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Himalayan Climate change controversy

The IPCC study on Himalayas predicted the melting of the glaciers by 2035 but some scientists told that the report distorts facts and gives a misrepresentation of the state of glaciers

The highly serious issue of climate change and global warming has taken a beating with vital research figures on climate change being distorted and 'falsified'. With contentions over important timelines -- like the melting of the Himalayas -- being disputed, scientific studies that contradict each other are losing credibility.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now admitted its goof-up on the 'deadline' on the melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

The panel, headed by Rajendra K Pachauri, had claimed that the Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035, causing a lively furore . "The clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly," said IPCC in a statement on its website, accepting the error.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said such forecasts were alarmist and without scientific basis.

He also took a dig at the comments made by IPCC chairman R K Pachauri, who had dubbed the Union environment ministry's report, which stated that global warming is not the only reason for glaciers melting, as 'voodoo science'.Pachauri now faces an embarrassing situation.

IPCC said the broader assessment remained correct that warming of the earth would lead to widespread losses from the glaciers. The concluding document of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report stated: "Climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation".

Meanwhile, leading glaciologist and senior fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, who was quoted in New Scientist and Down to Earth magazines as saying Himalayan glaciers were likely to disappear by 2035, defended himself, saying, "I must stress that a journalistic substitution of the year 2035 was made -- without my knowledge and approval -- that was markedly contrary to my research supported finding of the likelihood of the central and eastern Himalayan glaciers disappearing in 40-50 years."
Hasnain had made a presentation at the Centre for Science and Environment in February 1999, where he had talked about the controversial 2035 deadline. The CSE published the details in its magazine Down to Earth.

He said IPCC experts had never approached him for his research papers on Himalayan glaciers.

He said, he was "a scientist with years of painstaking study, collation and analyses of field experience who relies more on facts and figures, and not an astrologer who may give any date on the demise of glaciers."

Interestingly, the IPCC study is reported to have taken the deadline on the melting of the Himalayas from a Russian study, which predicted the melting of the glaciers by 2350. IPCC changed it to 2035, making it a 'Himalayan' blunder.

The IPCC also took references from a study done by World Wildlife Fund, which carried a report based on an article in a magazine called New Scientist in 1999. The magazine had attributed the report to statements from Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain.

Now the WWF admitted that its 2005 report 'contained erroneous information'. "Although scientists remain deeply concerned about glacier retreat in that region, this particular prediction has subsequently proved to be incorrect," the WWF said in a statement.

The IPCC study on Himalayas distorts facts and gives a misrepresentation of the state of glaciers.

This is what the controversial study quoting various sources states:

'Himalayan glaciers cover about 3 million hectares or 17 per cent of the mountain area as compared to 2.2 per cent in the Swiss Alps. They form the largest body of ice outside the polar caps and are the source of water for the innumerable rivers that flow across the Indo-Gangetic plains.'

'Himalayan glacial snowfields store about 12,000 km3 of freshwater. About 15,000 Himalayan glaciers form a unique reservoir that supports perennial rivers such as the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra which, in turn, are the lifeline of millions of people in South Asian countries (Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh).'

'The Gangetic basin alone is home to 500 million people, about 10 per cent of the total human population in the region.'

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

'The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to global warming due to an increase in the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases.'

'The relatively high population density near these glaciers and consequent deforestation and land-use changes have also adversely affected these glaciers. The 30.2-km-long Gangotri glacier has been receding alarmingly in recent years.'

'Between 1842 and 1935, the glacier was receding at an average of 7.3 meters every year; the average rate of recession between 1985 and 2001 is about 23 meters per year (Hasnain, 2002).'

'The current trends of glacial melts suggest that the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra and other rivers that criss-cross the northern Indian plain could likely become seasonal rivers in the near future as a consequence of climate change and could likely affect the economies in the region.

"In fact, we had issued a report (by scientist V K Raina) that the glaciers have not retreated abnormally. That time we were dismissed, saying it was based on 'voodoo science'. But the new report has clearly vindicated our position," Ramesh said.

The study released by the environment ministry last year said Himalayan glaciers were not shrinking at the rate that scientists have warned.

V K Raina, former Deputy Director of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) who presented a paper on the Himalayan glaciers to the Union environment ministry last year, said it is premature to make a statement that glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating abnormally because of global warming.

According to his study, the glaciers in the Himalayas, over a period of the last 100 years, behave in contrasting ways. For example, Sonapani glacier has retreated by about 500 meters during the last 100 years. On the other hand, Kangriz glacier has practically not retreated even an inch in the same period.

Siachen glacier is believed to have shown an advance of about 700 meters between 1862 and 1909, followed by an equally rapid retreat of around 400 meters between 1929 and 1958, and hardly any retreat during the last 50 years.

Gangotri glacier, which had hitherto been showing a rather rapid retreat, along its glacier front, at an average of around 20 meters per year till up to 2000 AD, has since slowed down considerably, and between September 2007 and June 2009 is practically at a standstill.

Meanwhile, the Indian government is in talks with China to monitor the glaciers in the Himalayas and plans to collaborate in climate change negotiations.

While the controversy rages over the exact date, scientists across the world agree that global warming is a huge threat to the mighty Himalayas. It time to act, to work jointly towards maintaining ecological balance before it is too late.

by Aliona Avduhova
01 february 2010, Food & Fun > Nature