Monday, January 18, 2010

Melting glaciers or melting credibility?

The fourth assessment report of the IPCC states
Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005).
It now appears that this claim was not based on peer reviewed research at all but on a news story in the New Scientist published eight years before the IPCC's report.

The Australian has the story. Here is an excerpt:

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Mr Hasnain, who was then the chairman of the International Commission on Snow and Ice's working group on Himalayan glaciology, has since admitted that the claim was "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research.
Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on Himalayan glaciers in the 2007 IPCC report, said on the weekend he was considering recommending that the claim about glaciers be dropped.
"If Hasnain says officially that he never asserted this, or that it is a wrong presumption, then I will recommend that the assertion about Himalayan glaciers be
removed from future IPCC assessments," Professor Lal said.
 Such are the dangers of alarmism. There can be no doubt that as a result the IPCC and climate science will loose credibility. Is it a consolation that in this case we see some ready admission of mistake and not an endless circling of wagons?


Anonymous said...

The problem is that this is very old news. But IPCC never accepted it. On the contrary Pachauri said it was "arrogant" to say so.

Old news:


P Gosselin said...

The IPCC's role is to gather all scientific literature and to put it together so that policymakers and the public can use it. The above is another example of the IPCC failing to do its role. The science will have to be condensed and communicated to policymakers in some other way. The IPCC is proving not to be up to the task. Look for Pachauri to be replaced soon.

Hans von Storch said...

I find this story hard to believe, but it seems true - the quote "If Hasnain says officially that he never asserted this, or that it is a wrong presumption, then I will recommend that the assertion about Himalayan glaciers be
removed from future IPCC assessments," is also pretty bad, because I thought reference (or acceptance of a knowledge claim) depends on a written analysis in a scientific publication, whereas if somebody is asserting something somewhere should be entirely irrelevant.

I would suggest that Dr. Murari Lal will not continue as an author for IPCC (if the report turns out accurate). Same with Dr. Pachauri.

Georg said...

Now nearly two EGUs ago this was already mentioned by Georg Kaser who wrote the respective glacier part in chapter 6. The respective sentence is from Part II I believe (havent checked), not from the climate science part I.
Though its not true that the Himalayas are holding the record of worldwide "strongest glacier retreat" (that might be South America or the Alps) glaciers are indeed retreating in the Himalayas as well:
google wgms. (i cant copy anything in the commentary section).

Hans, with the speed you are kicking out people from the IPCC I will soon be on the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

Dear Georg, yes, it is in part II (vulnerability, adpatation, etc)


look for 2035. The scientific reference is WWF 2005. Hilarious!

I tend to agree with Hans if all of this is that crappy.



@ReinerGrundmann said...

Does anyone know where the German version of the complete AR4 report can be found? I only get the SPM on their main page
But it says it is the "gesamter Bericht". Something missing here.

Leigh Jackson said...

I've been checking out this story after reading about it in the Sunday Times. Looks like a serious failure by the IPCC.

John Neilson-Gammon covers all the bases. (See the long url to www.chro.commons supplied by plazamoyua, and click on his icon for an update to the story.)

I have downloaded and read all the relevant studies mentioned by John and his analysis looks impeccable to me.

Leigh Jackson said...

I agree that heads should roll for this - if it turns out to be as big a blunder as it appears to be. The evidence presented by John Neilson-Gammon looks very convincing. As he says in his update on the story, the moral is that WG2 should stick to peer reviewed studies - like WG1.

The fact that this blunder never made it into the summary for policymakers - or even the chapter summary in which the blunder is made - is a slight consolation.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Roger Pielke Jr. has just posted this on his blog:

"The IPCC treatment of Himalayan glaciers and its chairman's conflicts of interest are related. The points and time line below are as I understand them and are informed by reporting by Richard North.

1. In 2007 the IPCC issues its Fourth Assessment Report which contains the false claim that the Himalayan glaciers are expected to disappear by 2035.

2. The basis of that statement was a speculative comment made to a reporter by Syed Hasnain in 1999, who was then (and after) a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

3. Following the publication of the IPCC report, and the widespread media coverage of the false claim about Himalayan glaciers, Dr. Hasnain joins TERI as a Senior Fellow, where Dr. Pachauri is the director.

4. Drs. Pachauri and Hasnain together seek to raise fund for TERI for work on Himalayan glaciers, justified by the work of the IPCC, according to Dr. Pachauri just last week:

Scientific data assimilated by IPCC is very robust and it is universally acknowledged that glaciers are melting because of climate change. The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) in its endeavor to facilitate the development of an effective policy framework and their strategic implementation for the adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts on the local population is happy to collaborate with the University of Iceland, Ohio State University and the Carnegie Corporation of New York,

5. When questioned about the scientific errors Dr. Pachauri calls such questions "voodoo science" in the days leading up to the announcement of TERI receiving funding on this subject. Earlier Dr. Pachauri criticized in the harshest terms the claims made by the Indian government that were contrary to those in the IPCC

Pachauri said that such statements were reminiscent of "climate change deniers and school boy science".

6. When asked by a reporter about the IPCC's false claims Dr. Pachauri says that he has no responsibility for what Dr. Hasnain may have said, and Dr. Hasnain says, rather cheekily, the IPCC had no business citing his comments:

It is not proper for IPCC to include references from popular magazines or newspapers."

It seems as if Pachauri's role has become untenable.

P Gosselin said...

R Grundmann,
Re. No. 5
Unfortunately it's not the first time Mr. Paschauri has reacted in such a manner. He once compared Bjorn Lomborg to Hitler. This is not an environment to do science in - it's too dangerous. This simply cannot be tolerated by a body that is supposed to represent excellence.
It ought to be an embarassment to those associated with the IPCC. I'm surprised the IPCC survived as long as it has.

TCO said...

I don't think the Himalayan glaciers was "central". That said, I think IPCC is a bit of a "club" and kinda think that people can read the literature on their own (or write review articles!) And that this is a bit of a symptom of the cliqueishness of the main players in the science who are also enmeshed with policy advocates and internationalists. I can only imagine the shenanigans that Mike Mann et all would do in funding peer review. My Bayesian "bet" is that I would not trust the guy with my proposals. Not trust confidentiality or fairness, either visa vis skepticism or just plain stealing.

Leigh Jackson said...

R. Grundmann 9

Re point 2. Relating that point to your original quote from IPCC you should compare with John Neilsen-Gammon; (link is the long url in plazamoyua's post). He shows very convincingly that this quote was a slightly re-rendered version of an original statement put out by the India Environmental Portal, 1999.

Leigh Jackson said...

The New Scientist article was published in early June 1999. The IEP statement dates to April 1999. The IPCC statement does appear to be taken from the IEP.

Hoi Polloi said...

IPCC is hopelessly entangled in the web of Pachauri's economic escapades and irratic behavior and therefore becoming increasingly (if not already completely) untrustworthy. I'm sure Pachauri's days at the IPCC are counted, but not so sure how long it will take in order to re-install the faith in the work of the IPCC and climate science in general.

P Gosselin said...

Hoi Polloi
To re-install faith at the IPCC would mean it having to get back to SCIENCE. This is the last thing they want. I don't think science is their agenda at all. The IPCC is a club of the like-minded, and so allowing "other minds" to enter it would only destroy it's raison d'etre.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

DER SPIEGEL has the story covered now, with Graham Cogley as the main source and fairly critical of Pachauri's role:,1518,672709,00.html

The New York Times has a short piece which is avoiding all the critical issues.
This is the second half of the article:

''The Himalayan glaciers will not disappear by 2035 -- that is an overstatement,'' said Dr. Bodo Bookhagen, an assistant professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who studies the effect of climate change at high altitudes. ''That number somehow got incorporated into the I.P.C.C. report, and that probably shouldn't have happened.''
Still, he added: ''It is very clear that there is glacier retreat and that it has devastating impact.''
There is mounting proof that accelerating glacial melt is occurring, although the specifics are poorly defined, in part because these glaciers are remote and poorly studied.
At an international conference last year on Asia's glaciers, held at the University of California, San Diego, Yao Tandong, a Chinese glaciologist who specializes in the Tibetan Plateau, said, ''Studies indicate that by 2030 another 30 percent will disappear; by 2050, 40 percent; and by the end of the century 70 percent.'' He added: ''Actually we don't know much about process and impacts of the disappearance. That's why we need an international effort.''

P Gosselin said...

"That number SOMEHOW got incorporated into the I.P.C.C. report,..."
Gee I wonder how that could have possibly happened?
Does anyone think Rahmstorf's projected 1.7 m sea level rise will find its way in the next report?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The IPCC has today released the following press release:
... It has... come to our attention that a paragraph ... Working Group II contribution ... refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly. The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of “the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report” We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.

Leigh Jackson said...

In the end, the process of peer-review has done its job. Not the IPCC review process, but the extended review process of open scrutiny.

The IPCC had absolutely no choice but to admit their error once it had been identified; by scientists, as it happened, although anyone could have unearthed the mistake by simply making the effort to locate the listed sources and read them.

The scientists who did so were the ones who knew that the claim of 2035 was plain wrong. Among them G. Kaser, an IPCC reviewer himself, J. Graham Cogley and Jeffrey S. Kargel. (See plazamoyua's url for Pielke Sr. " tempest-in-a-teapot".) In today's Times, Kaser said he warned colleagues months before publication of AR4.

They have a letter in today's Science.