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Himalayan glaciers rejuvenated by increased snowfall

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The projected demise of Himalayan glaciers has apparently been misjudged by those who asserted their disappearance. Recent reports from the region indicate that new snowfall has “rejuvenated” hundreds of glaciers and they will continue to supply drinking water - at least for the foreseeable future.

Even the ever-curious scientists cannot agree on the algorithm behind the ebb and flow of glacial growth and retreat. This will, they assert, require further study. An excellent suggestion, says we, and let's get on with that. Perhaps they have some grant money left over from previous studies that have produced inconclusive conclusions and were in many cases repositories of erroneous data sets.

The most superficial research immediately reveals that there is no consensus as to the basic accuracy of data from these high glaciers and that their very remoteness presents formidable problems for data integrity.

Meanwhile perhaps we can de-escalate this worry to second tier and turn our attention to more pressing matters such as how to prevent the near-term total collapse of the world economy which will most certainly result in misery and death of millions.

 Himalaya glacial map


From October 2012

The IPCC report described the region as a data 'white spot'.

This lack of information on whether Himalayan snow and ice is retreating or expanding is important, Andreas Kääb, a professor in the department of geosciences at the University of Oslo in Norway, told SciDev.Net.

This is because of the effect of global climate on losses or gains of glacier ice, and because many people living downstream depend on glacier-fed rivers for their water supply.

The basic problem, says Kääb, is the difficulty of doing research in such inhospitable terrain.

An extensive April 2012 review of Himalayan glacier research by an international team including experts from India and Nepal, published in Science, identified reasons for these data gaps.


Even after years of research on glaciers and climate of Himalayas, scientists have failed to learn the pattern of the weather here. While scanty snowfall and rising temperature in last decade had sparked the possibilities of fast shrinking of glaciers, good spells of snowfall in last three years have changed the trend with glaciers almost growing to their original size.


Background from August 2012

Records of glaciers, weather and river flow in the region are imperfect — if they even exist.

Now comes a report that Himalayan glaciers, which cover about 60,000 square kilometers, are “changing at the same rate as the global average,” says Andreas Kääb, a professor of geosciences at the University of Oslo (Norway)


The study contradicts the IPCC's earlier wrong assessment that "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any part of the world 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." As is now well documented, a series of errors was compounded, beginning with an article in the Delhi-based fortnightly Down to Earth, then cited by the well known British science writer Fred Pearce in the New Scientist and picked up by a World Wide Fund for Nature report.

In his recent extensively documented book, The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis (Orient BlackSwan), Praful Bidwai devotes a box to this controversy which runs at the bottom of 14 pages. Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain, who in the 1990s was in the School of Environmental Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, authored a study on Asian glaciers for the International Commission for Snow and Ice, where he made this claim, which he later denied. It finally found its way into the IPCC report, a major blunder for the world's leading source of data on climate change.

Last modified on Thursday, 20 December 2012 15:18

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