Himalayan glaciers might not melt by 2035

Thursday, January 21, 2010

GENEVA -- A U.N. warning that Himalayan glaciers may melt by 2035 appears not to be backed up by scientific evidence, an American scientist says -- an admission that could energize climate change critics.

In a 2007 report, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the Himalayan glaciers are likely to disappear within three decades if the present melting rate continues. But a key member of the panel now says the source for that claim is unclear.

The statement, made within the group's voluminous, Nobel-winning report, was little noticed until The Sunday Times said the projection seemed to be based on a news report.

"The origin of that material has not been traced through to its source with a high level of confidence," said Chris Field, a co-chair of an IPCC working group. "Based on the evidence we've seen, the estimated data comes from reports that are more like news reports rather than from a primary scientific literature."

The leaders of the panel are investigating how the forecast got into the report, Field said.

"There are people in various blog postings and in the media who have pointed out that the text on which that conclusion is based is not a primary scientific source," Field said. "That appears to be correct as far as we can ascertain."

Field, director of the ecology department at the Washington-based Carneige Institution for Science, has published numerous articles on climate change. He is also a professor of biology and environmental earth science and an FSI Senior Fellow at Stanford University.

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday repeated his previous criticism of the panel's assessment of the Himalayan glaciers.

"The health of the glaciers is a cause of grave concern, but the IPCC's alarmist position that they would melt by 2035 was not based on an iota of scientific evidence," Ramesh was quoted as saying by The Times of India.

The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 said the Himalayan glaciers were receding faster than any other place in the world. "The likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate," it said.

But, in a confusing note, the report added the glacier's total area "will likely shrink from the present [193,000 to 36,000 square miles] by the year 2035."

IPPC chairman Rajendra Pachauri could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. vice president Al Gore in 2007 after a series of reports documenting scientific evidence of climate change. Governments around the world have based their decisions on how to combat global warming on the panel's reports.

Field said the panel would try to clarify the matter, but noted that the Himalayan claim was only part of a massive scientific effort to gauge the warming of the planet.

"If it does turn out that there was clearly a mistake in this particular section, we feel that it would be important to point that out," he said.

Associated Press writer Muneeza Naqvi from New Delhi contributed to the report.

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