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A glacier melt mistake

By Juliet Eilperin

A flawed projection in the 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about Himalayan glacier projection has sparked a new debate over glacier melt worldwide.

The statement at issue -- which is now under formal investigation by the IPCC -- suggests the likelihood that Himalayan glaciers will disappear "by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high." There is not any underlying documentation for this assertion beyond a news story that appeared in the New Scientist several years before the IPCC report came out.

Skeptics have pointed to the error as reason to question the link between climate change and glacier melt.

But the Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a "Fact Check" saying the mistake was not key to the IPCC's overall conclusions.

"What should not get lost in this manufactured controversy is the fact that glaciers around the world are melting more rapidly than the IPCC projected. A 2005 global survey of 442 glaciers from the World Glacier Monitoring Service found that only 26 were advancing, 18 were stationary, and 398 were retreating. In other words, 90 percent of the world's glaciers are shrinking as the planet warms."

Updated at 1:34 p.m. ET:

Amid all the controversy over glacier melt and leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, the journal Nature has weighed in with a useful news feature on "The Real Holes in Climate Science."

Quirin Schiermeier examines the four areas of greatest uncertainty: regional climate prediction, precipitation, atmospheric aerosols and paleoclimate tree ring records. He explores the questions that surround all four of these subjects, but still concludes the evidence for human-caused warming in recent decades remain solid.


Juliet Eilperin

 |  January 20, 2010; 9:55 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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A previous comment reminds us
"Just think of the constant errors in political reporting, or celebrity spotting!"

There are similarities and differences between the Human Caused Global Warming (HCGW) theory and the last 101 sightings of Elvis.

As a similarity, each of the 101 recent sightings, just like each argument for HCGW, is almost true. He wasn't quite tall with a black mop of hair but a short redhead, and wasn't exactly dressed in a sequined white jumpsuit but she wore a striped gray business suit instead.

The problems with these small details don't however change the unanimous scientific consensus based on the other 100 sightings that Elvis is still around.

The difference between HCGW and the Elvis sightings is that no one in his right mind proposes to change the structure of the world economy based on Elvis sightings.

Posted by: adrianoc | January 21, 2010 12:59 PM
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Since I am a scientist myself, I tend to look at the actual data rather than at what many other scientists say on one side or on the other. It is the actual measured temperatures which show no unusual recent warming whatsoever.

The planet has been warming at about 1 degree Celsius/century in the last 200 years, since we have reliable measurements, so it would be absolutely normal to have the last few years warmer than the previous ones.

If there was a correlation with human activity then this rate of one degree/century would not stay the same.

Looking at the fake data that the (email self described) crooks fed to everybody, from the covers of the international agencies reports to the TV stations, it would have been quite easy for a Nobel scientist in say chemistry to take the global warming for true.

The lucky thing for me was that a record of the actual measured temperatures is still available free of charge from the US Government, mostly for the use of farmers (just try like the Finnish scientists in

to ask any of the people involved in the scam to show you their base data....)

It would be very interesting to poll all these scientists now, when it is clear that the people involved in putting out this data would rather pull one of their better teeth and give it to you rather than reveal their data and methods - as required by scientific norms, now it would be very interesting to find out how many still believe in AGW...

I can assure you that nothing is more repellant to a true scientist than the data manhandling and the refusal to disclose the data and methods which came up in the emails.

Remember one of the emails, the fellow who was hired to take care of the data and who said that the data is so badly disorganized, without sources, structure, etc. that nobody will ever be able to make anything out of it... He had no stake whatsoever in the weather debate, he just tried to organize the data.

I am amazed at how when the data wears thin, people start to bring up "my scientists are more numerous than yours" arguments. Let us stick to the actual temperatures and find out, since they don't show anything unusual, how does that correlate to human activity?

If there is data showing unusual, unprecedented RATE OF MELTING in the last 40 years of intensive CO2 emissions, much bigger than the RATE OF MELTING say between 1920 - 1960, then where is that data?

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 7:31 PM
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Sorry, ADRIANOC, but the Nichols article doesn't have graphs. If you read the _text_, however, about 85-95% of the glaciers they survey show accelerated melting over the last half century, along with increased temps at the glacial sites.

You might want to look at

When 97% of active climate scientists, 19 Academies of Science from various countries, and the vast preponderance of data point to global warming, and when the data shows that "the 20th century is the warmest in the last 1000 years and that warming was most dramatic after 1920.", I'm inclined to agree.

Your mileage may vary, and I'm not going to spend any more time on this blog - you obviously have strong reasons for your beliefs.

Just keep in mind that if 9 of 10 people think something else, they _just might_ have good reasons for disagreeing with you...

Posted by: MrMike3 | January 20, 2010 4:30 PM
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To see how the people at the center of the AGW understand science, see the Finnish National TV documentary, with superb Nordic restraint, at

If you would want to start a big global scale science project, would you like to pay for THAT kind of science?

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 1:07 PM
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MRMIKE3, Your own words,

"a clear shift, fast warming, which extends over the last 200 years"

are the crucial point.

The CO2 emissions have been growing exponentially lately. The global temperature - and I mean here actual measured temperature, not faked or unexplained data - does not show anything reflecting that kind of growth.

The CO2 emissions grow exponentially but the temperature grows the same way it grew a hundred years ago.

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 12:54 PM
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I took a look at

It has almost no long term graphs on the actual measurements.
There is only one long term graph there, on the percentage of glaciers in retreat. 90 percent of the glaciers were in retreat between 1930 and 1960 then only 50% around 1980 and now again about 90% are in retreat.

How does that data show correlation with human industrial activity, which was around 1930 only a few percent of the current one, rather a natural phenomenon?

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 12:45 PM
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If you look at which data do you see unusual warming?
The raw data has been repeatedly manipulated by the (email exposed) crooks. They will not and actually may not be able to tell what is the magnitude of their adjustments for a given plce (which anyone could check) or the exact reason for their adjustment.

So the only way out is to GO TO THE RAW DATA - that's what people have been measuring for two hundred years with thermometers. That data is available as GHCN at NCDC.NOAA.GOV for public free download. It takes about 14MB for all monthly averages of average daily temperatures everywhere around the globe, ever since they were recorded.

It is that raw data which shows nothing unusual.

I am a mathematical physicist and the person in charge there ( at NOAA), with whom I keep in touch, formerly with our university, is working on making the raw data available in graphical form.

The 1 degree / century has been with us for a long time. It is not correlated to human activity, and humanity had to and has been obviously able to live with it. In George Washington's time it was 2 degrees cooler in DC.

Same with the average 1ft/century raise in ocean level.

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 12:31 PM
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I helped write the UCS Factcheck cited in this article. I primarily worked with, Melanie Fitzpatrick, a scientist specializing in glaciers, who works at UCS:

Membership in UCS is open to the public. But everything we do is guided by the best available science and vetted through knowledgeable scientists, including the 2005 glacier survey we cited.

Ad hominems don't change the facts.

Aaron Huertas
Press Secretary, Union of Concerned Scientists

Posted by: ahuertas | January 20, 2010 12:06 PM
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Take a look at, for example, for more detailed data on the recent acceleration of glacial retreats.

Posted by: MrMike3 | January 20, 2010 12:03 PM
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Actually, if you look at the data, you see a clear shift, fast warming, which extends over the last 200 years. This actually reverses a slow cooling trend measured over the last 1000 years, well surpassing the 'Medieval Warm Period' both in temperature and rate of change. A 1 degree/century AVERAGE global temperature increase adds up quickly.

We're seeing it here in the US - bird ranges shifting northward, new invasive plant species shifting north with temperatures as well.

More than a shred of evidence, IMO.

Posted by: MrMike3 | January 20, 2010 11:57 AM
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MRMIKE3, At issue is not whether the glaciers are retreating - they are, and they have been retreating since the last ice age.

The question is whether they are retreating FASTER THAN USUAL in the last few decades, as an effect of human activity. Were those glaciers you saw in Alaska increasing until a few decades ago when they started to decrease?

The current sea level rise is carefully monitored and the rate is the same 1ft/century since it was ever recorded.

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 11:51 AM
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It should be noted that the Union of Concerned Scientists ( is not composed of scientists. Nor does their application ask for your occupation. Its sole requirement for membership is paying their $25 annual dues.

Posted by: MrBethesda | January 20, 2010 11:41 AM
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Engravings of Swiss glaciers from the early 1800's show that most were bigger than today. The glaciers have been retreating in the last few hundred years, well before our recent intensive industrial activity. The same is true for global warming in general, at about 1 deg/century in the last 200 years.

The real question is whether the glaciers have been retreating, or the climate has been warming, FASTER THAN USUAL in the last 40 years or so. There isn't a SHRED OF MEASURED EVIDENCE for that.

The actual measured temperatures and glacier surfaces are publicly available, and nothing unusual happened recently. Same for the total ice cover ocean levels etc. The long time trends have not changed.

As an analogy, the price of milk is this year bigger than last year, much bigger than the average of the last 50 years, bigger than it ever was. That is no reason to panic: the trend - here the inflation rate - doesn't show anything unusual, and is in fact lower than average....Same with all these warming related measurements - there is no unusual trend correlated to the recent huge increase in human industrial activity.

What happened was that a bunch of proved (by their own emailed words) pseudoscientist crooks from the East Anglia University and a few other places made careers out of crying FIRE! and putting a lot of people and governments on the edge.
It is THEIR data and graphs you see everywhere.

It's well time to go back and look at actual data rather than editorials... Check with your local weather station...

Posted by: adrianoc | January 20, 2010 11:39 AM
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Last spring I was in Juneau, Alaska, looking at Mendenhall Glacier - shrinking fast. I've spent some time travelling around Alaska, and all of the glaciers are retreating. The climate there is warming up, the Alaskan permafrost is starting to soften, and (ick) the bugs are getting worse!

There are incidents of bad data, poorly done science, and overstated claims in _any_ field. Just think of the constant errors in political reporting, or celebrity spotting! Or the very sincere opinions of whoever's ranting outside the Supreme Court this week - sincere, but often loosely wrapped. But cherry-picking a few bad apples doesn't invalidate the consensus of an entire field of science. The overwhelming evidence is for global warming.

Do a wiki search on 'current sea level rise' (data from many different records, including Netherlands records since the 1700's) or 'global warming' (10 different estimates from different sources).

And then look at the 'evidence' from those denying global warming, which is usually anecdotal evidence, or limited to a very small local area affect.

And then use some judgement.

Posted by: MrMike3 | January 20, 2010 11:33 AM
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The Union of Concerned Scientists is a leftist hack organization and you know it so I discount everything they say. How many times do these mistakes have to happen before you question all of the studies? Did you ever notice that the "mistakes" are always in favor of GW hysteria? BTW, Ive read there are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, 35,000 in the Himalaya's.....So 90% of the earths glaciers are melting based on a study of 442 (which is probably riddled w/ mistakes and blatant falshoods). Please.

Posted by: j751 | January 20, 2010 10:57 AM
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And this should come to a surprise to anyone? The entire " Man-made Global Warming, nay Global Climate Change" is a complete and utter joke; based on flawed projections and sketchy math. Oh, and don't forget to Hide the Decline!

Posted by: zap123 | January 20, 2010 10:44 AM
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