2350 as 2035”. The authors deny the claims.
When asked how this “error” could have happened, RK Pachauri, the Indian scientist who heads the IPCC, said: “I don’t have anything to add on glaciers.” [link]
You can read about the whole thing in more detail by following the links from this blog.