Glaciers and the IPCC
January 22, 2010, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Global change, Published stuff

There’s a piece in The Economist this week on the mistakes about glaciers in one part of one volume of the fourth assessment report of the IPCC. An extract, with source links:

The [IPCC] WG-II case study cites a report by the WWF [pdf][see note below], an environmental group, as the source of the date 2035. The WWF in turn cites a study presented in 1999 to the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI) [pdf] by Syed Hasnain, chair of ICSI’s working group on Himalayan glaciers.

But the passage about 2035 that the WWF report quotes comes not from that ICSI report (which was unpublished) but from an article that appeared around the same time in Down to Earth, an Indian magazine. This article was based in part on an interview with Dr Hasnain, who was also quoted by New Scientist as saying it was possible the glaciers would be gone in 40 years. The article in Down to Earth claims that the area covered by glaciers would drop from 500,000km2 to 100,000km2 by 2035, a claim found in the IPCC report but not in the WWF report. This suggests the Down to Earth article was itself a source for the IPCC, though Murari Lal, a retired Indian academic, now a consultant, who was one of the four co-ordinating lead authors of the chapter, says this was not the case.

There are two further problems with the area figure. One is that the research in question [“Variations of snow and ice in the past and present on a global and regional scale” UNESCO, ed V M Kotlyakov, 1996 pdf] was looking at all the world’s glaciers, not just the Himalaya’s. The other is that the research was looking at the prospects for 2350, not 2035.

Since that piece was written, it has been pointed out to me that the error in the WWF report was apparently corrected by the WWF in 2005.

Image from flickr user Bernt Rostad, used under a Creative Commons licence

4 Comments so far
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Since that piece was written, it has been pointed out to me that the error in the WWF report was apparently corrected by the WWF in 2005.

I noticed that date too when I snooped around yesterday. However, I think the date was carried over from the publication date of the report on the website and does not mean to indicate that the correction was made on that same date.
Note the the announcement and date here: An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China.
Also note that the publication itself (.pdf) was created on March 9th, 2005 and last modified on January 10th, 2010, the same date as the announcement of the IPCC.
It feel it’s likely that the erratum was published (and edited into page 2 of the publication) on January 10th, 2010 and not in 2005. The dates are quite misleading though. And it’s equally odd that WWF didn’t date the erratum in the piblication itself.
For comparison here’s the same report on WWF India’s website (though with different design/formatting): An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier retreat,.. (.pdf). It does not contain the erratum, was created on June 23th, 2005 and last edited June 29th.

Comment by Tom S

Correction: where I said January 10th, 2010 (2 times), it should read January 20th, 2010.

Comment by Tom S

Thanks for that extra digging, Tom

Comment by Oliver

[…] Glaciers and the IPCC […]

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