Climate Panel Admits Glacier Blunder, Scrambles to Save Face

By Andrew Moseman | January 20, 2010 10:38 am

HimalayasJust when the whole “ClimateGate” affair had retreated from the headlines, other climate scientists have stepped in to shoot themselves in the foot in the public spotlight. In a new slow-simmering controversy that reached major news outlets this week, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chief Rajendra Pachauri admitted that one of the details in the 2007 report was a mistake. Though the goof is a minor one (in that it doesn’t change the conclusion of the report), the backlash probably won’t be, given what happened the last time around.

Specifically, one part of the report states that the Himalayan glaciers are retreating faster than anywhere else in the world, and that there’s a good chance they could totally disappear by 2035. But while it’s true that the glaciers are retreating, the date given is a gross overstatement. “You just can’t accomplish it,” says Jeffrey Kargel from the University of Arizona. “If you think about the thicknesses of the ice – 200-300m thicknesses, in some cases up to 400m thick – and if you’re losing ice at the rate of a metre a year, or let’s say double it to two metres a year, you’re not going to get rid of 200m of ice in a quarter of a century” [BBC News].

So what happened? A misunderstanding of second-hand information. The report cited a 2005 study by the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental advocacy group. That study cited a 1999 article in New Scientist magazine that quoted Indian glacier expert Syed Hasnain as saying Himalayan glaciers could disappear “within forty years” [The Wall Street Journal]. Hasnain has since said that comment wasn’t based on good science, and IPCC co-chair Chris Field has said the information looks like it came more from news reports than from scientifically-reviewed literature, which is improper for report like the IPCC’s.

While the “2035” story hit the major media outlets this week, it wasn’t exactly brand new. This round of verbal barbs began last month in India, but glaciologist Georg Kaser said he raised doubts several years ago, and that others pointed to the Himalayan date as goof: “All the responsible people are aware of this weakness in the fourth assessment. All are aware of the mistakes made,” he said. “If it had not been the focus of so much public opinion, we would have said ‘we will do better next time’. It is clear now that working group II has to be restructured” [The Guardian].

IPCC chief Pachauri tried to stress that one bad detail doesn’t invalidate 3,000 pages of research—indeed, the glaciers are retreating, but at a speed not even close to that implied by the bad date in the report. He at least acknowledged the political ramifications of the IPCC’s goof and tried to spin them in his favor: “Some people will attempt to use it to damage the credibility of the IPCC; but if we can uncover it, and explain it and change it, it should strengthen the IPCC’s credibility, showing that we are ready to learn from our mistakes” [The Times]. But though it might be inevitable that a few errors sneak into such a mammoth report (and science relies on finding one’s mistakes and learning from them), the laxness that allowed an error on an order of magnitude like this makes for a public embarrassment the IPCC can little afford in an already polarized political climate.

Related Content:
80beats: Tiny Soot Particles May Be Melting Mighty Himalayan Glaciers
80beats: The Snows of Kilimanjaro Could Be Gone By 2022
80beats: The New Murder Mystery Game: Who Killed Copenhagen?
80beats: Climatologist Steps Down as “ClimateGate” Furor Continues
The Intersection: IPCC Leak: Warming of the Climate System is “Unequivocal”
DISCOVER: The State of the Climate—and of Climate Science

Image: Wikimedia Commons / little byte of luck

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • Chrysoprase

    Here we go again, science finds it’s own mistake and corrects it (which is exactly how science works) and people are going to point at the mistake and say “HA! I told you so! Science is wrong in it’s entirety!” and we all get to rehash the whole AGW argument in the comments again.

    In the interest of saving time and keystrokes, read this thread ( http://www.cracked.com/forums/topic/30174/global-warming ) and all the links therein and you’ll be minimally qualified to discuss this topic. Please don’t waste our time going back over arguments that have already been made and shot down.

  • Dave McK

    Lol @ minor goof.
    All the warmist poster children are gone now, what are you talking about?
    Polar bears are overrunning Inuit villages, the Himalayan glacier wet dream was a game of Chinese Whispers, the Maldives just keep not sinking.
    The data was rigged at the CRU, NASA and NOAA.
    Al Gore is in hiding.
    Copenhagen was snowed out.
    Jones stepped aside.
    CRU is under investigation.
    Mann is under investigation and a congressman is ready to conduct his own, too.
    Snow, everywhere!

    Print media was already on thin ice, so to speak. Now you’ve got so much to apologise for you might as well have a special issue- but you’d have to pay me to read it. I bought my last newsstand copy of this rag. I’ll get the straight stuff faster and from closer to the source in future- for free- on the internet.

    What were you thinking? I know that’s a loaded question, but seriously.
    I should look to see how you were with Carl Sagan and his nuclear winter crap during the Kuwaiti oil fires – they did chill the local region a bit but there were no global effects. Carl went into hiding over that just like Gore is now and just like you should be. Just give it up- you can’t do reporting, you can’t deliver in print what we can get instantly online- you just have nothing to offer but late and less than little. Plus, your credibility died this climategate.

    Buh byeee.

  • Dave McK

    This article starts out being appallingly disingenuous:
    “Just when the whole “ClimateGate” affair had retreated from the headlines”
    What a crock of global warming! This has been covered up to the max by you and all the mainstream media except FOX.
    YOU IGNORED IT. Wallop us with another cod, why don’t you?
    You may have wished the silence were settled, but elections are about to show you differently.
    And I vote with my cash, too. You’ll notice one fewer sale every month in future.

  • http://stevejanke.com Steve Janke

    From Chrysoprase:

    Here we go again, science finds it’s own mistake and corrects it (which is exactly how science works) and people are going to point at the mistake and say “HA! I told you so! Science is wrong in it’s entirety!” and we all get to rehash the whole AGW argument in the comments again.

    ———-

    Hey, buddy, let’s not forget how Pachauri-science works. When the 2035 timeline was published, there were red flags raised almost immediately. It just didn’t make sense. The Indian government challenged the number, using a scientific analysis to back that challenge.

    So how does Pachauri-science work? Pachauri called the people disagreeing with the IPCC glacier timeline practitioners of “voodoo science”. Look it up.

    Let’s hear again about how this is the way science is supposed to work. To me Pachauri-science sounds like a cult, like Scientology, confronting any critic with insults or worse. Pachauri-science did not find its own mistake. The mistake was found long ago by real scientists who had to shove it down Pachauri’s throat. And the only way they managed that was to get the media (now no longer so reticent to publish criticisms of the IPCC, thank you Climategate emails) to start reporting on the error, a lot.

    Pachauri-science worries about media image and big fat government funding, not scientific truth.

  • Pericles

    Based on what I’ve read, the IPCC inadvertently made an error in a lengthy scientific report about when the Himalayan glaciers would be gone, the mistake was caught by others, and the IPCC admitted it.

    So, why are some people here acting like this disproves that man adding carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) to the atmosphere is affecting climate?

    The world’s climate is enormously complicated, and is influenced by many factors, including Siberian snow cover, how much water can flow through the Bering Strait, ocean currents, concentrations of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane), El Nino and La Nina, cloud formation, mountain ranges, the Milankovich Cycle, and solar output, among many others.

    Increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will affect the world’s climate. But, while there is general agreement that average world temperatures will rise due to that, no one knows by how much, nor what other effects will result from that; it is an enormously complicated problem.

    That’s a reason why there’s a lot of research being done on that. Among others, the NSF is funding research in the Arctic, to understand its climate better, and to try and see whether or not what is going on there now (thinning sea ice, rising temperatures, new plants and animals moving in) is part of some normal, long-term cycle or whether it’s related to climate change.

    There’s a lot more that I could say about this, but I think that I’ve made my point.

  • Another Adam

    “A misunderstanding of second hand information” ???

    A 2005 study by WWF (second hand)citing a 1999 article (third hand) quoting Hasnain (fourth hand) that was based on bad science (fifth hand). No wonder a mistake was made. Is it common practice for a scientific report to cite magazine articels?

  • Peter

    Note that the IPPC has exactly the same level of confidence (“very likely” or > 90% sure) that the Himalayan glaciers would 80% melt by 2035 as they have about their belief in man made global warning as a whole.

    Why does Discover STILL believe this AGW nonsense?

  • Not Amused

    “Why does Discover STILL believe this AGW nonsense?”

    Science is not about belief – unlike opinions, which are tossed about by both sides of this flame-war posing as debate. I imagine the dinosaurs did a lot of finger-pointing while their climate was changing and look how that worked out for them.

    If you accept scientific facts surrounding the effects of our changing climate (notice how I did not say who or what was responsible), then discuss how we should deal with the changes. Do we try to alter our activities to lessen the changes, or find ways of adapting as a species? Perhaps both?

    If you deny the facts, then at least politely stay quiet while the rest of us waste our times trying to save our children’s future. We won’t be successful, of course, because according to your way of thinking there is nothing mankind can do to alter a planet’s climate.

  • Bob

    You need to do more research. Many of the showcase claims made by the IPCC are being shown to be objectively false. Scientists are coming forward in droves to say that their research has been mis-represented by the IPCC. Further, evidence is coming to light that the IPCC knew these claims were false but published them anyway. Pachauri even used claims he knew were false to raise money for TERI, his closely held research company. This is a major scandal.

    Please, just do a little research.

  • Another Adam

    Not Amused @ 8: Science is most cetainly about belief. You can either believe the intrepretation of the evidence or not. We would all love a perfect world where the evidence pointed to an incontrivertable fact. However, that is not the case. In perfect science we would observe phenomena, make a theory about what casues that phenmoena and then test that theory. Unfortunately the most contriversial scientific conclusions are those that can’t or at the very least are hard to test. How do you test evolution? How do you test AGW? So all we can do is continue to observe to see if our theory is correct. How you interpret the data becomes the most important reflection of the accuracy of your theory. So belief most certainly plays a part in science.

  • John

    This whole thing is just going to put Science in more of a bad light and give more strength to Creationists and anti-vaxers.
    Pity!

  • Harman Smith

    This is actually a bigger ‘deal’ than ClimateGate, because this is an actual mistake.

  • http://chiefio.wordpress.com/ Don WV

    Lets see, climate data cherry picked, six thousand temperature stations reduced to 1500 warmest, Himalayan glaciers retreating highly exaggerated. and the sea ice is rebounding. Sounds like global warming scientist are right on track with there predictions! I never in my life have seen trumpt up science! I used to love science, always waiting for new discoveries, lately it has been just another reminder of how currupt our world has become. It has become the ultimate power trip! Basing world goverment policies on, forcing us to obey there every command! Forcing us to drive smaller cars(which may not be a bad idea), saying we cannot eat meat (the cows may get gas). Also making us turn the temperature down in our homes to the point elderly people end up at the ER sick! Yes, I used to love science! But now I cannot bare to look at another science article just wondering if this is a well disguised hoax also!

  • Gravy Boat

    The best thing about the wretched state of the planet is you don’t have to assign blame any more! Solar winds? sure! Methane released from the sea floor? check. Carbon dioxide emissions out of control? You betcha! So lets put down all the put downs. Go ahead and pee in the sink, open your windows and throw those poopie diapers into the trees. It’s time to ride this horse into the dirt.

  • http://chiefio.wordpress.com/ Don WV

    “The best thing about the wretched state of the planet is you don’t have to assign blame any more! ”
    I agree, but faulty science does not fix anything! We need to concentrate on the problems and polution we know is a problem. With the IPCC, they only look at one side, and on top of that they make it up as they go along! We as one world cannot afford to spend time, energy, and resources on flawed science! As I read in an earlier post, “Science is a theory” which is true. But scientist need to do the best at proving this theory! From what I have read this has not been done! Scientists from ipcc are super arrogant, they feel it is there way or no way. They totally trash any scientist that is not towing the line on ‘selling there science’ to the public. There needs to be complete turnover in the ipcc.

  • Brian Too

    The loons are in full flower I see.

    “World goverment” (sic), “cherry picked”, “Al Gore is in hiding” are a few good ones. How come the conspiracy theorists haven’t started up with the hockey stick yet?

    Here’s a tip. Type it in all capitals because that makes you a more effective debater. In fact I’ll do it for you and you can cut and paste it!

    HOCKEY STICK! HOCKEY STICK! HOCKEY STICK!

    Starting to feel better yet?

  • Dave in Alaska

    The scientific community has been portraying a warmer Earth as somehow evil, but I believe it is the most environmentally positive thing that has been contributed by the human species. More CO2 in the atmosphere is wonderful in its own accord, as that was a feature of a younger, more productive planet with greater total biomass — but the bonus of better thermal properties to our atmosphere is positively sublime. The recurring ice ages are devastating periods where a large fraction of Earth’s surface becomes virtually uninhabitable by most life forms and interglacials like the present have been all too brief.

    When orbital forcing eventually puts the planet into the next ice age, and it will, our contribution of life-giving, protective CO2 should mitigate the length and depth of the devastation.

  • http://chiefio.wordpress.com/ Don WV

    Dave, The thought of another ice age worries me every day! In the past a ice age has occured on the average every 450,000 years. We have been in our current interglacial period for 750,000 years, almost 350,000 years over due. To me this would be more of a threat than global warming ever would! This is what I was talking about earlier. We know another ice age is eminent, it has occured several times in the past. This is a crisis we need to prepare for! If another ice age would happen today, it would be a disaster epic proportions. Worse case global warming we would gladly be accepted!

  • Wil

    The widespread dissemination and magnification of such an enormous and obvious falsehood, like the Himalayan glaciers disappearing, is absolutely not a “blunder” nor a “minor goof”.

    It is a sleazy, shameless, bald faced lie of central and critical importance.

    What next? If it turns out that the world has been cooling for the last ten years, and it continues to cool for the next 40 years, even as the airborne CO2 concentration doubles. Then it will be “Oops, I guess Global Warming was just a minor goof”.

    Damn, you arrogant dishonest jerks think we are so stupid.

  • Charlie

    This whole debate on climate change is stupid. Whether our climate is changing or not is still debatable. The fact is we still need to find an alternative way to generate energy because coal and crude oil is running out. If we focus our attention on finding a ‘green’ way of producing electricity and run our cars, wouldn’t that solve both problems? It would reduce CO2 emission which would keep believer of global warming happy whilst securing the future of our world as well. Many governments around the world are wasting millions of dollars developing clean coal technology, carbon capturing technology, but that is just not the problem! Evidences for global warming are inconclusive at best. Instead we should be worrying about how our world will run on when petroleum fuel run out!!!!!!

  • Gino

    - Pentagon/NASA: Global Warming/Global Cooling- NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS – Washington, D.C. – Abrupt Climate Change – Inevitable Surprises (2002)… This public report, fully entitled “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security,” was prepared by GBN for the Department of Defense…
    – PENTAGON: GLOBAL WARMING might suddenly trigger a massive GLOBAL COOLING… THE PENTAGON WARNS CLIMATE CHANGE WILL BRING GLOBAL CATASTROPHE… Now the PENTAGON TELLS BUSH (Guardian.co.uk., 22 February 2004): climate change will destroy us… BRITAIN WILL BE ‘SIBERIAN’ in less than 20 years…
    – National Geographic (December 24, 2009): North Magnetic Pole Moving East Due to Core Flux:
    http://cristiannegureanu.blogspot.com/2010/01/foxnews-think-antarctica-is-cold-try.html

  • http://chiefio.wordpress.com/ Don WV

    Gino, the articles you listed is not affiliated with the global warning histaria of CO2. This has to do with shifts in the poles and the magnetic field. Yes this is some of the scenarios I spoke of above, We the people of earth need to be prepared for these kind of catastrofes, before we waste all these resources on CO2 and scientists are let loose to try geo-engineering of the global climate system.
    We could start by stock piling food, and supplies to sustain us for a long period of time. This would give us ample time to the new world and start to grow food supplies to sustain the human population. But this is not the only sonario, there are probably hundreds of such things that would wipe out the human population if we are not prepared! An astroid , nuclear winter or ice age!

  • Steve L

    One bad detail?!

    How about just one scrap of scientific evidence that backs up runaway global warming?? That would be a start.

    Like a repeatable experiment- outcome prediction, empirical observation
    Quaint old fashioned principles like that?

    No, just fudged computer sims and politics.

    No wonder most credible independent scientists consider Al Gore/UN scare stories AGW total rubbish.

  • Andrew30

    The lie and they know that they lie.

  • Art

    Dave McK is the only one who knows what’s in store for we, mere, simple-minded earthlings.

    Our fate rests in his well informed hands. Tell us the future, oh, soothsayer, for we know very little more than what we read in our online news articles.

    How can you say Carl Sagan and Al Gore in the same breath? I’d venture to guess you probably believe the end of the world is dictated by a deity, so why bother with the climate? Am I right?

    Should we rest on our laurels while we destroy our environment, or should we advocate sweeping change in our practices, to attempt to leave the world better than when we arrived?

    I hope for the latter.

    God would hope for the latter, if he cares.

    Why not try to reduce emissions and live responsibly just in case the Global-Warmists are right? What harm could environmental accountability do?

  • http://chiefio.wordpress.com/ Don WV

    Art, The way they want to reduce emissions is a farc. I admit global warming is real, but I personally don’t think it is going to ruin the planet. Global warming needs to be addressed, but we don’t need a global cap on emissions that is in name only, with politicians sniggering as they pledge that their successors will invent a way to meet those caps. It needs to be addressed by weatherising buildings, lifting mileage standards, encouraging efficient energy generation and distribution. There are things that can be done well before scientists are let loose to try geo-engineering of the global climate system.

  • Fatkid

    Didya hear the one about seabed current temperatures relationship with methane release?

    Beneath the sea floor, methane worms silently plug along for thousands of years, excreting methane. Cold ocean floor temps keep methane stable, but a shift in currents could raise the floor temp to a level that will melt the combustable frozen methane. The chain reactive explosion that follows will block the Sun, ushering in a new ice age. It’s happened before. Maybe man isn’t the one bending the world to his will. Maybe it’s methane worms.

  • Carol

    The salient point here is that when Pachauri had this mistake pointed out to him he dismissed the messengers, calling them voodoo scientists. He claimed he had “a very clear idea of what was happening in the Himalayas” (thank you very much).

    In other words, this mistake would NOT have been corrected had it not been pointed out again in a very public way — because Pachauri KNOWS the Truth and anyone who disagrees is a kook that wants to destroy the earth (and his carbon credit portfolio).

    When the lack of objectivity on Pachauri’s part is so glaring it is reasonable to wonder how many similar mistakes there might be in the report.

  • John A. Jauregui

    This is MediaGate, not ClimateGate! Are you angry about this obvious RICO Act fraud and the national media’s complicity in the cover-up, misinformation, reframing and misdirection of the issue and the related “carbon derivatives” market Obama’s Administration is spinning up? Why pay for propaganda? Take responsibility and take action. STOP all donations to the political party(s) responsible for this fraud. STOP donations to all environmental groups which funded this Global Warming propaganda campaign with our money, especially The World Wildlife Fund. They have violated the public trust. KEEP donations local, close to home. MAKE donations to Oklahoma’s Senator Inhofe, the only politician to stand firmly against this obvious government/media coordinated information operation (propaganda) targeted at its own people. People that government leaders and employees are sworn to protect. WRITE your state and federal representatives demanding wall to wall investigations of government sponsored propaganda campaigns and demand indictments of those responsible. WRITE your state and federal Attorneys General demanding Al Gore and others conducting Global Warming/Climate Change racketeering and mail fraud operations be brought to justice, indicted, tried, convicted and jailed. Carbon is the stuff of life. He (Obama) who controls carbon, especially CO2, controls the world. Think of the consequences if you do nothing! For one, the UK is becoming the poster child for George Orwell’s “1984” and the US government’s sponsorship of this worldwide Global Warming propaganda campaign puts it in a class with the failed Soviet Union’s relentless violation of the basic human right to truthful government generated information. Given ClimateGate’s burgeoning revelations of outrageous government misconduct and massive covert misinformation, what are the chances that this Administration’s National Health Care sales campaign is anywhere near the truth?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bdneX1djD

    http://www.kusi.com/weather/colemanscorner/81559212.html

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »