How Fast Is Ice in the Himalayas Receding?
U.N. Panel's Glacier Warning Is Criticized as Exaggerated
by Stephanie Sykes, age 17
A commonly quoted prediction regarding Himalayan glacial melt is now being criticized as an extreme overestimate.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in its 2007 report that, “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in 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.”
This prediction has been quoted numerous times and used as a basis for anti-global warming campaigns. Its publication has heightened anxiety, especially among the people of Asia who rely on ice and snow melt from these glaciers for their fresh water supply.
The statement originated from an interview conducted ten years ago in the magazine The New Scientist with climate scientist Dr. Syed Hasnain. However, it now appears that no concrete evidence exists to back up that statement. Normally, the U.N. panel depends on contributions from hundreds of scientists, but this prediction was never widely accepted by the scientific community.
Dr. Hasnain is a glacier scientist who studies “index glaciers”. He works for the government of the Indian state of Sikkim and is a fellow at the TERI Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi. Since the infamous interview, he has amended his prediction. He now believes that only small glaciers will completely disappear by 2035.
Christopher Field, co-chairman of the panel responsible for the 2007 U.N. report, points out that the statement was included in the full report, but omitted in shorter summary documents. The shorter documents only claimed that if warming continues at the same pace, Himalayan glaciers, “could decay at very rapid rates.”
These summaries, and not the original document, are what guide policy decisions. However, any incorrect figures are supposed to be completely removed. The panel must decide to either amend the statement or remove it.
This incorrect statement gives climate change skeptics another reason to argue that global warming is a myth, or at least blown out of proportion.
Nevertheless, most scientists do not discount the dangers of Himalayan glacial melt. Most scientists agree that glacial melt is a serious problem. The real impact of this erroneous estimate is that it raises doubts about the IPCC’s validity. Their reports are often the basis for global policy and their conclusions are widely recognized.
“The Himalayan glaciers will not disappear by 2030 – that is an overstatement,” states Dr. Bodo Bookhagen, an assistant professor at the University of California - Santa Barbara. He adds, however, “It is very clear that there is glacial retreat and that it has devastating impact.”
The details of Himalayan glacial melt are poorly understood because these glaciers are so remote. However, there is increasing evidence that glacial melt is accelerating.
Yao Tandong, a Chinese glaciologist specializing in the Tibetan Plateau region, revealed more accurate predictions at a glacier conference last year. He said, “Studies indicate that by 2030 another 30 percent will disappear; by 2050, 40 percent; and by the end of the century 70 percent.”
Still, Tandong warns, “We don’t know much about process and impacts of the disappearance. That’s why we need an international effort.”
[Source: The New York Times]