photo by mckaysavage (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Erroneous claims concerning melting Himalayan glaciers made in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report have embarrassed the IPCC and prompted apologies from chairman Rajendra Pachauri. The Nobel-winning report stated that the glaciers could be gone by the year 2035 due to rising temperatures associated with anthropogenic global warming. The number apparently came from a WWF statement, which unintentionally misquoted an Indian scientist back in 1999. Misquotes and journalistic inaccuracy are not that strange, but the fact that the number was used in a recent, definitive scientific report and focused on as a particularly shocking number is obviously discrediting. According to an AP article, the actual data puts the year that ‘the ice could melt’ at 2350. Perhaps someone simply misplaced a zero.

Now somewhat vindicated, Indian scientists’ data never agreed with the IPCC report’s statements about Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035, yet still prompt concern about the melting of the glaciers. After all, millions in South and Southeast Asia depend on the water sourced from the Himalayas. Furthermore, the chief message of the report is that global warming is taking place – and despite the careless errors contained in one paragraph, the rest of the report is sound, according to Pachauri:

‘”I have no intention of resigning from my position,” Pachauri said on Saturday, adding the errors were unintentional and not significant in comparison to the entire report. The mistakes also do not negate the fact that worldwide, glaciers are melting faster than ever, he said.’

–Associated Press

For certain politically motivated climate change ‘skeptics’ it would make sense to throw out all of the IPCC’s science because of the mistakes on the glaciers contained – and now admitted to – in the report. Those whose priorities lie in industrial development based on fossil fuels in China and India may also jump on the error as a means to their own ends. But let’s not throw out the baby with the glacier water – so to speak. This is about science, not politics. After all it was the scientific process of peer-review that caught the error, not some skeptical journalist who hates ‘warmers’. And besides, it is good news that the Himalayan glaciers are predicted to supply water for another 300 years or so. Is anyone celebrating that?

From an article in the Guardian:

‘Glaciergate actually shows we can police ourselves, say researchers. And while the glacier claims exaggerate the impact of climate change, other parts of the 2007 IPCC report clearly underplay the risks. “We should also remember the overwhelming evidence still shows global warming is real and manmade,” adds Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. “Arctic ice sheets are shrinking and droughts are spreading while nine of the last 10 years have been the hottest on record. Only rising emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can explain that.”‘

Check out this short video report from CNN/ITN for a concise and reasonably balanced summary of glacier-gate:


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a report on the Himalayan glaciers contained errors.

Additional resources:

The National Geographic archives: The world’s melting glaciers

The National Geographic archives: Antarctica’s glacial melt