Good news: The Himalayan glaciers will probably endure past 2035. Bad news: If we don't reverse our emissions trend soon, their disappearance is likely to become irreversible before then.Joe Romm
MEMO TO IPCC: If you are going to review the apparently mistaken claim in your 2007 report that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 — please review all of the latest scientific literature and observations on that subject AND please update your equally outdated sea level rise projections.
MEMO TO MEDIA: It isn't news that the 2007 projections by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are not accurate. The real news is that the 99% of their "mistakes" are UNDERestimates of likely impacts. Indeed, they lowballed the sea level rise projections so badly that even the Bush administration rejected them within a year (see "US Geological Survey stunner: Sea-level rise in 2100 will likely "substantially exceed" IPCC projections).
Back to the news of the day. Predictably, the anti-science crowd is crowing about what looks to be an inconsequential mistake in the 2007 IPCC report. In a piece absurdly headlined, "World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown," the UK's Times online writes:
A WARNING that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.
Note to Times Online, you might want to read your own story from two months ago, "Vanishing glaciers jolt smokestack China" (discussed below).
The UK Express screed, "The New Climate Change Scandal," claims "FRESH doubts were cast over controversial global warming theories yesterday after a major climate change argument was discredited."
It does look like the IPCC used some out-of-date projections for a pretty minor piece of the report, but of course the IPCC basically froze all scientific inputs to its Fourth Assessment Reportaround 2005, so they missed the dramatic acceleration in melting of the Arctic sea ice, the inland glaciers, and the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland. Thus it is absolutely crucial that — if the IPCC re-examines the issue of glacial melt in the Himalayans — that it re-examine the entire issue based on the staggering new observational data in the scientific literature:
- Satellite data stunner: "Our data suggest that EAST Antarctica is losing mass…. Antarctica may soon be contributing significantly more to global sea-level rise."
- Nature: "Dynamic thinning of Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheet ocean margins is more sensitive, pervasive, enduring and important than previously realized."
- Large Antarctic glacier thinning 4 times faster than it was 10 years ago: "Nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier."
- De-Icer: USGS report details "recent dramatic shrinkage" in U.S. glaciers, matching global decline
- The Arctic Ocean is full of rotten ice
- World's Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year
The literature and data also show that even in the Himalayas, melting is occurring remarkably fast. My post Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers "decapitated" discussed a major study by leading international cryosphere scientists, including American's own rock ice star, Lonnie Thompson,"Mass loss on Himalayan glacier endangers water resources" (subs. req'd). It revealed the unprecedent melting of the Naimona'nyi Glacier in the Himalaya (Tibet) and concluded ominously:
If Naimona'nyi is characteristic of other glaciers in the region, alpine glacier meltwater surpluses are likely to shrink much faster than currently predicted with substantial consequences for approximately half a billion people.
The point is — even if the IPCC made an incorrect statement in 2007 based on out-of-date and or even un-peer-reviewed sources, since then we have an overabundance of new data that all glaciers, including those in the Himalayas, are at grave risk. So it would be a serious mistake by the IPCC not to review all of the latest scientific data in making any change to its assessment.
Indeed, it's good news the Himalayan glaciers probably won't be gone by 2035. After all, the anti-science crowd's suicidally effective disinformation campaign has made it too late for humanity to have a very significant impact on the climate of 2035. So, ironically, we may still have time to save the Himalayas — if we reverse our current emissions path. If not, the Himalayan glaciers are likely to be unsavable well before 2035.
Also, ironically, the Times Online itself reported in November:
AS an expedition from Chinese state television worked its way across the remote Tibetan plateau earlier this year, the explorers were amazed by what they found.
The plateau has been called the world's third largest ice store after the North and South Poles. Yet according to Chinese scientists, the "third pole" is warming up faster than anywhere else on earth.
The TV team found bare rock where glaciers had retreated. Lakes had dried up. Lush grassland had turned to desert. The livestock was dead, the farmers impoverished.
They brought back a visual lesson in global warming so stark that censors allowed the programme makers to broadcast a frank exposé….
Last month, for example, researchers discovered that levels of black carbon in the ice core of the Tibetan plateau had soared since the 1990s because of smokestack industries and coal fires in millions of homes.
The plateau's 36,000 glaciers, which once extended for 18,000 square miles, could vanish before mid-century if present rates of warming persist. More than 80% of them are in retreat. The overall area has shrunk by 4.5% in the past 20 years.
Most ominous of all, in the area that Chinese know as Sanjiangyuan, where three mighty rivers rise — the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Mekong — the headwaters run shallow and weak, threatening the water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.
There were 4,077 lakes and now 3,000 of them have disappeared," said Xin Hongyuan, a geologist in Qinghai, which shares the huge expanse of plateau with the Tibet autonomous region and the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu."The snow is thawing and the snowline has risen from 4,600 metres to 5,300 metres. The Jianggendiru glacier, which is the main water supply of the Yangtze, has been degenerating fast since 1970, and when the glaciers shrink there will be a water crisis in the Yellow and Yangtze rivers."
So, yes, IPCC, please do respond to the anti-science crowd by updating your out-of-date discussion of melting ice. And that, of course, means updating your out of date discussion of sea level rise based on multiple recent studies:
- Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100
- Startling new sea level rise research: "Most likely" 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100
- Sea levels may rise 5 feet by 2100
- West Antarctic ice sheet collapse even more catastrophic for U.S. coasts
- Nature sea level rise shocker: Coral fossils suggest "catastrophic increase of more than 5 centimetres per year over a 50-year stretch is possible." Lead author warns, "This could happen again."
- High Water: Greenland ice sheet melting faster than expected and could raise East Coast sea levels an extra 20 inches by 2100 — to more than 6 feet."