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‘Warning on melting Himalayan glaciers wildly inaccurate’

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Four leading academics have questioned a warning by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of current levels by 2035, as wildly inaccurate. The IPCC has also retracted the warning, which had appeared in its 2007 report.

The claim that Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035 requires a 25-fold greater loss rate from 1999 to 2035 than that estimated for 1960 to 1999, the four academics led by J Graham Cogley, a professor at Ontario Trent University, said in a letter to the journal Science.

“It conflicts with knowledge of glacier climate relationships, and is wrong,” he said. “Nevertheless it has captured the global imagination and has been repeated in good faith often, including recently by the IPCC’s chairman (R.K. Pachauri).”

Cogley was joined in criticising lax IPCC standards on checking out climate change claims by Jeffrey S. Kargel, University of Arizona, Tucson; G. Kaser, Institut f�r Geographie, University of Innsbruck, Austria and C. J. van der Veen, University of Kansas, Lawrence.

“These errors could have been avoided had the norms of scientific publication, including peer review and concentration upon peer-reviewed work, been respected,” they said.

A recent News of the Week story on Himalayan glaciers “highlights how inadequately reviewed material makes its way into the public consciousness”, Cogley and colleagues said, noting: “One source, Working Group II (WG-II) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reproduces several errors.”

“The Working Group writes that ‘glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world’ and that ‘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 km2 by the year 2035.’

“Another source advances a no less mistaken conjecture, not discussed in the news story, that Himalayan glaciers are responding to the climate of as long as 15,000 years ago,” the four academics said.

“The IPCC fourth assessment report of 2007, particularly of the physical science basis for the changes, is mostly accurate, but the first WG-II sentence derives from a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report, which cites a news story about an unpublished study that neither compares Himalayan glaciers with other rates of recession nor estimates a date for disappearance of Himalayan glaciers,” they said.

WWF has since apologised for having carried the unsubstantiated claim.

Himalayan rates of recession in the WG-II report are not exceptional, the academics said, noting: “In the second WG-II sentence, ‘its’ cannot refer to Himalayan glaciers [area about 33,000 sq km], and may refer to the world total area of glaciers and ice caps.”

A bibliographic search suggests that the second WG-II sentence is copied inaccurately from another source, in which the predicted date for shrinkage of the world total from 500,000 to 100,000 sq km is 2350, not 2035, the academics said.