Himalayan Glaciers Gone by 2035? IPCC Mistaken

Article excerpt

The 2035 Himalayan glacier doomsday date in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was a mistake, say Indian scientists. But debate continues over how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting due to global warming.

First, the good news: Himalayan glaciers are not likely to disappear by 2035, as originally claimed by a widely-publicized United Nations report.

The bad news? Scientists did not challenge the spurious date for years and some now warn that, in fact, our understanding about Himalayan glaciers rests on thin data.

Over the past week, it emerged that the doomsday date found its way into a 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) not from a peer-reviewed study but from an interview published in the New Scientist 10 years ago. That article attributed the prediction to Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a noted Indian glaciologist, who denies he put forth such a date.

Dr. Hasnain said this week he saw the mistake 10 years ago but did not seek a correction because it did not appear in a scientific journal. Other Indian scientists, after debunking a similar claim about melting glaciers in response to an Indian Parliament inquiry, also did not seek out the press with the information, says Rajinder Ganjoo, director of the Institute of Himalayan Glaciology at the University of Jammu.

"Perhaps we thought it was not important at the moment or maybe that the IPCC was a big dinosaur," he says. Asked if he has felt political pressure, he declined to comment further.

The IPCC draws upon some 2,500 scientific reviewers and basks in the prestige of a Nobel Prize, while Indian glaciologists number barely more than a dozen. And the task ahead of them is, well, Himalayan.

"As of today, there are roughly 50 glaciers that have been worked scientifically," says Dr. Ganjoo. "Frankly speaking, 50 glaciers are absolutely a tip of the iceberg to get an idea about the other 9,500 [Himalayan] glaciers. I think it will take us ages to do work on each and every glacier."

Hurdles abound. Many glaciers lie above 18,000 feet, making them virtually inaccessible. The mountain range also falls along tense international borders between India, Pakistan, and China. India has classified decades of glacial data gathered by the Geological Survey of India. Ganjoo's work on the Siachen glacier - where Indian and Pakistani troops periodically trade potshots - required special permissions from defense officials.

A consensus has emerged among scientists that the data gathered so far generally shows glaciers on the retreat particularly in the northeastern Himalaya. But there remains debate over why they're shrinking, and at what rate.

Some of that debate has been hashed out in the scientific journals. Ganjoo sides with a faction that argues there are so many factors involved in glacial melt that a finger cannot yet be pointed at rises in atmospheric temperature - i. …