Posted under Express 92
“Glaciergate” or snow-job by the media?
Glaciers the world over are shrinking and climate change is seen the primary culprit. That’s clear from hundreds of cases scientifically studied, observed and photographed. But now it is emerging that some “evidence” from the Himalayas has not been as scientifically obtained as first thought. The New Scientist, WWF and the IPCC itself are accused of misleading us all. What’s the full story? We also refer you to “The ABC of Carbon” for glacier melting reports, as well as photographic evidence (including the image shown here) in the book by award-winning photographer Gary Braasch “Earth Under Fire”.
For more information on Gary Braasch, his books and photographs, visit www.earthunderfire.com and www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org
His book, which surveys glaciers retreated through the world, is called “Earth Under Fire” and his published by the University of California Press. It is available on amazon.com.
The image shown on the first page of “Express” is a shot by Gary Braasch of Athabasca Glacier in Canada.
Letters to the Editor
An “abridged” version of this appeared in The Australian letters column on 19 January 2010 and its blog. Here’s the original version:
Your front page report questioning “scientific” reports of glaciers melting, failed to acknowledge personal and scientific observations, as well as photographic evidence of what has been happening with glaciers in the Himalayas and elsewhere in the world. In my book “The ABC of Carbon” and in my weekly e-newsletter abc carbon express, I have a number of accounts of severe glacier ice reduction from the Himalayas, European Alps, North America, and even New Zealand. Your reporters should have gone to the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Switzerland – www.wgms.ch – for its latest report: “Preliminary mass balance values for the observation period 2007/08 have been reported now from more than 90 glaciers worldwide. The average mass balance of the glaciers with available long-term observation series around the world continues to decrease, with tentative figures indicating a further thickness reduction of 0.5 metres water equivalent (m w.e.) during the hydrological year 2007/08. The new data continues the global trend in strong ice loss over the past few decades and brings the cumulative average thickness loss of the reference glaciers since 1980 at about 12 m w.e.” There is also excellent evidence from photographer Graham Braasch which shows very distinct reduction in glaciers, when compared with photographs taken of the same glaciers years ago. You could also go to the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research – www.instaar.colorado.edu – which has scientifically monitored evidence of glacier melt in Alaska and elsewhere. It deserves a follow up story with more reliable information from the sources I quote and others.
Two “encouraging” letters appeared in The Australian on (20 January 2010):
Significant glacial decline is a reality
REPORTS that predictions about the rate of decline in the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers may be unfounded should be treated with caution. While the claim that all the glaciers may disappear by 2035 now seems speculative (“UN glacier blunder a 300-year mix-up”, 19/1; “Climate science on thin ice”, Features, 19/1), there is substantial peer-reviewed science that points towards significant glacial decline this century and substantial warming across the region.
Warming across the greater Himalayas is two to four times the global average. Recent scientific studies have found that the average temperatures in the Himalayan ranges have been rising at the rate of 0.06C a year over the past three decades and temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau have risen by an average 0.16C per decade in the summer (and 0.32C in winter) over the past 40 years. This was up to three times the temperature increase in other regions of China.
Predictions about the exact timing of major climate impacts are difficult, especially when looking at the dynamics of melting ice. The Arctic sea ice, for example, is declining rapidly, 70 years ahead of the IPCC’s predictions. But given the catastrophic results of the glacial melt for hundreds of millions of people, we should not let a debate about its timing divert us from attempting to prevent it.
Damien Lawson, Fitzroy North, Vic
SO, in their desperation, climate change deniers have leapt on one mistake in a 3000-page IPCC report as definitive proof that the entire report can be discounted. This is roughly akin to a flat earther pointing to a spelling mistake in Galileo’s thesis as definitive proof that the earth does not revolve around the sun.
T. Nankivell, Barton, ACT
Here’s the full page article which appeared in The Australian on 19 January by Cameron Stewart, Associate editor. It followed the front page article of the day before which was entirely lifted from the UK Sunday Times:
THE prediction, if true, was an apocalyptic one. The “rapid melting” of thousands of glaciers across the Himalayas would lead to deadly floods, followed by severe long-term water shortages across the food bowl of central Asia.
The melting glaciers would cause havoc to water supplies feeding Asia’s nine largest rivers, including the Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers, affecting hundreds of millions of people.
The result, according to a 2005 report by environmental group WWF, would be “massive eco and environmental problems for people in western China, Nepal and northern India”.
The WWF’s claim the 2400km Himalayan range was experiencing a rapid retreat in its glaciers was supported in stronger terms only two years later by the peak UN body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In its 2007 report, the IPCC concluded: “Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than 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.”
It was a sweeping, bold and alarmist prediction by the IPCC, and one that raised eyebrows among many of the small group of experts who study the behaviour of the world’s glaciers.
But the IPCC defended its glacier claims vigorously, with IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri recently describing those who cast doubt upon them as practitioners of “voodoo science”.
Yet today it is the powerful IPCC that stands accused of practising voodoo science in relation to its sweeping claims about the melting of Himalayan glaciers following revelations its apocalyptic predictions were based on little more than “speculation”.
At face value, the disclosures by Britain’s The Sunday Times (reprinted in The Australian yesterday) amount to one of the most serious failings yet seen in climate research.
They will further tarnish the IPCC’s reputation, coming less than two months after the emergence of leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit that raised questions about the legitimacy of some data published by the IPCC about global warming.
As with the leaked email affair, dubbed Climategate, this new controversy of Glaciergate has energised climate change sceptics, who exploded into cyberspace yesterday, relishing the opportunity to accuse the IPCC of sloppy science. It is the same accusation sceptics have been accused of by the IPCC.
But how did such an important body like the IPCC make such a misjudgment? And where does this leave the issue of melting glaciers, which, ever since Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, have been cited as prime evidence of global warming?
The original claim about most Himalayan glaciers vanishing by 2035 – which appeared in the IPCC report – was not based on hard science. It was based on a 1999 interview with little-known Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain who told New Scientist that all the glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035.
In 2005, the WWF published a report describing the predictions in New Scientist as “disturbing”. In 2007, the IPCC published a report that repeated the warning that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, citing WWF as its source.
Now Hasnain has admitted his predictions were nothing more than speculation and were not supported by any formal scientific research.
Experts say the claims amount to a gross misrepresentation of what is happening with glaciers in the Himalayas. If the glaciers are in retreat – and this is a matter on which scientists disagree – most experts do not believe they are retreating at anything like the pace suggested by the IPCC.
“The reality that the glaciers are wasting away is bad enough,” says Graham Cogley, a geographer from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who played a lead role in uncovering the IPCC’s flawed claim.
“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. It is ultimately a trail which leads back to a magazine article, and that is not the sort of thing you want to end up in an IPCC report.”
An Australian glacier expert, Cliff Ollier of the University of Western Australia, accuses the IPCC of being “deliberately alarmist” with its predictions about melting glaciers because he says the organisation has a vested interest in global warming. “Glaciers started to retreat in 1895 when there was no correlation to global warming,” Ollier says. “Now we are seeing a general retreat on glaciers because we are coming out of an ice age, but there is nothing alarming about it. These retreats are not caused only by temperatures.”
The IPCC’s claims about the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas appears to have been flawed on several levels.
First, it did not acknowledge that there has been only limited scientific research on Himalayan glaciers, with very little consistent research available on long term trends of ice-flows.
The remote location and inaccessibility of Himalayan glaciers means they are the least studied or understood glaciers in the world.
“There is no field data to corroborate that the glaciers will disappear in the next 20 to 30 years,” says R. K. Ganjoo, director of Jammu University’s regional centre on Himalayan glaciology.
“The range has thousands of glaciers and we study about 30. And whichever we have studied, we need more detailed data. If we want to study glacier behaviour, we need to monitor for eight to 10 years, but we only manage two years at most.”
The key agency for the study of glaciers, the World Glacier Monitoring Service, believes global warming is causing glaciers to shrink, but it freely admits it is difficult to be precise about the urgency of the threat.
“There is mounting evidence that climate change is triggering a shrinking and thinning of many glaciers worldwide, which may eventually put at risk water supplies for hundreds of millions of people,” the WGMS warned two years ago.
“But data gaps exist in some vulnerable parts of the globe (including central Asia), undermining the ability to provide precise early warning for countries and populations at risk.”
A 2008 report released jointly by the WGMS and the UN Environment Program concluded that the average annual melting rate for glaciers around the world appeared to have doubled after the turn of the millennium, with record losses recorded in 2006.
The majority of climate change scientists agree that Himalayan glaciers appear to be in retreat, but the rate of that retreat – and what is causing it – remains hotly contested. This fact was not acknowledged by the IPCC in its 2007 report.
In November last year, a report released by the Indian government found that – contrary to the IPCC’s claims – many Himalayan glaciers are stable and that the rate of retreat for others has slowed.
Written by a senior glaciologist and avid mountaineer Vijay Raina, the report concluded there was not enough evidence yet to support the claim that Himalayan glaciers are retreating because of global warming.
Raina found little consistency in the behaviour of Himalayan glaciers. Some are retreating, some expanding and others remain stable. If global warming were a factor, why are they not all retreating at the same time, he wants to know.
“A glacier . . . does not necessarily respond to the immediate climatic changes, for if it be so then all glaciers within the same climatic zone should have been advancing or retreating at the same time,” he wrote. The Indian government’s environment ministry endorsed Raina’s conclusions, leading India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to accuse the IPCC of being “alarmist”.
IPCC chairman Pachauri in turn accused the Indian government of “arrogance” for questioning the IPCC’s claims, and dismissed Raiba’s findings as “voodoo science”, stating that the IPCC had “a very clear idea of what is happening” in the Himalayas.
Part of the problem in making accurate judgments about glaciers is history shows they have a tendency to behave in random ways.
Glacier monitoring began in 1894, and the general pattern has been for them to retreat, but they have done so in a non-logical manner.
According to the UN, early measurements indicated strong melting of glaciers during the 1940s and 50s and yet there was only moderate melting of glaciers between 1966 and 1985, when global warming factors would have been stronger.
As a result, some of those scientists who accept that the Himalayan glaciers are now in retreat believe factors other than global warming are driving it.
A 2007 study by the British journal Nature claimed the haze of pollution in southern Asia was as much to blame as greenhouse gases in causing the glaciers of the Himalaya to retreat.
Either way, the revelations this week have opened a heated debate that goes beyond the science of glaciers and to the heart of the credibility of the IPCC.
As Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation told London’s Daily Mail: “The IPCC review process has been shown on numerous occasions to lack transparency and due diligence”.
At a time when governments are baulking at taking tough measures to combat climate change, this new blow to the credibility of the IPCC could not have come at a worse time.