Monday, January 18

"World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown"

Yesterday afternoon Brenda J. Elliot at RBO blog deconstructed the latest episode in the stupidity, chicanery, and quackery that's come to be known as ClimateGate. Here, repubished with her permission, is her Himalayan glacier meltdown meltdown:

So this is how "climate change" and "global warming" found their way into the vast global consciousness? Pay attention and follow closely, please, as we enter another "scientific" maze.

The cascading fallout from ClimateGate is providing us with a "teachable moment," or two or four or more, it seems. Jonathan Leake and Chris Hastings headlined "World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown" in today's UK Sunday Times:

    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.

    Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

    In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report.

    It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Leake and Hastings continue:

    The IPCC's reliance on Hasnain's 1999 interview has been highlighted by Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview for the New Scientist. Pearce said he rang Hasnain in India in 1999 after spotting his claims in an Indian magazine. Pearce said: "Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis.

    "Since then I have obtained a copy and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers, not the whole massif." [...]

    Graham Cogley[is] a geographer from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who had long been unhappy with the IPCC's finding.

    He traced the IPCC claim back to the New Scientist and then contacted Pearce. Pearce then re-interviewed Hasnain, who confirmed that his 1999 comments had been "speculative", and published the update in the New Scientist.
In 1999 Professor Syed Iqbal Hasnain may have been a little known-scientist. In March 2009, however, he was the recipient of the Government of India's Padmashree Award for his work on glaciers.

According to his Award profile, Professor Hasnian's credentials appear impressive. He is the sixth Chairman of the Consortium for Educational Communication Governing Board and a Senior Fellow with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi.

Between October 2002 and October 2006 he was Vice Chancellor at the University of Calicut. Prior to that he was "Professor in Glaciology in the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was also at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and Delft Technical University, Netherlands for his specialization. He spent many years researching Himalayan Glaciers and has gained international recognition for his work."

Hasnain chaired the "working group on Himalayan Glaciology within the International Commission on Snow and Ice between 1995 and 1999. He has served on the 'Hydrology 2000' working group set up by the International Association of Hydrological Science. Prof. Hasnain is also serving as a Member of the Governing Council of Indian Mountaineering Foundation and Chairing Scientific Committee of IMF which has prepared a roadmap of climate change studies in the high altitude Himalaya." Additionally, Hasnain "authored a book on Himalayan Glaciers: Hydrology and Hydrochemistry" and "published more than 40 papers in the international and national scientific journals."

Plus, Professor Hasnain is a "Visiting Professor to lecture on Himalayan Glaciers at the Universities of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Washington, Seattle."

Professor Hasnain continues with his unsubstantiated predictions. The India Tribune wrote:

    “The Hindukush-Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers are the water towers of Asia,” says Prof. Syed Iqbal Hasnain of the Energy Research Institute, who has been studying the melting of the Himalayan glaciers for several years.

    Looking ahead, the prospects seem to be getting worse rather than better, according to Hasnain. “Scientists have projected a 43 percent decrease in the glacial area on an average by 2070 and a 75 percent decrease in the glacial area by the end of the 21st century at the current rate of global warming,” says Hasnain.
Put this into its proper context. From the same article we learn:

    Incidentally, studies to draw a precise link between the rising temperatures and the melting of glaciers are still in their infancy.

    “Glaciology is a very young science and we are still learning about the relationship between global warming and the melting of glaciers,” says Rajesh Kumar, a glaciologist with the Birla Institute of Technology. Kumar, who has done pioneering work on the shrinking snout of the Gangotri glacier that feeds the Ganges.

    Research on retreating glaciers has been taken up seriously only for the past 25 years. “We are depending largely on anecdotal evidence from old residents in the area for information on glaciers,” says the coordinator for the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Leh.
Key points here:

  • Studies "are still in their infancy..."
  • Glaciology is a "very young science..."
  • Research "on retreating glaciers has been taken up seriously only for the past 25 years."
  • ... and "depend[s] largely on anecdotal evidence ..."

  • Moving on: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims to be the "leading body for the assessment of climate change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences."

    The IPCC makes it clear that it is a "scientific body."

    The New Scientist, on the other hand, is a journal which publishes articles on space, technology, the environment, health, life, physics and math, and science in society. The New Scientist publishes in-depth articles and opinion and even has a blog. However, it is not a "scientific body."

    Our case is proven by the New Scientist itself, in whose environment section (in the subsection on climate change) is found the January 13 article "Major Antarctic glacier is 'past its tipping point'" by Shanta Barley, who has also written the related November 24, 2009 article, World's last bastion of stable ice now thawing.

    To give you a better idea of her expertise, Barley is also the author of the November 13, 2009 Cocaine and pepper spray – a lethal mix? and January 14, 2010 Transparent frogs, tiny geckos and snail-sucking snakes.

    A cursory internet search finds Barley as a major blogger at the BBC's "Climate Change: The Blog of Bloom" -- "A surprising blog from the Bloom team about climate change and the things people are saying and doing about it."

    As far as RBO can discover, the BBC "Bloom team" consists of people who choose to become "Bloomers" and participate in activities that will reduce CO2 emissions. Bloom states on the BBC website:

      We've studied over 50 things you can do to tackle climate change (with many more to follow soon). Each action is represented by a seed. Our genial gardener will ask questions to identify which ones suit you best. When you find an action you plan to do, or one you've already done, plant the seed and watch it bloom.

      Your collection of Blooms shows the progress you've made. Register now to save your progress and get your actions added to our 'Full Bloom' records. This will allow you to compare your actions against other 'Bloomers' all over the UK and beyond.
    Bloom is definitely not a "scientific body" -- nor is the New Scientist.

    Shanta Barley is a young scientist. She graduated in 2005 with a masters degree in Oceanography from the National Oceanographic Centre. She has "worked as a science consultant at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and as a researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology," where she "spent a year investigating the evolution of burrowing behaviour of marine worms - a complex issue veiled in time (and mud!)"

    Barley works now as a "researcher for BBC Science and Nature in London" and was "involved in a TV program called Oceans - an underwater diving expedition exploring some of the last great underwater wildernesses on Earth."

    So what does Barley really know about melting glaciers in the Himalayas? Obviously not enough to be an expert on the subject but enough to compile articles about it. Many non-scientists can do the same thing.

    This brings us to several conclusions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was willing to base information in its report on a 1999 interview published in the non-"scientific body" New Scientist journal from information gathered in a telephone interview with someone who now has what appears to be excellent credentials but whose 1999 comments were "speculative."

    And, to be perfectly honest, infant glaciology is still kicking the can down the road. In a more recent bit of speculation, Professor Syed Iqbal Hasnain said, "Scientists have projected a 43 percent decrease in the [Hindukush-Himalayan-Tibetan] glacial area on an average by 2070 and a 75 percent decrease in the glacial area by the end of the 21st century at the current rate of global warming."

    Professor Hasnain is also a climate change / global warming believer. He was quoted by Reuters in July 2007 as saying "It is not just greenhouse gases which are leading to melting glaciers, but it is also increased human activity and development in the Himalayas."

    This same glacial area is what Professor Hasnain called "the water towers of Asia." Water indicates melting and melting indicates a meltdown, which is precisely what is happening. Research only taken up "seriously" 25 years ago takes us back to 1985 -- as well as includes an infinitesimal amount of information upon which to base any conclusions about mountains and glaciers that are considered to be millions or even billions years old. Even if the Himilayas were no older than the beginning of the Christian era, 25 years is nothing.

    1 comment:

    nizhal yoddha said...

    well, pundita, i am neutral on global warming etc., but i am not neutral on Jawaharlal Nehru University. it is the bastion of left-wing fundamentalism in india. anything, absolutely anything, that comes of out of JNU is suspicious and must be double-checked three times. the most illustrious {sic] alumnus of JNU is baburam bhattarai, 2nd in command to prachanda, the communist dictator of nepal.

    other illustrious [sic] denizens of JNU include the so-called 'eminent historians' (this is what they call each other) of india, many of whom would not recognize history if it were presented to them on a platter with watercress around it, and it jumped up and hit them on the nose. for instance, one of the 'eminent historians', a self-proclaimed authority of ancient india, does not read any of the classical languages: sanskrit, pali or tamil! she depends on 19th century english translations by brits! nobody has seen fit to mumble something about the "emperor's new clothes" yet. they can't, as the establishment would instantly ostracize them, and there go all the little boondoggle trips to some conference, and the nice sinecure posts of vice-chancellor and so on.

    JNU exists primarily to provide sinecures for nehruvian dinosaurs, to provide brainwashing services for young students (btw, the bright among india's young try to get into engineering, medicine, business or law schools. if you don't get into these, you go to JNU), and to offer a way for chinese to infiltrate into the um... hallowed halls of scholarship and journalism in india. well, so to speak. almost everyone at JNU is lunatic-fringe left, even by the standards of india's skewed-to-the-left discourse.

    there is exactly one professor at JNU about whom there is some good chatter on the grapevine. (it is not clear how he maintains his sanity). the others are all third-rate people who have attached themselves successfully to the mammaries of the nehruvian welfare state, and who produce occasional turgid papers full of 1950s soviet style language and content. plagiarism is ripe. original thinking is exceedingly rare.

    therefore, a priori, whatever husain said has to be be taken with a pinch, nay a mountain, of salt.