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Climate Hustle

The IPCC's 2035 prediction about Himalayan glaciers

Posted on 21 January 2010 by John Cook

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report contains a mistake. This is not the first inaccuracy to be found in the AR4 - there have been several papers demonstrating where IPCC predictions have underestimated the climate response to CO2 emissions. However, this time the climate response has been overestimated. Specifically, the IPCC AR4 predicted the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 which is decidedly not the case. What's the significance of this error? To determine this, let's look at how it happened and the broader context.

The error occurs in Section 10.6.2: The Himalayan glaciers of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report:

"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. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005)."

The source for this information was "An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China", a 2005 report by the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF report was not peer reviewed. On Page 25, we find:

"In 1999, a report by the Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology (WGHG) of the International Commission for Snow and Ice (ICSI) stated: “glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the livelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 is very high”. Direct observation of a select few snout positions out of the thousands of Himalayan glaciers indicate that they have been in a general state of decline over, at least, the past 150 years. The prediction that “glaciers in the region will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming” and that the flow of Himalayan rivers will “eventually diminish, resulting in widespread water shortages” (New Scientist 1999; 1999, 2003) is equally disturbing."

The WWF sourced their information from a 1999 news item in New Scientist. Again this was not peer reviewed (New Scientist is a popular science magazine). The article was based on an interview with Indian scientist Syed Hasnain, chair of the Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology, who speculated that Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035. This speculation was not supported by any formal research.

Unfortunately, the error was not spotted in the review process. This may be because it was buried deep in the Working Group II section (which focuses on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability with a regional emphasis). It was not one of the key features included in the Technical Summary, the Summary for Policymakers or the Synthesis Report. The 2035 prediction was not included in the Working Group I section (focusing on the Physical Science with more of a global emphasis) which was solidly based on peer reviewed research.

The moral of the story seems clear - stick to the peer reviewed scientific literature. This is not to say peer review is infallible. But as a source for climate science, there is no higher standard than rigorous research based on empirical data, conducted by scientific experts and reviewed by other experts in the field.

This leads to an important question: what does the peer reviewed science say about Himalayan glaciers? The ice mass over the Himalayas is the third-largest on earth, after the Arctic/Greenland and Antarctic regions (Barnett 2005). There are approximately 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas. Each summer, these glaciers release meltwater into the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra Rivers. Approximately 500 million people depend upon water from these three rivers (Kehrwald 2008). In China, 23% of the population lives in the western regions, where glacial melt is the principal water source during dry season (Barnett 2005).

On-site measurement of glacier terminus position and ice core records have found many glaciers on the south slope of the central Himalaya have been retreating at an accelerating rate (Ren 2006). Similarly, ice cores amd accumulation stakes on the Naimona'nyi Glacier have observed it's losing mass, a surprising result due to its high altitude (it is now the highest glacier in the world losing mass) (Kehrwald 2008).

While on-site measurements cover only a small range of the Himalayas, broader coverage is achieved through remote sensing satellites and Geographic Information System methods. They've found that over 80% of glaciers in western China have retreated in the past 50 years, losing 4.5% of their combined areal coverage (Ding 2006). This retreat is accelerating across much of the Tibetan plateau (Yao 2007).

The IPCC error on the 2035 prediction was unfortunate and it's important that such mistakes are avoided in future publications through more rigorous review. But the central message of the Synthesis Report, the concluding document of the IPCC AR4, is confirmed by the peer reviewed literature. The Himalayan glaciers are of vital importance to half a billion people. Most of this crucial resource is disappearing at an accelerating rate.

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Comments 1 to 46:

  1. The glaciers are retreating and there will be significant consequences long before they are all gone. Deltoid has an interesting study on how the error occurred.

    The trouble with peer reviewed is that it is usually behind a pay-wall and I am not paying to read an article that I probably will not understand. I am also learning there is peer review and then peer review, some peer reviewed journals have a much higher standing than others.

    What I have learned from the peer reviewed articles is that there is still a high degree of uncertainty on how glaciers will react. Melt they will but how fast and what mechanisms will come into play.
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    Response: The Deltoid article is A beat up of Himalayan proportions.
  2. Yes, this has all been as much, if not more, of a beat up than the "hide the decline" nonsense. But the two together clearly signal a new determination by the denier, and those behind them, to stop at nothing in order that the world will stop at nothing.

    I saw one comment to the effect that if the glaciers were going to melt in 25 years that would be a cause for concern but 340 years, who cares. The idea that glaciers are already retreating, all over the world, and that they are acting as one of the canaries in the coalmine escapes these people (and the mass media, including people like the Guardian, and the ABC, who should know better). Similarly the idea that whether it is 35 or 350, the processes are now in place for yet another unthinkable thing to happen, inevitably, has also escaped the deniers. And the obvious point that since the glaciers are already in retreat, the effects of this are already underway.

    I think there is plenty of room for debate on all kinds of timing issues (sea level rise and acidification, desertification, increasing storm frequency, ice free Arctic, loss of Greenland ice cap and so on). They are of some practical import, but really the exact speed is a matter of mainly academic interest. If you are stalled on a level crossing, the approaching train could be coming at any speed really. but getting off is the important thing. In fact an emphasis on the speed at which things are happening lets politicians off the hook - plenty of time to deal (or have someone else deal) with that, they think. The important message though, is that these effects are now built into the atmosphere, and it is going to take a long time to turn them around.
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  3. I have come across reports that some glaciers may be growing (alas I do not have sources to hand). If so, what's the overall significance?
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    Response: Some glaciers are growing. In fact, the IPCC mentions them in their section on glaciers - including a Himalayan glacier in the Karakoram mountains. However, these are isolated cases - the vast majority of glaciers are shrinking and the shrinking trend is increasing. According to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, 77% of monitored glaciers were retreating in 2002. This was followed by 94% of monitored glaciers retreating in 2003. The global trend is accelerating shrinkage:

    Cumulative mass balance curves for the mean of all glaciers and 30 'reference' glaciers (WGMS 2008).
  4. Thanks for the summary, John. I really like that you cover the current affairs.

    Although the reference was the WWF 2005 report, it seems that the IPCC text was more likely paraphrased from an article published in the India Environement Portal in 1999:

    "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 is very high," says the International Commission for Snow and Ice (ICSI) in its recent study on Asian glaciers. "But if the Earth keeps getting warmer at the current rate, it might happen much sooner," says Syed Iqbal Hasnain of the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Hasnain is also the chairperson of the Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology (WGHG), constituted in 1995 by the ICSI.

    "The glacier will be decaying at rapid, catastrophic rates. Its total area will shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square km by the year 2035," says former ICSI president V M Kotlyakov in the report "Variations of snow and ice in the past and present on a global and regional scale".

    As Deltoid mentions, John Nielsen-Gammon has a grood article on the original sources, including the Kotlyakov report, where the year 2035 may come from as a misreading of 2350 (here and here)

    As for the real consensus on the Hymalayan glaciers, the link provided by RealClimate to Karger et al at the AGU press conference last December is very good (see slides 13 and 40-41).
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  5. The link to the Kotlyakov report is now broken, you can find it here (p. 66).
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  6. #3 Chriscanaris - "I have come across reports that some glaciers may be growing ... If so, what's the overall significance?" John has answered this in terms of proportions. Something worth adding is that because glacier size is determined (simplistically) by the balance between snow arriving at the top end, and ice melting at the bottom end, they will react to global warming in ways depending on their geographic situation. In most cases (over 90%) the equation is simply that global warming brings more melting and less snow. In a small minority of cases, especially those in coastal regions, although the bottom is melting faster, the warmer sea also results in more snowfall at the top. If the latter factor outweighs the former, the glacier can actually grow.

    It is not clear to me whether this is a temporary effect, and that temps continuing to rise will shrink these glaciers too, or whether snowfall can continue to increase proportionately. My gut feeling is that the increase in snow is likely to be a short term phenomenon, which seems to be suggested by the falling proportion of glaciers that are growing.
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  7. Supporters of the IPCC should be first to note that a similar error is found elsewhere in the Working Group 2 report, in chapter 3. In section 3.4.3 we read that “the entire Hindu Kush-Himalaya ice mass has decreased in the last two decades.”

    The citation is to Barnett et al. (2005), a Nature paper that does indeed say the Himalaya-Hindu Kush area was losing ice. So far so good. But the refereeing there failed, for Barnett et al. cite only two sources for their confident statement: a Chinese paper that, judging from the title (I haven’t tried to find the whole text), actually studied only one ice mass... and figures in the IPCC 2001 report, which turn out to show only temperature rise over the Himalayas, not actual glacier retreat. In short, the scientific communities involved had really poor quality-control in this case, not just at the IPCC level but in the Nature article refereeing. Oh well, historians of science know that it is a rare scientific paper that does NOT contain an error; that's the inevitable result of working at the frontier of knowledge.

    Himalayan glaciers depend crucially on the notoriously fickle monsoon, and glaciers in general depend as much on precipitation as temperature (like many tree rings!). The Physical Sciences panel was rightly concerned above all with ice mass, a lot of which is in ice caps rather than glaciers. The crucial data for the Panel I report are to be found at

    with a broader overview at (I guess published too late to be included in the IPCC reference list, but they do show the figures.)
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  8. The Himalayan glacier issue is a complex one.

    MoEF Discussion Paper
    Himalayan Glaciers
    A State-of-Art Review of Glacial Studies,
    Glacial Retreat and Climate Change
    - V.K.Raina, Ex. Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India

    Also, the constant mid & upper tropospheric relative humidity hypotheses is not supported by (sub)tropical glacier shrinkage. Especially during the sixties and seventies, when temperature decreased, but glacier mass loss only slowed down, not reversed.

    On the other hand, if air above 1500-2000 m is getting ever drier as CO2 goes up, glaciers should shrink.

    It is even more pronounced on Kilimanjaro, Africa, where sublimation is the dominant ice loss process.
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  9. re #7 sweart, I think you're being unfair on Barnett et al. (2005). If you read their section on Himalaya-Hindu-Kush, which they address as a whole region, they makesome rather uncontroversial statements that are referenced by 5 citations, one of which is the report of the China Glacier Inventory. They state:

    There is little doubt that the glaciers of the HKH region are melting and that the melting is accompanied by a long-term increase of near-surface air temperature (ref. 44 and Figs 2.9 and 2.10 in ref. 1), the same level of warming we saw impacting the western USA. After 25 years of study, the China Glacier Inventory was recently released45. It showed substantial melting of virtually all glaciers, with one of the most marked retreats in the last 13 years (750 m) of the glacier that acts as one of the major sources of the Yangtze River, the largest river in China. In total, it is estimated that the entire HKH ice mass has decreased in the last two decades. Furthermore, the rate of melting seems to be accelerating46.

    The few analytical studies that exist for the region suggest both a regression of the maximum spring stream-flow period in the annual cycle by about 30 days (ref. 47) and an increase in glacier melt runoff by 33–38% (ref. 48). These numbers seem consistent with what is being observed and bear striking similarities to the stream-flow results from the western USA. The huge inconsistency, however, occurs in the impacts on local water supplies. In the western USA, model-predicted impacts are already being seen in the hydrological cycle. The models suggest that the impacts will appear as a long-term trend in snow amount and runoff. But in the HKH region, there may (for the next several decades) appear to be normal, even increased, amounts of available melt water to satisfy dry season needs. The shortage, when it comes, will likely arrive much more abruptly in time; with water systems going from plenty to want in perhaps a few decades or less.

    So the Chinese studies certainly don't address "one ice mass"...moreover the authors are quite clear that the IPCC citation refers specifically to air temerature (see reproduced text above). Barnett et al (2005) also cite studies for this region that address the strength of glacier-fed stream flow and glacier melt run-off. Reading this section, and in the context of the whole article, doesn't suggest that there's anything wrong with the article, certainly not to the extent that one would question the peer-review process.

    Total Himalayan glacier mass balance is negative[*], and that's what Barnett et al (2005) state, and discuss implications thereof.

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  10. Thanks for the great post, John. The paragraph with the moral of this story summarizes well my own view, too.

    I'd like to place a suggestion. It's off-topic, but I don't know where else I should send it.

    I know a few good websites (like this one) dedicated to debunk "skeptical" claims. I've been questioning this approach, though. I think it is much more compelling and instructive to explain the existing science behind AGW then to respond to denialist (mostly) nonsense. People can learn, then, how robust the mainstream consensus is and THEN compare it with the feeble contrarian reasoning. I find it much more constructive.

    Would it be feasible/interesting to add a section like this here? Could anyone point me a website with this approach?
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  11. "The mistakes were found not by skeptics like Michaels, but by a few of the scientists themselves, including one who is an IPCC co-author."

    So any one know who found it and when?
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  12. Alexandre,

    You may be interested in this online "textbook" which provides a very good synoptic overview of climate science. It covers most areas of interest in a factual, unbiased way.

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  13. #11 danielbacon,

    I'm not 100% sure, but it seems to have been Prof Graham Cogley (Trent University, Ontario), who has also sent a letter (with Kargel, Kaser and Van derVeen) to Science.

    The first public comment seems to be the one by Madhav L. Khandekar (introduced as "research scientist from Environment Canada and is an expert reviewer for the IPCC 2007 Climate Change Documents") in a guest post on Roger Pielke Sr.'s blog on December 1st. But he credits the relevant statement to Graham Cogley.
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  14. IPCC still has it on its website with no footnote, comment or whatever.

    IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
    Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability
    10.6.2 The Himalayan glaciers
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  15. Yesterday, the IPCC released an apology and reaffirmed that the conclusions reported in the Synthesis Report are robust:
    Climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.

    This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment.

    *I find the apology a bit indulgent anyway, and I hope that they add a corrigendum to the text soon.
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  16. WeatherRusty at 01:53 AM on 22 January, 2010

    You may be interested in this online "textbook" which provides a very good synoptic overview of climate science. It covers most areas of interest in a factual, unbiased way.

    Also be sure to view Weart's book, also online:
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  17. I am a touch puzzled by the confident assertion that warming may equal increased precipiation which may equal in some cases increased glacier growth. I seem to recall that precipitation may cause at least local warming as water vapor when it turns to liquid water or ice releases latent thermal energy. I'm happy to be subject to correction on this score. Anyway, I will check out the suggested online sources with interest.
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  18. Perhaps someone can explain something else in Section 10.6.2: The Himalayan glaciers of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report:

    How is the second line of table 10.9 calculated?

    Pindari Glacier; 2840 meters of retreat from 1845 to 1966; average retreat 135.2 meters/year.

    I calculate an average 23.5 meters per year, which more closely matches some other reports of 27 meters/year from 1847 to 1906, slowing to 20 meters per year from 1906 to 1958; with a further slowing to about 10 meters per year since 1966.

    My e-mails to IPCC go unanswered.

    Perhaps other readers of this blog can explain the 135.2 meter/year average retreat number for Pindari Glacier.
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  19. Charlie A,
    it's a typo, the starting year is 1947 not 1847.
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  20. As earlier posters have implied, other science based sites (e.g. Deltoid, RealClimate) have also put up articles that add to the background and current status of Himalayan glaciers.

    Of interest is the 2009 article by Xu et al Black soot and the survival of Tibetan glaciers (open access)."We find evidence that black soot aerosols deposited on Tibetan glaciers have been a significant contributing factor to observed rapid glacier retreat."
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  21. Jesús Rosino @4:

    Thanks for the link to Karger et al.. It is by far the best objective and quantitative discussion of the status and outlook of the Himalayan glacier that I have come across. I highly recommend it.

    After reading their "report", it is clear that there is still much reason for concern.
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  22. 19 Ricardo says "it's a typo, the starting year is 1947 not 1847."

    Ricardo, what is your data source for this statement?

    2840 meters of retreat from 1845 to 1966 is consistent with other reports of 1600 meters of retreat from 1847 to 1906 (27 meters/year) and 1040 meters of retreat from 1906 to 1958 (20 meters per year).

    What is your source for saying that the starting year is 1947 ??

    My figures come from and several other sources of similar numbers.

    The current retreat rate of 10 meters/year comes from the 9th volume of Fluctuations of Glaciers, issued by the World Glacier Monitoring Service

    If AR4 is incorrect and the other correct, then the snout of the Pindari has slowed from 27m/yr up to 1906, to 20 meters per year to 1958, to 10 meters per year to 2006.

    If the AR4 is correct, then there has been an even more dramatic reduction in the retreat rate of 135.2meter/year down to 10 meters per year.
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  23. Apparently, there are other errors in this section. The erroneous 2035 date has been acknowledge, but the IPCC has not acknowledge the error I've pointed out above in table 10.9.

    Another error is the statement, referring to Himalayan glaciers of "Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometers by the year 2035."

    The statement appears to have its original source in a 1996 article which states that the total worldwide extrapolar glacial area of 500k sq km is expected to go down to 100k sq km by 2350.

    I don't have a peer reviewed source handy for total Himalayan glacial area, but the UNEP/WGMS report global glacier changes says total area of Himalayan glaciers is 33,040 sq kilometers, so this appears to be yet another clue that the statements in this section should have been reviewed more thoroughly.

    Georg Kaser, a lead author of a WG1 chapter has said that he told others in the IPCC of the errors, but they chose not to correct them.

    The entire section on Himalayan glaciers is not of that muc importance. What is more important is that this is yet another example of problems in the IPCC review process.

    Nominations for reviewers of AR5 are now being taken, but only from selected organizations. The IPCC would be well served to include some reviewers that don't have strong confirmation bias in favor of AGW, and for there to be procedure put in place that don't allow the lead authors to rely almost exclusively on their own publications, to the exclusion of other peer reviewed papers that conflict with the lead authors opinions.
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  24. I don't understand why the glaciers are so important to water supply. We don't have glaciers here in Pennsylvania USA, yet the rivers flow year round. In the Himalayans, the water comes down the mountains, not because of glaciers, but because the monsoons bring snow to the mountains. If there is precipitation, the rivers will flow, right? Why is it so important that the water is hundreds or thousands of year old glacier water? Let's get rid of the glaciers and get some fresh water down to drink!
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  25. nofreewind, glaciers and snowpack are natural reservoirs of water not only in the Himalayas, but in California and many places around the world. They hang on to precipitation during the winter and dole it out gradually as meltwater as the weather warms into Spring and Summer, and even into Fall.

    Huge numbers of people, agriculture, and industry rely on the resulting somewhat steady and predictable supply of water around the year. It is impossible to build enough artificial reservoirs to compensate for the loss of those natural reservoirs.

    Also, excessive supply of water (because it is not being held long enough and doled out in measured quantities) causes flooding by exceeding the short-term capacities of the human infrastructure.
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  26. nofreewind -- As Tom Dayton points out, the absence of glaciers just affects the timing of the water flow. Assuming constant annual precipitation, then the total annual water flow in the rivers will stay the same, but there will be a bigger seasonal variation.

    Without glaciers, melting snowpack would be the source of summer water flow in most Himalayan/Indian rivers.

    I've seen some non peer reviewed articles that said that the loss of glaciers would cause most rivers in India to go dry during the summer, but have not seen any peer reviewed articles that had any such drastic predictions. The alarmist articles seem to ignore the snowpack, which is the primary storage in many areas, such as California as mentioned above by Tom Dayton.
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  27. I live in the East USA but have skied annually in California/West and talking about glaciers as a water supply seems awful SILLY. Whatever glaciers there are in California are teeny(most all of the snow melts by September) and their contribution to melt has to be very small compared to general melting snowpack.

    Worrying about glaciers, without considering an overall predicted rise in precipitation from AGW "theory", does not seem to be right to me. And even with the worst case AGW scenarios coming true, say a 4F rise in temp, is that going to stop a snowpack from forming? I don't think so. Here in the Eastern US snowfall is extremely variable with some years we have very little snowpack, yet our rivers flow all year long, except in periods of a true drought, when they just flow low.

    I conclude the glacier scare is nothing but that, another scare. I don't have the deep scientific knowledge of AGW "theory" that many of you have, but common sense appears once again to rule the day on the Himalayan glacier/melt issue!
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  28. Charlie A,
    i didn't claim it was right or wrong; i just pointed out that pluging in the correct starting time the calculation of the rate is correct.
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  29. nofreewind. It may not stop snowpack from forming, but it will effect the depth & total extent of the snowpack in the future-which *will* impact on future fresh water supplies. You see, even without global warming, we're already running into problems providing water to our populations. Imagine how much worse it will get if our sources of fresh water become depleted by global warming? That's not a "scare", it is something which we should be genuinely concerned about-in spite of efforts by the fossil fuel industry to try & cast doubt on the issue.
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  30. Riccardo says at #28 "i just pointed out that plugging in the correct starting time the calculation of the rate is correct. "

    I ask again, what is your reference for saying that 1945 is the CORRECT starting date when all of the available literature points to 1845 (or 1847) as the correct starting date associated with the 2840 meters of retreat.

    To put it more simply, other references, such as 1958 reports make it clear that the 2840 meters of retreat is approximately correct, that 1845 is approximately correct, and that IPCC or whoever originated the chart incorrectly calculated the time span from 1845 to 1966 as 21 years rather than 121 years.

    These errors make it even more relevant that nominations for AR5 reviewers, which close on March 12th 2010, are not allowed to be submitted unless you are one of a certain list of privileged organizations chosen by the IPCC. I have been unable to obtain this list. The IPCC would be well served by including some reviewers without a strong confirmation bias in favor of AGW.
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  31. Charlie A,
    i did NOT say it's correct, i did say it's just simple math. Try yourself 2840/(1966-1845)=23.4 and 2840/(1966-1945)=135.2 and you'll see where the inconsistency in that table comes from. They guy who wrote the table probably mistyped the number and came out with the wrong rate. Or you mean it was intentional?
    In my life i've never seen a thousand pages book with no such errors and sometimes even happen in peer reviewed papers. Anyway, being the error really irrelevant for the whole picture I find the pertinacity you show by cross-posting the same "question" really pointless.
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  32. "In order to the glaciers in the Himalayans to melt completely,
    the freezing level would have to raise nearly 10,000 feet, for the
    summer freezing level in the area is about 13,000 ft. If it were
    to be reduced on a Moist adiabatic lapse rate, that would
    equate to a surface temperature at the base of the Himalayan
    Massiff to over 150F, and that is at 5000 ft. Dry adiabatically,
    it would be nearly 180F... I don't think that area is ready for
    that, as it would continue to warm gradually down to sea level
    and that would push it up to nearly 190F in BomBay (Mumbai
    as they say today).
    You could fry eggs on the sidewalk, maybe bake bread in a
    reflection oven, and roast corn on the cob in the same manner."

    The above is not my argument against the Himalayan glaciers melting. It is from a denialist. I'm brushing up on my physics (my 40 yo B.S. in Math/Physics isn't helping me much, anymore). I do know what an adiabatic lapse rate is, seem to recall that they are an idealization for estimating purposes only (although they do occur fairly precisely), and believe that the scenario described here is neither achievable nor sustainable in the real world (on earth). It would seem that the conditions described here would result in a very unstable atmospheric situation, and quickly and dramatically break down. I'm hoping someone here can provide a more complete refutation, although I'll be looking into it more myself.
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  33. Last year and this year I am authoring the section for the BAMS annual state of the climate on Glaciers and Ice Sheets. This report focuses primarily on climate during that given calendar year and is a great resource for understanding the details of annual climate around the world. Believe me the IPCC report is not a source of information. Since this report is due before the data is generally even reported to the WGMS, the glacier data comes directly from the researchers.

    Glacier runoff is the product of the area and melt rate of the glaciers. Smaller glacier areas reduce melt season glacier runoff. For most areas the melt season is also the dry season, so this is perfect. This is not the case for streams draining the south side of the Himalaya where the summer monsoon is both the wet season and the main melt season on those glaciers. Note Gangotri Glacier as an example. Note that given the debris cover soot will not matter to the lower section of this glacier, nor will it matter to the area above 5500 meters which is a perpetual accumulation zone, with soot being buried. Thus, soot impacts are limited to that narrow elevation range near the equilibrium line.

    As a glacier disappears it does not automatically change runoff, that depends on precipitation. It changes the timing. Thus, in the < a href=">Skagit River in Washington for example glacier retreat has caused a reduction in summer streamflow, but winter streamflow has increased due to more winter rain and melt events in the basin. The glaciers are reservoirs that naturally store water that melts during dry periods for most areas. That is the value and is increasingly being utilized for hydropower as for Gangotri Glacier above or many others
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  34. This error was trumpeted yesterday in the overwhelmingly skeptic Daily Mail in the UK; but the article went on to link the inclusion of the WWF report to the wider issue of whether climate change was responsible for natural disasters. How have they managed to do this? And how should this disinformation be countered?

    Note the poll added beside the article...
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  35. Phillip64:

    Already handled by IPCC, which has apparently learned the danger of leaving smoldering piles of BS laying about unextinguished:

    "The January 24 Sunday Times ran a misleading and baseless story attacking the way the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC handled an important question concerning recent trends in economic losses from climate-related disasters. The article, entitled “UN Wrongly Linked Global Warming to Natural Disasters”, is by Jonathan Leake.

    The Sunday Times article gets the story wrong on two key points. The first is that it incorrectly assumes that a brief section on trends in economic losses from climate-related disasters is everything the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) has to say about
    changes in extremes and disasters. In fact, the Fourth Assessment Report reaches many important conclusions, at many locations in the report, about the role of climate change in extreme events. The assessment addresses both observations of past changes and
    projections of future changes in sectors ranging from heat waves and precipitation to wildfires. Each of these is a careful assessment of the available evidence, with a thorough consideration of the confidence with which each conclusion can be drawn.

    The second problem with the article in the Sunday Times is its baseless attack on the section of the
    report on trends in economic losses from disasters. This section of the IPCC report is a balanced treatment of a complicated and important issue. It clearly makes the point that one study detected an increase in economic losses, corrected for values at risk, but that other studies have not detected such a trend. The tone is balanced, and the section contains many important qualifiers. In writing, reviewing, and editing this section, IPCC procedures were carefully followed to produce the policy-relevant assessment that is the IPCC mandate."

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  36. Doug Bostrom:

    Thanks for that. I assume the Sunday Times article says more-or-less the same as the Daily Mail article.

    Where did this IPCC response appear? I would hope in The Sunday Times itself, but given the way that paper is sliding on this issue, I wouldn't be surprised if that was not the case.
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  37. I have found a peer reviewed paper from Geophysical Research Letters that supports the AR4 findings!

    Indeed, they are a bit more aggressive in their prediction in that they expect the total area of glaciers in all of the Tibetan Plateau to be reduced from 500,000 sq km down to 100,000 sq km by 2030 --- a full 5 years earlier than IPCC.

    So the IPCC now has a peer reviewed article to use as a reference if IPCC wants to put into ar5 a statement similar to the one in AR4.

    There are just 2 problems ----

    Cruz et al (2007) is actually chap 10, WGII, AR4.;
    and the area given in the paper for total glacial area in the Tibetan Plateau is laughably incorrect.
    (See for example the WGMS - world glacier monitoring system -- numbers.

    See Mass loss on Himalayan glacier endangers water resources,

    Key quotes from the article:

    "The surface area of glaciers across the TP is
    projected to decrease from 500,000 km2 measured in 1995
    to 100,000 km2 in 2030 [Cruz et al., 2007], thereby
    threatening regional rivers and water resources."

    "Himalayan glaciers have been retreating more
    rapidly than glaciers elsewhere in the world [Cruz et al.,2007]."

    I have not been able to determine how the AR4 500k sq km of Himalayan glaciers became all of Tibetan Plateau in the peer reviewed article. Nor have I been able to determine how the date for reaching 100k sq km was changed to 2030 from 2035.

    Does anybody have any idea how these changes came about?
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  38. Philip64 at 22:22 PM on 27 January, 2010

    "Where did this IPCC response appear? I would hope in The Sunday Times itself, but given the way that paper is sliding on this issue, I wouldn't be surprised if that was not the case. "

    Only on the IPCC site itself, as far as I know, and then picked up by ClimateProgress, possibly other sites. It's not stinky enough to be picked up by newspapers.
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  39. Charlie A at 12:52 PM on 28 January, 2010
    "I have found a peer reviewed paper from Geophysical Research Letters that supports the AR4 findings!"

    The peer reviewed paper in Geophysical Research Letters is this one:

    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 35, L22503, doi:10.1029/2008GL035556, 2008
    Mass loss on Himalayan glacier endangers water resources
    Natalie M. Kehrwald, Lonnie G. Thompson, Yao Tandong, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Ulrich Schotterer, Vasily Alfimov, Ju¨rg Beer, Jost Eikenberg, and Mary E. Davis
    Received 1 August 2008; revised 24 September 2008; accepted 21 October 2008; published 22 November 2008.

    It actually contains the phrase "The surface area of glaciers across the TP is projected to decrease from 500,000 km2 measured in 1995 to 100,000 km2 in 2030 [Cruz et al., 2007]"

    Cruz et al., 2007 is of course IPCC AR4, WG II Report, chapter 10. No problem, AR4 was subject to peer review, even if a slightly redefined version of it.

    Cruz, R. V., H. Harasawa, M. Lal, S. Wu, Y. Anokhin, B. Punsalmaa, Y. Honda, M. Jafari, C. Li, and N. Huu Ninh (2007)
    Asia, in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by M. L. Parry et al., pp. 469–506, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, U. K.

    The GRL quote is based on an IPCC/AR4 Figure 10.4 caption (Hotspots of key future climate impacts and vulnerabilities in Asia), which reads "Tibetan Plateau glaciers of 4 km in length are projected to disappear with 3°C temperature rise and no change in precipitation. If current warming rates are maintained, glaciers located over Tibetan Plateau are likely to shrink at very rapid rates from 500,000 km2 in 1995 to 100,000 km2 by the 2030s. [,10.6.2]"

    The Kehrwald at al. quote is an abridged version of it. They omitted the generous 3°C temperature thing along with the restriction "no change in precipitation", and the tiny letter "s" after "2030" (it may be the source of the IPCC:2035 - NASA:2030 transition). BTW, the "glaciers of 4 km in length" is also omitted, a pity, for it is absolutely mysterious.

    Otherwise it is correct. To tell the truth, I would like to have a word or two with the anon referees of GRL who let this crap through.

    But IPCC GR4 Himalayan glacier claim got supported by a peer reviewed paper, even if it was done in retrospect, based on the very report to be supported. New Age science is supposed to work this way, isn't it?
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  40. 32, @koyaanisqatsi

    The standard value for the dry adiabatic lapse rate is 9.8 deg C/km. Just compare observed mean surface temperatures vs height in the same regions, and compare to the lapse rate. In warming, the height/melting temperature point would follow approximately that curve, not the lapse rate.

    Which is why glaciers are very sensitive to temperature, not insensitive as the lapse rate relation would imply.

    Freezing level is not the only determinant either, for temperature, precipitation and their relationship is not constant, and sublimation may also be important.
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  41. @39 Berényi Péter

    Peer review only implies that _some_ kind of quality control has been applied. Lots of crap pass through all the time, the basic premise is not that it is correct, but that it could be, and that the bad parts will be contradicted by new work and left behind.

    This is certainly not good enough, as we have a number of recent examples to demonstrate.

    In this situation, using results just because they have passed peer review is certainly not very skeptical.
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  42. @39 Berényi Péter

    Peer review only implies that _some_ kind of quality control has been applied. Lots of crap pass through all the time, the basic premise is not that it is correct, but that it could be, and that the bad parts will be contradicted by new work and left behind.

    This is certainly not good enough, as we have a number of recent examples to demonstrate.

    In this situation, using results just because they have passed peer review is certainly not very skeptical.
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  43. SNRatio, what is also not very skeptical is failure to correct errors.

    I have been unable to get a reply to my inquiries direct to the author and the first co-author of the article. Not even a "hmmm, I'll look at it". Just total, complete silence.

    I guess I'll have to use the backup for peer reviewed science and send in a comment directly to GRL.

    I'll try once more with the authors, and then once via Byrd Polar Research Center.
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  44. Don't bother bothering the authors further, Charlie A. The ultimate source of WG2 Ch10's bogus and unsourced 135.2 m/a Pindari retreat claim is a 1981 book entitled _The Himalaya: aspects of change_ by Lall and Moddie. (This source was predictably hard to pin-dari down. The intermediate sources that the WG2 authors most likely used said that the claim came from a study by the first Indian to climb Mount Everest called, somewhat daftly, 'Himalayan Glaciers in the Himalaya', editors Lal and Moodie.) This book is viewable only in Snippet mode in Google Books but that's all that's needed. A search with 'Pindari' returns the relevant portion of a table.

    Name of glacier: Pindari
    Period: 1845-1966
    Rate of retreat, M/yr: 23.5

    Yet more climatic Chinese whispers. Well spotted, Charlie!
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  45. Maybe we need more hydrologists and fewer glaciologists on the case.

    At the December 2009 AWG Conference in San Francisco - Jeff Kargel from the University of Arizona presented on behalf of a number of experts on the Himalayan Glacier controversy. I was struck by their conclusion that the glaciers only contribute 1.2% of the water flow in the three principal river systems. If that is accurate or close to being accurate, would it not call into question whether the complete disappearance of the glaciers would have any significant effect on the river flows? Following is the quote, and following that the link to the full presentation.

    Page 41 “9. As we have calculated, melting glaciers (specifically, negative mass balance components of the melt) contribute an estimated 1.2% (perhaps factor of 2 uncertain) of total runoff of three of the most important drainages, the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra combined. The seasonal flow regulation influences and the negative mass balance is more important in local drainages close to the glacier sources, w[h]ere glaciers can dominate the hydrology in arid regions, but on the scale of the subcontinent, glaciers are secondary players in looming hydrologic problems, which stem more from population growth and inefficiency of water resource distribution and application.”

    The full presentation may be found at
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  46. Steve,
    the authors refer explicitly to the negative mass balance component averaged over one year. This surely means that on an annual basis the contribution is small and the eventual water scarcity we see now is not due to glaciers retreat.
    But, given that they are indeed retreating (they say 20% in 40 years), in the long run you will miss the whole seasonal melting during the arid season. And that will be a problem.
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