Opinion Glacier and climate boffins have issued a stinging poohpooh to recent alarmist pronouncements on climate-change-driven glacier melt - in particular from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“In the last few years numbers have been named that do not pass a closer examination,“ says glaciologist and climatologist Georg Kaser of Innsbruck uni. “It is an exaggeration when it is claimed that the melting of glaciers endangers the water supply of two billion people.”
Famously the IPCC, the world body coordinating the human race's response to climate change, chose in 2007 to state that major glaciers in the Himalayas would disappear by the year 2035. This would lead to mighty river systems such as the Ganges, Indus, Changjiang etc becoming "seasonal" - so spelling doom for many inhabitants of the densely populated North Indian plains and other areas.
This was, however, completely without basis. It had originated as an off-the-cuff remark by an Indian scientist who later disowned the estimate, reported by well-known warmo journo Fred Pearce of New Scientist and then retailed to the IPCC in a pamphlet from hard-green campaigning organisation WWF, which wields an almost unbelievable amount of influence over the IPCC.
Kaser and his colleagues have now done a proper academic study on just how glacier melt contributes to the water supplies of different populations around the world, and what the impacts might actually be in the coming decades. They suggest that the IPCC might like to consider using their research as a basis for the next international report, rather than bogus WWF propaganda.
“With regard to the next report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), our data can be seen as the basis for regionally more precise estimations and they show that the impact of the expected climate change may be higher in some regions than in others,” says Kaser, chief of Innsbruck's Tropical Glaciology Group.
In essence, the Innsbruck boffins' study says that the only people who need worry about glacier effects on their water supply are small populations who live high up in the mountains. The teeming billions of the Asian river basins will not be affected.
The scientists' article Contribution potential of glaciers to water availability in different climate regimes is published (free as of press time) in the Proceedings of the [US] National Academy of Sciences. They write:
We find that the seasonally delayed glacier contribution is largest where rivers enter seasonally arid regions and negligible in the lowlands of river basins governed by monsoon climates. By comparing monthly glacier melt contributions with population densities in different altitude bands within each river basin, we demonstrate that strong human dependence on glacier melt is not collocated with highest population densities in most basins.
“By all means, the expected climatic development may have detrimental effects for smaller high-mountain communities," comments Kaser.
But the spectre of imminent thirst and/or starvation for billions by 2035 from melting glaciers would appear to have been confirmed as scaremongering. ®