Tuesday, January 19, 2010

U.N. Panel Re-Examines Himalayan Glacier Thaw Report

New York, Jan. 19: An award-winning United Nations panel is re-examining its research about how fast Himalaya’s glaciers are melting, the top UN climate-change scientist said.

Research by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035 needs to be investigated anew following a report in the London-based Times newspaper that flawed data may have been used, said Rajendra K. Pachauri, head of the Nobel prize-winning group.

“We are looking at the issue and will be able to comment on the report after examining the facts. The science doesn’t change: Glaciers are melting across the globe and those in the Himalayas are no different,” he said in a telephone interview. “We’re not changing anything till we make an assessment.”

The UN-group mandated to summarize climate research used by policy makers around the world said in a 2007 report that most Himalayan glaciers may vanish within three decades, the Times said. Pachauri chairs the panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The IPCC’s practices were challenged in a series of stories based on e-mails stolen from computer servers of the University of East Anglia in England and posted worldwide on blogs last year that showed climate researchers discussed keeping some scientific papers out of the IPCC report. The report has formed the basis for two years of global climate-treaty talks.

The university said the e-mails were taken out of context. The UN panel concluded in 2007 that global warming including melting glaciers is “unequivocal” and rising human greenhouse- gas emissions were “very likely” the main cause.

Climate Skeptics

Environmental group WWF’s India unit, whose inputs were used by the IPCC in its glacier report, said the error is unlikely to affect climate change negotiations. WWF-India “accepts its mistake” of referring to sources it couldn’t verify and will issue a clarification, Shirish Sinha, its head of climate change and energy program, said by telephone today.

“It gives a lot of fodder to the climate skeptics but this one problem with the data or the date shouldn’t have too much implication for the climate negotiations as they are now dominated by several factors such as trade and economy and science is only one of the factors,” Sinha said.

India needs to undertake a scientific study of the Himalayan glaciers before “drawing any conclusions” on how fast they are melting, Jairam Ramesh said yesterday at a news conference in New Delhi about the disputed UN study.


“Glaciers are a very serious issue,” India’s environment minister said. “But to derive the conclusion that glaciers are melting rapidly and will disappear is alarmist and not necessarily based on facts.”

Pachauri at the Copenhagen climate talks in December dismissed allegations by global-warming skeptics that UN data were manipulated.

If the “presumption” about the speed of the glaciers melting is wrong, the assertion may be removed from future IPCC assessments, the London-based Times reported Jan. 17, citing Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on glaciers.

That assertion lacked scientific evidence and was based on “speculation,” the newspaper said, citing Syed Hasnain, an Indian scientist credited with initial claims about the glaciers.

There are gaps in data for many glaciers in the Himalayas, the University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service said. Glaciers from the Andes to Alaska and across the Alps shrank as much as 3 meters (10 feet), the 18th year of retreat and twice as fast as a decade ago, the group said last year.

India’s Chhota Shigri and Hamtah glaciers both lost about 1.4 meters of thickness in 2006 with no new data available for 2007, the monitoring group reported a year ago.

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