Climate Denial Industry Blowing Hot Air On Himalayan Glaciers

Wed, 2010-01-20 12:51Brendan DeMelle
Brendan DeMelle's picture

Climate Denial Industry Blowing Hot Air On Himalayan Glaciers

The climate denial industry is once again trying to make a huge to-do about a tiny error by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

With the Climategate Swifthack episode fading from the limelight, after a thorough debunking of far-fetched accusations that scientists made up global warming, the climate science attack machine now wants the world to focus on one paragraph out of a 938-page, three-year-old report.

The contrarians are questioning a single reference to Himalayan glaciers included in a 2007 IPCC report that does not meet the IPCC’s well-established evidentiary standards.

Here is their alleged smoking gun: The second of three 2007 reports from the IPCC included a statement that the likelihood of Himalayan glaciers disappearing “by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high.”

But the reference to Himalayan glaciers melting at that early date didn’t originate from a peer-reviewed study, meaning it should not have appeared in the IPCC report. 

Sure, that’s slightly embarrassing.  But it isn’t grounds to declare the entire library of climate science a fraud. The IPCC’s findings have been validated and substantiated by assessments conducted by leading scientific institutions the world over. 

The real news here is that a single ‘error’ was discovered in just one of the IPCC’s reports, collectively reams of paper thick, and the ‘error’ isn’t an error at all.  The Himalayan glaciers are melting.  There is no debate about that in the scientific community.

The fact is that, since glaciers are complex systems, scientists can’t tell exactly how fast they will disappear.  That they are melting, and that sea levels are rising, is irrefutable.

But that won’t stop the contrarians from attempting to inflate the importance of a tiny mistake to further their ongoing efforts to smear climate scientists. Right-wing blogs say this tiny error proves the IPCC’s lack of credibility.  Never mind the validity of thousands of scientific studies published over decades by scientists around the world.  The attack machine says this proves the entire process of international scientific assessment of climate change is flawed. Really?

Here are the facts: Melting glaciers are a leading contributor to rising sea levels.  An accurate understanding of the relationship between global warming and glaciers is critical since melting threatens to exacerbate water shortages around the globe.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences understands this, and has monitored the melting of glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau closely since they are a critical source of freshwater for millions of people. 

Their extensive efforts to study hundreds of Tibetan glaciers between 1990-2005 shows that “95% of the glaciers have been retreating, and those numbers are very consistent with what we’ve seen in other mountain ranges around the world,” according to glaciologist Lonnie Thompson.

Thompson, who has conducted 56 expeditions in 16 different countries to study the extensive climate history recorded in glacial ice, explained to reporters on a conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists today that 95-100% of the world’s glaciers are retreating, from the northern Arctic, throughout the tropics, all the way to Antarctica.

Despite the deniers’ attempts to attack scientists, the evidence of glacial melting stands.

“Glaciers do not have any political agenda,” Thompson says. 

A lot of new scientific information has come out since the IPCC review of science for the 2007 report in question.  We now know that, in the case of many of these glaciers, surface melting is allowing water to reach the base of glaciers, causing them to melt more quickly. 

“That will cause sea levels to rise much faster than we had projected,” Thompson confirms. “Glaciers are very dynamic, and they are responding very rapidly.”

Indeed, the sea level rise predictions in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment are in fact much too conservative.  More recent studies predict that sea levels will rise much more quickly, and higher, than IPCC has predicted.  3-D ice sheet modeling efforts are underway at the Hadley Center, Los Alamos National Lab and elsewhere, and the early indications are far from reassuring.

“Scientists are very conservative people, and they will tend to understate, rather than overstate, their findings,” Thompson notes.  “IPCC tends to take a much more conservative view than you might otherwise find” in a review of more recent climate science, he says.

Don’t expect to hear that from the climate denial industry, though.

Comments

The Himalayan Glacier mention was a silly error to have slip by and is something that has come up at several glacier conferences I have been to. Of more importance as the article notes is the well documented significant retreat of Himalayan glaciers. Of 51 glaciers in the main Himalayan range from India-Nepal-Sikkim all 51 are retreating at an average rate of 23 m per year. Of these a number are critical for Hydropower. Gangotri Glacier is the largest glacier in the basin above the Tehri Hydropower and Zemu Glacier, Sikkim is also key to hydropower.

http://glacierchange.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/gangotri-glacier-retreat-and-hydropower/

http://www.nichols.edu/departments/Glacier/glacier runoff hydropower.htm

A bit off-topic, but worth mentioning.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography has posted a sharply-worded response to the John Coleman hatchet-job that was broadcast on San Diego's KUSI last week.

Here is Scripps' response in its entirety:

A Response to Climate Change Denialism

Richard Somerville, a distinguished professor emeritus and research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, issued the following statement in response to a recent request to address claims recently made by climate change denialists:

1. The essential findings of mainstream climate change science are firm. This is solid settled science. The world is warming. There are many kinds of evidence: air temperatures, ocean temperatures, melting ice, rising sea levels, and much more. Human activities are the main cause. The warming is not natural. It is not due to the sun, for example. We know this because we can measure the effect of man-made carbon dioxide and it is much stronger than that of the sun, which we also measure.

2. The greenhouse effect is well understood. It is as real as gravity. The foundations of the science are more than 150 years old. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. We know carbon dioxide is increasing because we measure it. We know the increase is due to human activities like burning fossil fuels because we can analyze the chemical evidence for that.

3. Our climate predictions are coming true. Many observed climate changes, like rising sea level, are occurring at the high end of the predicted changes. Some changes, like melting sea ice, are happening faster than the anticipated worst case. Unless mankind takes strong steps to halt and reverse the rapid global increase of fossil fuel use and the other activities that cause climate change, and does so in a very few years, severe climate change is inevitable. Urgent action is needed if global warming is to be limited to moderate levels.

4. The standard skeptical arguments have been refuted many times over. The refutations are on many web sites and in many books. For example, natural climate change like ice ages is irrelevant to the current warming. We know why ice ages come and go. That is due to changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun, changes that take thousands of years. The warming that is occurring now, over just a few decades, cannot possibly be caused by such slow-acting processes. But it can be caused by man-made changes in the greenhouse effect.

5. Science has its own high standards. It does not work by unqualified people making claims on television or the Internet. It works by scientists doing research and publishing it in carefully reviewed research journals. Other scientists examine the research and repeat it and extend it. Valid results are confirmed, and wrong ones are exposed and abandoned. Science is self-correcting. People who are not experts, who are not trained and experienced in this field, who do not do research and publish it following standard scientific practice, are not doing science. When they claim that they are the real experts, they are just plain wrong.

6. The leading scientific organizations of the world, like national academies of science and professional scientific societies, have carefully examined the results of climate science and endorsed these results. It is silly to imagine that thousands of climate scientists worldwide are engaged in a massive conspiracy to fool everybody. The first thing that the world needs to do if it is going to confront the challenge of climate change wisely is to learn about what science has discovered and accept it.

Here is the link to Scripps' statement: http://sio.ucsd.edu/Announcements/Somerville_denialists/

More background here: http://www.sdcitybeat.com/cms/story/detail/coleman_is_no_galileo/8888/

(It's a shame that Scripps' response was reported on only by a low-circulation "alternative" newspaper rather than by the San Diego Union-Tribune).

(Resent with the http prefix removed from the links to get past spam filters -- sysadmin, please delete my previous response)

A bit off-topic, but worth mentioning.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography has posted a sharply-worded response to the John Coleman hatchet-job that was broadcast on San Diego's KUSI last week.

Here is Scripps' response in its entirety:

A Response to Climate Change Denialism

Richard Somerville, a distinguished professor emeritus and research professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, issued the following statement in response to a recent request to address claims recently made by climate change denialists:

1. The essential findings of mainstream climate change science are firm. This is solid settled science. The world is warming. There are many kinds of evidence: air temperatures, ocean temperatures, melting ice, rising sea levels, and much more. Human activities are the main cause. The warming is not natural. It is not due to the sun, for example. We know this because we can measure the effect of man-made carbon dioxide and it is much stronger than that of the sun, which we also measure.

2. The greenhouse effect is well understood. It is as real as gravity. The foundations of the science are more than 150 years old. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. We know carbon dioxide is increasing because we measure it. We know the increase is due to human activities like burning fossil fuels because we can analyze the chemical evidence for that.

3. Our climate predictions are coming true. Many observed climate changes, like rising sea level, are occurring at the high end of the predicted changes. Some changes, like melting sea ice, are happening faster than the anticipated worst case. Unless mankind takes strong steps to halt and reverse the rapid global increase of fossil fuel use and the other activities that cause climate change, and does so in a very few years, severe climate change is inevitable. Urgent action is needed if global warming is to be limited to moderate levels.

4. The standard skeptical arguments have been refuted many times over. The refutations are on many web sites and in many books. For example, natural climate change like ice ages is irrelevant to the current warming. We know why ice ages come and go. That is due to changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun, changes that take thousands of years. The warming that is occurring now, over just a few decades, cannot possibly be caused by such slow-acting processes. But it can be caused by man-made changes in the greenhouse effect.

5. Science has its own high standards. It does not work by unqualified people making claims on television or the Internet. It works by scientists doing research and publishing it in carefully reviewed research journals. Other scientists examine the research and repeat it and extend it. Valid results are confirmed, and wrong ones are exposed and abandoned. Science is self-correcting. People who are not experts, who are not trained and experienced in this field, who do not do research and publish it following standard scientific practice, are not doing science. When they claim that they are the real experts, they are just plain wrong.

6. The leading scientific organizations of the world, like national academies of science and professional scientific societies, have carefully examined the results of climate science and endorsed these results. It is silly to imagine that thousands of climate scientists worldwide are engaged in a massive conspiracy to fool everybody. The first thing that the world needs to do if it is going to confront the challenge of climate change wisely is to learn about what science has discovered and accept it.

Here is the link to Scripps' statement: sio.ucsd.edu/Announcements/Somerville_denialists/

More background here: www.sdcitybeat.com/cms/story/detail/coleman_is_no_galileo/8888/

(It's a shame that Scripps' response was reported on only by a low-circulation "alternative" newspaper rather than by the San Diego Union-Tribune).

this is alarming!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1245636/Glacier-scientists-says-knew-data-verified.html#ixzz0dUx6pwXe

"The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders."

JR Wakefield - People are jumping to conclusions. All the quotes show is that the author admitted to putting in the data, that he knew it was not peer-reviewed, AND that he thought it was A) important and B) would influence policymakers. He did not admit that he knew the information was incorrect... that would be a much bigger deal!

Still, it is extraordinarily worrying that non-peer-reviewed work made it in the report - deliberately or not. But to say it was a deliberate use of known-incorrect data... this is totally over the top from what we know now.

This should be of concern to us all. The work that goes into the IPCC must be of the highest standards. Fairly or not, we can see clearly that it does not take many errors like this to bring down the credibility of the entire organization in the eyes of the public.

Likewise, the opening paragraph of this article does little for the credibility of the Desmogblog.

"The climate denial industry is once again trying to make a huge to-do about a tiny error by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

a tiny error? please!! The report is years old and it is only being corrected now! This is outrageous! This article is too one-sided. Sometimes - just sometimes - you have to give a little.

[x]
climate change, IPCC

Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.” IPCC WGII AR5

Every five years or so thousands of scientists from around the world release a major report on the...

read more