January 20, 2010 11:24 pm

Scientists in glacier claim controversy

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Climate change scientists have become embroiled in a fresh controversy over a claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

The claim was contained in a chapter of the wide-ranging report on climate change produced in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body made up of the world’s leading climate change scientists that advises governments.

But the New Scientist last week traced the claim back to an article it ran in 1999, reporting the view of the leading Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain, that all the glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035.

This claim was not repeated by Mr Hasnain in peer-reviewed literature, but was picked up in a report by WWF, the environmental campaigning group, which was the source for the inclusion of the claim by the IPCC.

Other glacier experts have said that while the Himalayan glaciers are melting, at current rates of warming it would take much longer than 25 years for them to disappear.

The IPCC has agreed to re-examine the estimate.

Climate change scientists have moved to discount the importance of the claim, which they have said was only a minor detail in a report that was thousands of pages long and drew on data from many thousands of sources.

The Himalayan claim was not included in the key document arising from the report, the summary for policymakers, which was presented to governments to help them draft a response to the problem of global warming.

The claim was also not used by the IPCC in any of the other forums, and was not used by the IPCC to draw any of the key conclusions in its 2007 report.

But the claim is another embarrassment for climate change scientists, who were already on the defensive after a series of e-mails were published late last year that appeared to show some scientists planning to refuse access to their data, and adjusting the presentation of their data to emphasise the dangers of climate change.

The e-mails, hacked from the servers of the University of East Anglia, generated fierce criticism of the scientists just before the Copenhagen conference on climate change last December.

Climate change sceptics argued that the leaked e-mails showed flaws in the practices of climate scientists, and damaged the credibility of their conclusions. Climate scientists responded that the e-mails were taken out of context, and did not show serious attempts to manipulate scientific conclusions.

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