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Himalayan Glacier Disappearance Overstated

A pair of researchers has published a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which two out of three glaciers studied were disappearing. In a report that was edited by James Hansen, of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, it would appear that the glaciers of the Himalaya are melting rapidly, but that is not how the report ends. The authors state that poor selection of study sites have led to the widespread use of non-representative data. Moreover, the IPCC report and others overstate the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers.

Appearing in PNAS online, the report “Spatially heterogeneous wastage of Himalayan glaciers,” sounds like yet another claim of rapid glacial melting. Written by Koji Fujita and Takayuki Nuimura, both of the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Nagoya University, its abstract stresses terms like “rapid wastage” and “accelerated wastage,” giving an impression that the Himalayan glaciers are quickly disappearing. Here is the full abstract:

We describe volumetric changes in three benchmark glaciers in the Nepal Himalayas on which observations have been made since the 1970s. Compared with the global mean of glacier mass balance, the Himalayan glaciers showed rapid wastage in the 1970s–1990s, but similar wastage in the last decade. In the last decade, a glacier in an arid climate showed negative but suppressed mass balance compared with the period 1970s–1990s, whereas two glaciers in a humid climate showed accelerated wastage. A mass balance model with downscaled gridded datasets depicts the fate of the observed glaciers. We also show a spatially heterogeneous distribution of glacier wastage in the Asian highlands, even under the present-day climate warming.

That seems a fairly grim report but note that the study included only three glaciers—two under humid conditions and one under arid conditions. Fujita & Nuimura describe volumetric changes in these three glaciers, located in the Nepal Himalayas, from which measurements have been taken since the 1970s. Based on changes in the elevations of the glacier surfaces, the researchers calculated mass balance and the equilibrium-line altitude (ELA) for the glaciers under study. Compared with the global mean glacier mass balance, the Himalayan glaciers showed rapid wastage in the 1970s–1990s, but similar wastage in the last decade. The results are shown below.


Study glacier locations and mass balances.

The ELA divides the glacier into areas of ablation (loss) and accumulation, while the mass balance weighs overall loss and gain. Over the last decade, the arid climate glacier showed negative but suppressed mass balance compared with the period 1970s–1990s, whereas the two humid climate glaciers showed accelerated wastage. A mass balance model was used to predict the fate of the observed glaciers. According to the authors, mass balance calculations indicate the arid environment glacier will survive under current climate conditions, while the other two glaciers, located in humid environments, are doomed to disappear over time.

What is not stated in the abstract is that the two humid environment glaciers are at lower altitudes than the arid environment glacier. The warmer temperatures at lower altitudes would naturally lead to more melting on the two humid environment glaciers. Moreover, the authors state that other humid environment glaciers with accumulation areas located at higher altitudes will not disappear. In fact, they conclude that there isn’t enough data, spread across enough glaciers, to make any generalized predictions at all.

The disappearance of Himalayan glaciers was not only overstated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, but also asserted in a study based on analyses of a Himalayan ice core. Disappearance may be the fate of some glaciers located at lower altitudes, as indicated by the present results; however, the heterogeneous distribution of the ELA trend suggests that it is unwarranted to draw conclusions regarding the fate of all Himalayan glaciers based on a small number of examples, especially when the benchmark glaciers are chosen in part for their small size, small elevation range, and simple geometry.

Why have the previous reports gotten it so wrong? The fact that Fujita & Nuimura included only three glaciers in their study is a hint. “Available in situ data have generally been obtained for glaciers that afford relatively easy access,” the authors state. “Because such glaciers are located at lower altitudes and therefore tend to have higher melt rates, ground-based observational data are probably biased toward a negative mass balance compared with the regional mean under the present-day warming climate.”

Fujita & Nuimura’s conclusions reinforce earlier work by Vijay Kumar Raina, formerly of the Geological Survey of India. That report, examined in “Himalayan Glaciers Not Melting,” attempted to correct widely spread claims that India’s 10,000 or so Himalayan glaciers are shrinking rapidly in response to climate change. According to Raina, the rumors may have originated in the Asia chapter of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 2007 Working Group II report. Evidently, the bogus claim was based on measurements from only a handful of glaciers—the same biased methodology denounced in the PNAS paper.

Basically, lazy scientists picked the low hanging fruit in terms of gathering field data and, by doing so, have biased the results. Further more, that bias is toward glacial melting, the result desired by climate change alarmists. Naturally, if researchers gets the result they want, they look no further. So despite a non-representative, too small sample set, the IPCC and its fellow warmists ran with the melting Himalayan glacier story anyway.

This should surprise no one, for it is the modus operandi of the entire climate change cabal: take biased, inconclusive, or even contradictory results and spin them into calamitous predictions to frighten the public. In just the last few months we have found that shrinking arctic ice coverage is not anywhere near record low levels for the Holocene, attempts to estimate climate sensitivity from paleodata and models cannot be reconciled and the measured amount of radiant energy leaving the Earth is higher than that used in climate models, meaning the models have been wrong for decades,.

Fujita & Nuimura are to be commend for telling it as it is—reports of the Himalayan glaciers’ demise are unwarranted. As are all the other tales of eco-terror told by the global warming charlatans. When will the climate alarmists learn? Inconclusive science, presented as settled science, is actually bad science.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.