World misled over glacier meltdown: Report

London: A warning that most of the Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035 owing to climate change is likely to be retracted after the United Nations body that issued it admitted to a series of scientific blunders.

Two years ago, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) headed by India’s Rajendra Pachauri, issued a benchmark report that claimed to have incorporated the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming.

A central claim was that world’s glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the last few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 report, The Sunday Times reported on Sunday.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephonic interview with Syed Hasnain, an Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, the report said.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was a “speculation” and was not supported by any formal research, the report added.

If confirmed it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research.

The IPCC was set up to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change.

Rajendra Pachauri has previously dismissed criticism of the Himalayas claim as “voodoo science” and last week the IPCC refused to comment on the report.


WWF: Himalayan melting by 2035? Scientists just assumed so

 warning that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after the United Nations body that issued it admitted a series of scientific blunders.

Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was that the world’s glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days, the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 report.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, an obscure Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was “speculation” and not supported by any formal research.

If confirmed, it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research. The IPCC was set up precisely to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change.

Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on glaciers in the IPCC report, said he would recommend that the claim about glaciers be dropped: “If Hasnain says officially that he never asserted this, or that it is a wrong presumption, than I will recommend that the assertion about Himalayan glaciers be removed from future IPCC assessments.”

The IPCC’s reliance on Hasnain’s 1999 interview has been highlighted by Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview for the New Scientist. Pearce said he rang Hasnain in India in 1999 after spotting his claims in an Indian magazine.

Pearce said: “Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis.

“Since then I have obtained a copy and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers. not the whole massif.”

The New Scientist report was apparently forgotten until 2005 when WWF cited it in a report called An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China. The report credited Hasnain’s 1999 interview with the New Scientist. But it was a campaigning report rather than an academic paper.

Despite this it rapidly became a key source for the IPCC when Lal and his colleagues came to write the section on the Himalayas.

When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the melting of the glaciers was “very likely”. The IPCC defines “very likely” as having a probability of greater than 90%.

Glaciologists find such figures inherently ludicrous, pointing out that most Himalayan glaciers are hundreds of feet thick and could not melt fast enough to vanish by 2035 unless there was a huge global temperature rise.

Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, said: “A small glacier such as the Dokriani glacier is up to 120m thick. A big one would be several hundred metres thick and tens of kilometres long. The average is 300m thick so to melt one at 5m a year would take 60 years.”

Some scientists have questioned how the IPCC could have allowed such a mistake into print. Perhaps the most likely reason was lack of expertise. Lal himself admits he knows little about glaciers. “I am not an expert. The comments in the WWF report were made by a respected Indian scientist and it was reasonable to assume he knew what he was talking about,” he said.

The IPCC last week refused to comment so it has yet to explain how someone who admits to little expertise on glaciers was overseeing such a report. Perhaps its one consolation is that the blunder was picked up by climate scientists who rushed to make it public.

The lead role in that process was played by Graham Cogley, a geographer from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who had long been unhappy with the IPCC’s finding.

He traced the IPCC claim back to the New Scientist and then contacted Pearce. Pearce then re-interviewed Hasnain, who confirmed that his 1999 comments had been “speculative”, and published the update in the New Scientist. “The reality, that the glaciers are wasting away, is bad enough. But they are not wasting away at the rate suggested by this speculative remark and the IPCC report,” Cogley said.

“The problem is that nobody who studied this material bothered chasing the trail back to the original point when the claim first arose.”

Pearce said the IPCC’s reliance on the WWF was “immensely lazy”. Hasnain could not be reached for comment

From TOI

Global Warming: Isro images show Gangotri glacier receded 1.5km in 30 yrs

BANGALORE: As big global players play the game of negotiations, and as the opposition wakes up to the implications of India’s green plan as announced on Thursday, the Indian Space Research Organisation has come up with an alarming figure – the Gangotri glacier has receded by 1.5km in the past 30 years.

The fact that the glacier has been receding isn’t new. In fact, in the last decade, it has receded by 15-20 metres (although the pace has slowed down in recent years), Isro’s latest figure dramatically brings out the extent of glacial melt, caused possibly by global warming.

Isro’s director of Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, Dr R R Navalgund told TOI that satellite imagery documents a 1.5-km retreat of the Gangotri glacier in the past 30 years. The satellite imagery has also captured that Alpine vegetation has now started growing at a higher altitude than it used to a few decades ago.

While the retreat of glaciers was a very controversial issue recently, after environment minister Jairam Ramesh released his discussion paper on glaciers that also alleged that glaciers were not melting because of climate change. Navalgund echoed the sentiments of MoEF on the issue.

“We have looked at snowy glaciers, some of them in the past 20 years, specially the ones at lower latitudes and altitudes, have retreated. It is difficult to say whether it is due to global climate change. It could be a part of the inter-glacial period and other related phenomena,” he said.

The documentation of coral reefs have also shown bleaching across the coastline. UNEP had also recently declared that coral reefs, which support the majority of marine life, will be the first casualty of climate change. Isro data reiterates that the reefs around the Indian sub-continent are facing maximum impact – not so much in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but in other parts.

Navalgund said there was no quantitative analysis yet on the impact on agriculture. “Agricultural simulations are too less to make any quantitative analysis,” he said.

Asked about the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations, Navalgund said he has given all the data that Isro has gathered from its satellite images to the environment minister a month ago. “To understand the impact of climate change for India, baseline data is very important. India did not have a scientific, accurate database of baseline data. Now we need to put those down so that later, we have a valid document to fall back on,” he said.

Very soon, other countries can also access data on carbon sink from Isro. The Oceansat, that continuously monitors the ocean colour, helps in analyzing productivity in the oceans. This is useful in measuring the carbon sink in the oceans. Many countries have given their letter of intent to use this satellite.

From TOI

WWF India: Smaller glaciers more vulnerable

New Delhi, India –Smaller glaciers in the Himalayas are proving much more vulnerable to climate change impacts than previously thought, with significant implications for the livelihood and freshwater supplies of millions, according to a new report by WWF-India and Birla Institute of Technology (BIT).

Witnessing Change: Glaciers in the Indian Himalayas analyses continuing monitoring of two central Himalayan glaciers since 2006, trying to overcome the lack of baseline data on glaciers that is hampering studies of this key climate indicator. 

The cracking - and - retreating snout of Gangotri Glacier. But smaller glaciers and significantly, their tributaries, are retreating faster in the face of climate change-© Rajesh Kumar/BIT

One of the glaciers studies is Gangotri, a 30 km long glacier famed and sacred as a principle source of the Ganges. Overall, nearly 30 percent of Ganges water comes from snow and glacier melt, with variations in snowfalls, melt rates and flow regimes having potentially profound effects across a huge area of northern India.

Kafni Glacier, whose now separate elments are 4.2 kilometres long, also empties into the headwaters of the Ganges.  Kafni is not only losing ice faster than Gangotri but its former and now hanging tributaries are losing ice faster still.

“need . . . to better predict future water resource scenarios”

“The rapid decline of smaller glaciers is of concern,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO of WWF-India.    “These glaciers are perhaps more vulnerable to local climate variations.”

“We see a need for more long- term and continuous assessment to monitor the hydro-meteorological parameters existing in the vicinity of glaciers in order to better predict future water resource scenarios.”

The WWF study explores how the glaciers in the Indian Himalayas are going through change by using scientific data as well as empirical evidence of ground level parameters. In order to understand the impact of hydro-meteorological parameters, the team has installed two automated weather stations– one at Bhojwasa near Gangotri and another in Kafni.

The initial results from the field study indicate that the Himalayan glaciers are retreating, but at a reduced rate and the larger glaciers like Gangotri are unlikely to disappear in near future, due to their large mass balance.

Smaller glaciers like Kafni are not only retreating at a faster rate, but are losing more of their glaciated portion and tributary glaciers- a trend which has been observed across the Himalayas for many other smaller glaciers as well.

Changing cropping patterns

The new research says that the impacts of glacier retreat on the livelihoods of people, ecosystems and biodiversity have been underestimated so far. It confirms visible changes in the social and economic dimensions of the Himalayan region, in addition to the climatic variations that this phenomenon is causing.

Communities living closer to Gangotri have indicated changes in snowfall levels in the winter months resulting in less soil moisture, which in turn is changing cropping patterns and availability of water.

“Witnessing Change shows that while science has provided evidence of changes in glaciers, anecdotal evidence and observations of the communities provide evidence of how communities are coping and managing with change,” said Ravi Singh.

The report discusses the areas of focus needed as way forward, which includes enhancing the monitoring of smaller glaciers, addressing the data challenge, development of regional climate models and engagement of communities in developing suitable adaptation responses.


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

A leading climate scientist today accused the Indian environment ministry of "arrogance" after the release of a government report claiming that there is no evidence climate change has caused "abnormal" shrinking of Himalayan glaciers.

Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, released the controversial report in Delhi, saying it would "challenge the conventional wisdom" about melting ice in the mountains.

Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN agency which evaluates the risk from global warming, warned the glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world and could "disappear altogether by 2035 if not sooner".

Today Ramesh denied any such risk existed: "There is no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming with what is happening in the Himalayan glaciers." The minister added although some glaciers are receding they were doing so at a rate that was not "historically alarming".

However, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, told the Guardian: "We have a very clear idea of what is happening. I don’t know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement."

Ramesh said he was prepared to take on "the doomsday scenarios of Al Gore and the IPCC".

"My concern is that this comes from western scientists … it is high time India makes an investment in understanding what is happening in the Himalayan ecosystem," he added.

The government report, entitled Himalayan glaciers (pdf), looks at 150 years’ worth of data gathered from the Geological Survey of India from 25 glaciers. It claims to be the first comprehensive study on the region.

Vijay Kumar Raina, the geologist who authored the report, admitted that some "Himalayan glaciers are retreating. But it is nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to suggest as some have said that they will disappear."

Pachauri dismissed the report saying it was not "peer reviewed" and had few "scientific citations".

"With the greatest of respect this guy retired years ago and I find it totally baffling that he comes out and throws out everything that has been established years ago."

In a remarkable finding, the report claims the Gangotri glacier, the main source of the River Ganges, actually receded fastest in 1977 – and is today "practically at a stand still".

Some scientists have warned that the river beds of the Gangetic Basin – which feed hundreds of millions in northern India – could run dry once glaciers go. However, such concerns are scotched by the report.

According to Raina, the mistake made by "western scientists" is to apply the rate of glacial loss from other parts of the world to the Himalayas. "In the United States the highest glaciers in Alaska are still below the lowest level of Himalayan glaciers. Our 9,500 glaciers are located at very high altitudes. It is completely different system."

"As long as we have monsoons we will have glaciers. There are many factors to consider when we want to find out how quickly (glaciers melt) … rainfall, debris cover, relief and terrain," said Raina.

In response Pachauri said that such statements were reminiscent of "climate change deniers and school boy science".

"I cannot see what the minister’s motives are. We do need more extensive measurement of the Himalayan range but it is clear from satellite pictures what is happening."

Many environmentalists said they were also unconvinced by the minister’s arguments. Sunita Narain, a member of the Indian prime minister’s climate change council and director of the Centre for Science and Environment, said "the report would create a lot of confusion".

"The PM’s council has just received a comprehensive report which presents many studies which show clear fragmentation of the glaciers would lead to faster recession. I am not sure what Jairam (Ramesh) is doing."

From Guardian