U.N. Hit Over Its Glacier Sized Mistake

India reacts with anger over U.N. prediction of Himalayan glacier melt.

ByKaren Russo
January 22, 2010, 10:49 AM

NEW DELHI, India Jan. 22, 2010— -- The United Nation's confession that it overstated the threat to Himalayan glaciers has been received in India with a mix of anger and astonishment.

"That was a very gross mistake in that report," said professor Shakil Romshoo, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Kashmir. "I don't think there are some glaciers that will melt even at the current global warming rate in 200 years."

Romshoo was reacting to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that had conceded Wednesday that it made a mistake in its 2007 report when it said the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

The report was alarming because the glaciers in the Himalayans provide water to hundreds of millions of people and supports India's agricultural industry of which 60 percent of the population is dependent.

The committee said this week that the year 2350 may be a more plausible date.

Ramshoo said that many of the smaller glaciers in the region will likely disappear, but the bigger glaciers "will be there for two centuries." He said the IPCC's correction of its mistake was expected.

Twice a year for the past five years, Romshoo and a team of scientists head to Ladakh in the Himalyans to collect data from the glaciers during the spring thaw and the fall freeze.

Using data from 1969 as a baseline, they've compared it with research and satellite imagery from the 1970s,1980s and 1990s to determine the impact of climate change on the glaciers.

"There are a lot of uncertainties in climate change predictions," Ramshoo said. "It's very difficult to say this glacier will be gone in 50 years or 100 years."

For many scientists, it was difficult to believe the IPCC – a very well-respected body that consists of 2,500 climate scientists – could have had made such a blunder.

Some Indian news reports, however, expressed anger over the mistake, complaining the presented evidence was used to pressure India into taking more responsibility for its pollution creating climate change.

"The [report] was used very often to demand that India should take greater action to reduce its emissions in order to protect people from catastrophes like glacial melts and floods," said the Times of India.

The article went on to criticize past "pseudo-science" and "scientific manipulation," citing the time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blamed India's wet paddy fields for emitting high levels of methane, a potentially strong climate-warming gas.

"It was later found, through research done independently in India, that emissions from wet paddy fields and animal husbandry in India were less than one-tenth of those of the U.S.," the article said.

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