Monday, January 18, 2010

Nobel-winning panel's warning on glaciers discredited

A much-publicized United Nation panel’s estimate about the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers from climate change is coming under fire as a gross exaggeration.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said in 2007, the same year it won the Nobel Prize, that it was “very likely” that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2030 if current warming trends continue.

That date has been much quoted and a cause for enormous consternation, since hundreds of millions of people in Asia rely on ice and snow melt from these glaciers for their water.

The panel is the United Nations’ scientific advisory body on climate change and it ranks its conclusions according to a probability scale in which “very likely” means there is greater than 90 percent chance that an event will occur.

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a nearly decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, studies “index glaciers” and has more recently suggested that only small glaciers would disappear entirely.

The panel is considering whether to amend the estimate or remove it. “We are investigating this issue and our members have been asked for further input,” said Brenda Abrar, a spokeswoman. The panel’s reports are exhaustive compilations of climate science created through the efforts of hundreds of scientists, and no one person can make the change.

The complete article in the NY Times is here.

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