Science & Technology

Glacier Scare

Himalayas: still icy


The demise of the Himalayan glaciers is happening more glacially than expected—and in some cases may not be happening at all. 

In 2007 the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that the massive Himalayan ice sheets would melt away by 2035, dramatically reducing the amount of water in rivers on which hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese depend. Two years later, government-sponsored research by Indian glaciologists found such predictions to be wildly off the mark. India's environment minister at the time, Jairam Ramesh, said "there is no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming with what is happening in the Himalayan glaciers."

IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri dismissed the glacier-melt skepticism as "school boy science," but embarrassingly, it turned out that the IPCC's own glacier guesstimate was based on a popular science magazine's 1999 misquotation of a researcher. 

Now new research is lending further support to the "school boy science." A study published in the April 20 issue of Science bluntly concludes "the statement that most [Himalayan] glaciers will likely disappear by 2035 is wrong." In fact, the study reports that some glaciers in the region appear to be growing rather than shrinking and that in any case they will persist beyond 2100. Furthermore, since most of the water in affected Asian rivers comes from monsoon rains, any glacial melting due to climate change will have only a minor effect on those rivers.