FALSE ALARM: Himalaya Gletchers


World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown,” declared the disturbing headline (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6991177.ece) in The Sunday Times of London. As it turn out the 2007 prediction by IPCC  that many Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035 was a huge stuff up based on sources not thoroughly vetted. The UN panel recently admitted (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/himalaya-statement-20january2010.pdf) its mistake.

Of Campaigning Reports and Popular Science Magazines

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have had to admit 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, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was “speculation” and was not supported by any formal research. Hasnain, of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, who at the time was chairman of the International Commission on Snow and Ice’s working group on Himalayan glaciology, never repeated the prediction in a peer-reviewed journal. He now admits the comment was “speculative”. Even though the 10-year-old New Scientist report was the only source, the claim found its way into the IPCC fourth assessment report published in 2007. Moreover the claim was extrapolated to include all glaciers in the Himalayas! This could well turn out to be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research. Subsequently consider that the IPCC was set up to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change. Could it maybe turn out to be that the  IPCC (as some claim) was not so much established for the reasons outlined previously but actually for no other purpose than to provide legitimacy to otherwise political agendas in which climate change is no longer the cause but a means for other unrelated purposes?

Professor 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.” It’s a significant embarrassment for IPCC  which exists and is funded to provide quality scientific information on climate change and its implications.It all sounds like tales or gossip spreading through the neighborhood or the office, doesn’t it? Remember: these are big players, paid big bucks. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. In lauding the IPCC’s mobilization of scientific knowledge about climate change, the Nobel presenter said (http://nobelpeaceprize.org/en_GB/laureates/laureates-2007/presentation-2007),

Similar procedures to the IPCC’s should be considered as ways of approaching problems also in other fields.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Like the IPCC, the WWF, now has issued a major retraction of their 2005 warning about Himalayan glacier melting projections, saying they failed to double-check the primary source. The secondary source WWF cited was a 1999 New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18363-debate-heats-up-over-ipcc-melting-glaciers-claim.html) magazine news article featuring an Indian scientist’s views that many Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 because of global warming.  According to the New York Times, in an email the scientist claimsto hve been “misquoted.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/science/earth/19climate.html?scp=1&sq=ipcc%20himalayan%20glaciers&st=cse). In a letter to Science Magazine Graham Cogley et all suggest (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/eletters/326/5955/924) that “2035” may represent inaccurate copying of “2350” from another report. The Trent University (Ontario, Canada) geographer who helped uncover the mistake, points out that

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

Another Stuff Up?

Is it me or is this all sounding like some sort of a big mess or stuff up. I can’t help but thinking what other stuff ups will surface in the coming period. IS this perhaps providing an argument to keep science and state separated similarly to church and state?  Himalayan glaciers supply fresh water to rivers that impact millions of people in South Asia. The IPCC’s 2007 glacier statement (http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/ch10s10-6-2.html) warned:

“Glaciers in the Himalaya 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.”

A prominent Indian glaciologist disputed the IPCC 2007 statement in a 2009 Indian government report. IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri shot back, calling the report “voodoo science” that lacked peer review. Talk about the pot  calling the kettle black. The IPCC glacier prediction itself lacked peer review, something central to IPCC’s mission (http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization.htm):

…to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences.

The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change (emphasis reporter). … Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information.

Politics v Science

The WWF report which the IPCC cited was a campaigning report rather than an academic paper.  The difference is important as because of its status the WWF report was not subjected to any formal scientific review. Would that not have been exactly what you would have expected from the IPCC, or is it maybe that if findings or reports support the underlying agendas of the funding agencies, that is enough of an excuse to be slack? Even though the exposure of this ill-founded prediction, the IPCC, is still concerned about glacier melting, but called the prediction “poorly substantiated” and said “clear and well-established standards of evidence were not applied properly” in this case. I take it that also applies to the reporting standards of the IPCC.

Kiwi Involvement: incompetence, ignorance, slackness?

In an article in The Briefing Room by Ian Wishart we read:

…it is hard to believe none of the many kiwis working on the report failed to read it and comprehend the massive schoolboy errors.

Even more interesting is that the IPCC was warned in 2006 by leading glaciologist Georg Kaser that the 2035 forecast was baseless. “This number is not just a little bit wrong, but far out of any order of magnitude,” Mr. Kaser told the Agence France-Presse. “It is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing.”

Among five errors identified in their report was also an assertion that Himalayan glaciers would shrink from 500,000 square kilometers in area to just 100,000 square kilometers. In fact, glaciologists have confirmed the Himalayan glaciers only covered 33,000 square kilometers to begin with.

The New Zealanders listed as “reviewers” or “contributing authors” of Working Group 2 include glaciologist Jim Salinger of NIWA, David Wratt (NIWA’s top climate scientist) and Howard Larsen, principal analyst for New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment and NZ’s representative to the IPCC. Salinger and Wratt were senior figures on the IPCC AR4 reports, including the one in question – and Wratt was a Vice Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group 1 report as well.

The full list of kiwis who may have failed to spot the errors (many below may not be glacier experts, but some will be and in my opinion should have known) and bring them to Pachauri’s attention are:

REVIEWERS of WGII report

Baxter, Kay, Ministry for the Environment

Becken, Susanne, Landcare Research

Becker, Julia, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences

Bell, Robert, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Collins, Eva, University of Waikato

Dymond, Stuart, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade

Fairbairn, Paul L, SOPAC South Pacific Applied Geoscience

Gray, Warren, Ministry for the Environment

Hales, Simon, University of Otago

Hall, Alistair, HortResearch

Hannah, John, University of Otago

Hay, John, University of Waikato

Hughey, Ken, Lincoln University

Kenny, Gavin J, Earthwise Consulting Ltd

Kerr, Suzi, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Institute

King, Darren, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Larsen, Howard, Ministry for the Environment

Lawrence, Judy, Climate Change National Science Strategy Committee

Lawson, Wendy, University of Canterbury

Maclaren, Piers, Piers Maclaren & Associates Ltd

McKerchar, Alastair, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Mullan, A. Brett, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Plume, Helen, Ministry for the Environment

Porteous, Alan, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Power, Vera, Ministry for the Environment

Purdie, Jennifer, University of Waikato

Rys, Gerald, Ministry of Research, Science and Technology

Saggar, Surinder, Landcare Research

Stephens, Peter, Ministry for the Environment

Stroombergen, Adolf, Infometrics

Waugh, John Robert, Opus International Consultants Ltd.

Weaver, Sean, Victoria University of Wellington

Whitehead, David, Landcare Research

Wilson, Toni, Ministry for the Environment

Woodward, Alistair, University of Auckland

Wratt, David, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

CONTRIBUTORS TO WGII REPORT:

Tord Kjellstrom, University of Auckland

Darren King, NIWA

Gavin Henry, Earthwise Consulting

Guy Penny, NIWA

Jim Salinger, NIWA

Roderick Henderson, NIWA

Matt Dunn, NIWA

Blair Fitzharris, University of Otago

Simon Hales, University of Otago

Alistair Woodward, University of Auckland

John Hay, University of Waikato

Richard Warrick, University of Waikato

Susanne Becken, Landcare

In all fairness: many of the people listed may well be involved in policy no particular glacier expertise or at best with the depth of a pancake.  Some however will be experts and should have recognized the impossibility of the claims, all of them could have seen the methodological issues at hand. If we go from the premise that these people actually read the report, do we have to conclude here then that they failed to understand what they were actually reading? And if they did identify the errors: is there any evidence that they reported it, an if not why not? That does not give me much hope for the future. What faith can we have in our New Zealand scientists and moreover the IPCC.

What’s next?

This global warming campaign is getting more and more dubious or questionable. We have just come out of another controversy, variously dubbed “ClimateGate” and “SwiftHack, in which hacked emails suggest some scientists may have sought to conceal data that did not support their climate change views. And now this. All I can wonder is: WHAT’S NEXT?

Recently I advised that it is important you start taking your own responsibility (Climate Change Apologetics) in getting a clear view on what is actually happening when it comes to climate change. At Dierckx & Associates I published a post that may help you in doing your own research and also to hopefully avoid you making the same mistakes as our well respected experts on these matters.

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3 thoughts on “FALSE ALARM: Himalaya Gletchers

  1. Pingback: FALSE ALARM: Himalaya Gletchers « The Desk of the Renaissance Man center university

  2. Pingback: FALSE ALARM: Himalaya Gletchers « The Desk of the Renaissance Man graduate university

  3. My friends and I have long held camp on the authenticity of the source of the data scientists have used, including Al Gore. While there “seems” to be enough data to ignite global awareness campaigns of propaganda, there was an underlying tone of mis-interpretation. The question arises,”Did [they] make the data fit their agenda?” I think you did an excellent job in creating doubt that serves the purpose of your claim of “false alarm.” And at the same time raised awareness of the “uncertainty” that clouds the judgement of few which affects many.

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