18 January 2010

Stranger and Stranger

The fallout from the IPCC Himalayan glacier situation gets stranger and stranger. Now an IPCC lead author has stepped forward claiming that the error has been known by the IPCC all along. From Agence France-Presse:
A top scientist said Monday he had warned in 2006 that a prediction of catastrophic loss of Himalayan glaciers, published months later by the UN's Nobel-winning climate panel, was badly wrong.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said in 2007 it was "very likely" that the glaciers, which supply water to more than a billion people across Asia, would vanish by 2035 if global warming trends continued.

"This number is not just a little bit wrong, but far out of any order of magnitude," said Georg Kaser, an expert in tropical glaciology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

"It is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing," he told AFP in an interview.

It gets more interesting:

Kaser suggested the initial error originated from a misreading of a 1996 Russian study or from findings on a handful of glaciers that were mistakenly extended to apply to the whole region.

In either case, he suggested, the fact that it found its way into the report underpinning global climate negotiations signalled the need for a reform of the way the IPCC collects and reviews data.

"The review community has entirely failed" in this instance, he said.

Kaser was a lead author in Working Group I of the IPCC report, which dealt with the physical science of climate change.

Its conclusions -- that climate change is "unequivocal" and poses a major threat -- remain beyond reproach, he said.

The prediction for the Himalayan glaciers was contained in the separately published Working Group II report, which assessed likely impacts of climate change.

More specifically, the chapter focussed on an assessment of Asia, authored by scientists from the region.

"This is a source of a lot of misunderstandings, misconceptions or failures," Kaser said, noting that some regions lacked a broad spectrum of expertise.

"It is a kind of amateurism from the regional chapter lead authors. They may have been good hydrologists or botanists, but they were without any knowledge in glaciology."

Kaser said some of the scientists from other regional groups took heed of suggestions, and made corrections ahead of final publication in April 2007.

But the Asia group did not. "I pointed it out," he said of the implausible prediction on the glaciers.

"For a reason I do not know, they did not react."

But blame did not rest with the regional scientists alone, Kaser added.

"I went back through the comments afterward, and not a single glaciologist had any interest in looking into Working Group II," he said.

And there is more:

The IPCC's Fifth Assessment, scheduled for release in 2013, will probably be adjusted to avoid such problems, said Kaser.

"All the responsible people are aware of this weakness in the Fourth Assessment. All are aware of the mistakes made," he said.

"If it had not been the focus of so much public opinion, we would have said 'we will do better next time.' It is clear now that Working Group II has to be restructured," he said.

The implications of Kaser's comments are not good for the IPCC, however that they are interpreted.

Given Rajendra Pachauri's vigorous defense of the claims made by the IPCC about Himalayan glacier melt, Dr. Kaser's comment that -- "All the responsible people are aware of this weakness in the Fourth Assessment. All are aware of the mistakes made" -- raises an eyebrow. It must be the case that Dr. Pachauri either knew of the error or he did not. Neither state of affairs is good for the IPCC.

Consider a further implication: If indeed "all the responsible people are aware" of the mistakes in the IPCC, then what in the world explains their complete silence over the past few years while headlines like the following were being announced to the world?

Think about this statement:
"If it had not been the focus of so much public opinion, we would have said 'we will do better next time.'"
Is it really the case that IPCC scientists would have continued to sit on a known error with important policy implications in complete silence until their hand was forced by the focus of public opinion? Really?!

I wonder what other known errors are being sat on?


Malcolm said...

Since the whole is dependent on the assemblage these IPCC reports represent nothing more than "voodoo science".

As the assemblage is a production of a political narrative involving a bureaucratic process it is bound to have factual errors, explicit and unintential.

The peoples of this world have been delibrately misled about their human guilt, their responsibility to the environment, and how they should react to climate change

How does everyone feel about that?

Stan said...


How is this possible? I've been told that every scientific fact in IPCC assessments comes from peer reviewed studies (and peer review means it's been checked very carefully). And then the IPCC process means the best scientists in the world review all the science and check it again. And then 2500 scientists all agree!

How could 2500 scientists all be wrong? ;)

PaulM said...

Roger, we ought to be calling for the AR4 WGII reviewer comments and second and first drafts to be made publicly available.

Then we can see whether the error was in the first and second drafts and whether any reviewers spotted it, or whether it was inserted into the final version post-review.

Recall that WG1 reviewer comments are online, now at
following a campaign by Steve Mc.
But this was not done for WGII.

Phillip said...

The real travesty is not Pachauri, but on the MSM in not finding out these things on their own. At one time they were relevant. Now they are just the PR wing for whatever cause they champion.

Vinny Burgoo said...

PaulM, they are available. See:


I read the relevant WG2 Chapter 10 comments very early this morning in the hope of curing a bout of insomnia but, alas, they were too entertaining - and a little bit shocking. They certainly support Kaser's charge of amateurism.

Malcolm said...

Lets not forget that the figure 2035 became a climate fact on settled science ground.

It is because of that process that it is important to realise that scientists, climate activists, politicians and environmental journalists argued for the whole of the IPCC report - not bits of it.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...


Thanks, that website seems to be down.

pfoote40 said...

Stan wrote: "peer review means it's been checked very carefully"

Sorry Stan, it doesn't mean that at all. And when it comes to so-called "climate science", peer review has no meaning at all. And if you think I am simply being overly negative. I suggest you do a bit of research to learn just how dysfunctional "climate science" peer review truly is.

PaulM said...

Thanks Vinny, my comment may not have been accurate!

As Roger says, the whole WG2 site seems to be down at the moment. Probably because they are re-writing the WG2 report :)

jae said...

pfoote: you evidently don't get stan's sense of humor.

Remember folks, it's the INTERGOVERNMENTAL Panel, not a scientific organization, at all. If there is one thing governments are good at, it's deception (which is often called "spinning").

Luke Lea said...

re: comment 5, Here is a cached version of the reviews:

Luke Lea said...

Oops, sorry, those links don't go all the way through. Forget comment.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-12-Luke Lea

Please email me the comments, I'd love to see them, Thanks!

manicbeancounter said...

Kaser says of AR4 “Its conclusions -- that climate change is "unequivocal" and poses a major threat -- remain beyond reproach”
Of the Himalayan Glaciers, AR4 says the likelihood of the glaciers melting is very high. In AR4 language, the probability is greater than 90%, the same probability attached to the central forecast of 20th century warming is mostly due to anthropogenic factors, and the forecast prediction for 21st century warming. It shows there was no basis made for the claim, despite statements that about the report having been rigorously checked. For the main conclusions remain beyond reproach, there are two possibilities. Firstly, there were different standards set for the central conclusions as for the peripheral impacts. Second, this was an isolated slip, or solely confined to a small section of the report. But for either case to hold, needs to be determined. This can only be established by a thorough and independent audit to determine the extent of the problem. Until such time as this takes place, the central conclusions cannot be viewed as scientifically sound.

PaulM said...

The WG2 site is now up again so here are the answers to my questions.

The 2035 statement was in the first and second drafts of chapter 10 of WG2. The original version was slightly worse in that there was no reference and it said
"Its total area will shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km^2 by the year 2035."

In the first round of comments none of the expert reviewers spotted this obvious error (it is obvious because the following page talks of glaciers 5 or 30km long melting at 20m per year - do the math!)

In the second round of comments someone queried the statement about disappearing by 2035 being alongside the statement about reducing to 100,000 km^2. Also the lack of references was pointed out.

In the government comments, Japan picked out this sentence as important and asked what the confidence level was. They also queried the lack of references for the sentence about glacier melt being due to AGW.

The response was 'Appropriate revisions and editing made'. The revision seems to consist of putting in the WWF reference and inserting 'likely' after 'will'.

Perhaps an expanded version of this would make an interesting blog posting Roger, as you have done for chapter 1?

John said...

There is a review of the Himalayan Glacier changes at The evidence for global warming: the Himalayas. This traces the 2035 claim to a stray comment in New Scientist.

If you look at the temperature record for the past 400,000 years it would be strange if we did not experience the odd period of warming (CO2 driven or not). See Review of evidence for global warming.

The crucial, new factor is that we now have so many people that if the climate changes in a continent or part of a continent hundreds of millions of people are at risk. See Is climate change a threat because of overpopulation?.

What to do? Reduce the population or try to geo-engineer and legislate for a stable climate? What is the sane choice?

hierge said...

The IPCC crowd are so cynical that they felt as though they could publish anything in their reports and people would worship it as gospel. I'm surprised they didn't go further and say that all snow and ice would disappear on the planet by 2100. With lumenaries such as Steven Speilburg cementing in climate change in movies such as A.I. with NYC being completely frozen under water, who's checking any facts at all? They all just riff off of one another each with more fanciful tales to tell. Each more outlandish than the last. It's all good schoolyard fun when you are getting paid and people are toasting you at faculty parties. It's all good fun when you are flirting with your grad students whose only academic credentials are measured with tape. When you wake up in the morning with bloodshot eyes and greying hair, you grudgingly put on your prosthetic lies and limp out onto the classroom floor. If people only knew the truth and how hollow you were on the inside...

turboblocke said...

What is odd about the comments is that there is nothing from Kaser in them. Yet above it says, that he pointed out the error to various people.

Patagon said...

Kaser claims seems a bit odd in the light of some of his emails from the CRUGate.

On email 1123708417.txt

in response to Kevin Trenberth on Wed Aug 10 17:13:37 2005

he says (line 129):

"Georg Kaser wrote:

Have many thanks for compiling and editing 3.9. I agree that the "radiatively forced"
and the "amplified hydrological cycle" should be removed and I also


There are some other points in the text which I would like to comment:


3. "If continued, some may disappear within the next 30 years." This sentence can stand
for every mountain region in the world and should not be used for tropical mountains
only. Everywhere, many small glaciers have disappeared since the 19th Century maxima and
many will disappear soon in the Alps, the Caucasus, in the Asian High mountains etc. as
well as in the Tropics.


So then it was "" "If continued, some may disappear within the next 30 years." This sentence can stand
for every mountain region in the world ""

but now it happens that "it is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing" ....

a bit of a contradiction, isn't it?

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