Good News! A Reprieve For the Himalayan Glaciers

It should be celebrated as wonderful news that the Himalayan glaciers are not retreating as quickly as was earlier reported by the IPCC.  Predictably, the climate change contrarians are trumpeting this, along with “Climategate”, as proof that climate change is not happening. The truth is that there is an error in the 2007 IPCC report on climate change regarding when the Himalayan glaciers will disappear completely. It is mentioned on one page of a 400 page report.  This error should have been caught in the peer-review process, if not before, as the information was gathered from 3 non-peer-reviewed sources.  Like the so-called “Climategate” incident, where 13 years of illegally hacked emails from East Anglia University were mysteriously made public only days before the UN Copenhagen Conference on climate change, the Himalayan glacier error is likely be blown completely out of proportion by those that oppose action on climate change. The contrarians, no doubt, will make calls for accuracy and accountability from the scientists that the contrarians themselves consistently fall short on.

Not that the scientists at the IPCC or indeed, anywhere, shouldn’t be held to the highest standard of scientific reporting and peer review.  The misreporting of the rate of glacial melting shows that there is room for improvement in the review that the IPCC report undergoes before publication. Yet, it is that same peer review process that the contrarians often attempt to cast doubt on. But being consistent isn’t something that the contrarians seem very concerned about, so I doubt that this will keep them from proclaiming that this error is proof that global warming is a sham.  *heavy sigh*

Yet, it is all of us that should be celebrating.  The Himalayan glaciers hold the largest body of ice outside of the world’s polar caps, and are the source for many of the world’s largest rivers such as the Ganges, the Indus, and the Brahmaputra, on which hundreds of millions of people depend. That they are melting is not in question – yesterday the Indian environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, after telling reporters the claim that climate change would cause Himalayan glaciers to melt away by 2035 was unfounded, went on to say

They are indeed receding and the rate is cause for great concern… [but the claim is] not based on an iota of scientific evidence.”

Worldwide, glaciers are in retreat, according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service.

There is mounting evidence that climate change is triggering a shrinking and thinning of many glaciers world-wide which may eventually put at risk water supplies for hundreds of millions — if not billions — of people. Data gaps exist in some vulnerable parts of the globe undermining the ability to provide precise early warning for countries and populations at risk.

To simplify the science, glaciers retreat when there is less snow in the winter than what is melted away in the summer. The pollution that humans, particularly in industrialized nations, have been spewing into the atmosphere for the last 200 years is changing the earth’s climate and as a result glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate. Precipitation in Canada last year was  2.6% below normal, and 2009 ranked as the tenth driest out of the 62-years of record. As for temperature, the national average for 2009 was 0.8°C above normal. Environment Canada indicates that much of Canada’s above normal temperatures were experienced in the north, where they were more than 2 degrees above normal.

The following pictures show the retreat of the Blomstrandbreen glacier in Norway (picture from Greenpeace), between 1922 and 2002.

Blomstrandbreen glacier, 1922 and 2002

To view more pictures of glaciers around the world, click here.

Protect Our Winters is a group organized by winter sports enthusiasts concerned about the impact of climate change on northern winters. Go to their website to learn more about this issue, and to become a follower on Facebook. Meanwhile, here in Winnipeg, in the middle of a Prairie winter, the police have issued a thin ice warning. In Florida, an unusual cold snap has resulted in a severe fish die-off and subsequent fishery closures.

If this strange weather alarms you, and you want to get better informed, check out high school science teacher Greg Craven’s website where he asks the questions “what is acceptable risk?” and “to act or not to act?” in the issue of climate change.

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