They're Not Melting: 87% of Himalayan Glaciers Are ‘Stable’

Barbara Hollingsworth | May 13, 2014 | 12:27pm EDT
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Durung Drung glacier in northern India (Arthur Max/AP)

( -- Nearly 87 percent of Himalayan glaciers are currently “stable,” neither melting nor advancing, according to a new study that cast further doubt on claims that melting glacial ice will help cause a dramatic rise in sea levels this century.

Often referred to as the “Third Pole,” the Himalayans contain “one of the largest concentrations of glaciers outside the polar regions,” according to the study by a group of Indian researchers that was published in the April 2014 edition of “Current Science.” (See glacier study.pdf)

“The results of the present study indicate that most of the glaciers were in a steady state compared to the results of other studies carried out for the period prior to 2001,” the  study authors conclude. “This period of monitoring almost corresponds to hiatus in global warming in the last decade.”

Of the 2,018 Himalayan glaciers monitored via satellite and validated by 15 field visits, 1,752 (86.8 percent) were holding steady, 248 (12.3 percent) were retreating, and 18 (0.9 percent) were advancing, the researchers found. The glaciers are located in the Karakoram, Himachal, Zanskar, Uttarakhand, Nepal and Sikkim regions, and range in size from less than one square kilometer (45 percent of those monitored) to larger than 20 square kilometers (97 glaciers).

“Variations in the extent of these glaciers are understood to be a sensitive indicator of climactic variations of the earth system,” the authors point out.

In 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that “glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other 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…The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to the global warming due to increase in anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases.”

Melting of the polar ice caps, the Greenland Ice Sheet and glaciers “are projected to contribute positively to sea level” rises, inundating coastal areas and directly affecting 10 percent of the current world population, claimed the IPPC, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore that year.


IPCC Fourth Assessment Report

But that claim was challenged in 2009 by Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, who reported that “there is no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming with what is happening in the Himalayan glaciers.”

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri dismissed Ramesh’s criticism of his Nobel Prize-winning panel’s conclusions as “voodoo science,” but the IPCC was eventually forced to retract the claim in 2010, admitting that “the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.”

“Sea level is projected to rise at an even greater rate in this century,” the 2007 IPCC report stated. “The two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion of the oceans (water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice due to increased melting,” adding that thermal expansion and melting ice would each contribute roughly half to rising sea levels.

However, a February 2012 study also found that the glacier melt IPCC predicted had not occurred, and that the Himalayas lost virtually no ice during the previous decade.

Nonetheless, the IPCC is still claiming that the Himalayan glaciers will be a fraction of their current size by century's end.

Its Fifth Assessment Report, which was released in March, predicts that the Himalayan glaciers will shrink 45 percent by 2100 if the surface temperature of the Earth rises by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or by 68 percent if the earth's temperature increases 6.66 degrees.

"It is virtually certain that these projections are more reliable than an earlier erroneous assessment in (2007)...of complete disappearance by 2035," the updated IPCC report said.

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