India ‘arrogant’ to deny global warming link to melting glaciers?

Says the Grauniad. Their not-very-useful article is about a Discussion Paper (as it calls itself) of Himalayan Glaciers, A State-of-Art Review of Glacial Studies, Glacial Retreat and Climate Change by V.K.Raina, Ex. Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India.

The Telegraph of India has an opinion. No idea if it is at all representative. Maribo has a lot of sense about the report; go read that and come back here if you need any more.

Back? OK then.

0) For the science, they say (I presume correctly) All the glaciers under observation, during the last three decades of 20th century have shown cumulative negative mass balance and although there is a lot more text in the report, there isn’t really any more than that to interest the wide world outside the glacio community. Or another quote, if you like: Glaciers in the Himalayas, barring a few exceptions, here and there, have been reported to be in constant retreat, since when the observations started in midnineteenth century. There are no two views about it. It is an established fact. You could compare this the the std.IPCC view: Whereas glaciers in the Asian high mountains have generally shrunk at varying rates (Su and Shi, 2002; Ren et al., 2004; Solomina et al., 2004; Dyurgerov and Meier, 2005), several high glaciers in the central Karakoram are reported to have advanced and/or thickened at their tongues (Hewitt, 2005), probably due to enhanced precipitation.

1) Having skimmed the thing, it has the look of a whole pile of studies just thrown together without much attempt at synthesis.

2) The exec summary begins Almost a century ago, fears began to be expressed about the possible impact of the rise in atmospheric temperature on mountain glaciers. The fears led to the initiation of concerted scientifi c efforts to identify and examine the fl uctuations along the front-snout of glaciers. It was believed that such studies, over the next century or so, would enable scientists to establish the relationship between the climate change and the glacier fluctuations. That seems wrong to me, and contradicts what I thought I knew of the timeline of climate change concern.

3) The constant emphasis on the “glacier-snout” stuff reads oddly to me; I suspect this is a reflection of battles fought in the glacio community in the 50’s and being re-hashed here to an uncomprehending audience.

4) It is all observations. Observations are very nice – indeed, essential – but unless synthesised by some kind of theory they are hard to make sense of. Hence the rather plaintive text in the final “review” chapter 8 While one may not doubt the fact that the climate, by and large, does appear to be getting warmer; what, however, does tax the mind is the attempted linkage of the glacier retreat in the Himalayas to the global warming. This chap has, as it says in the intro, made epic efforts, which involved several long expeditions to remote glaciers, in trying circumstances and with limited resources, and he knows a lot about Indian glaciers, but unfortunately he hasn’t studied climate change so really he has nothing to say on the subject that everyone is keen to hear about.

5) The Grauniad reports that Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, released the controversial report in Delhi, saying it would “challenge the conventional wisdom… “My concern is that this comes from western scientists … it is high time India makes an investment in understanding what is happening in the Himalayan ecosystem,” so this may be just yet more tedious nationalism; “western” science isn’t good enough, Indian glaciers must be studied with “Indian” science (you have to read the book for the link).

6) Perhaps following on for that, as an afterthought, I notice that the report is remarkably insular. It doesn’t mention IPCC even once, which is odd for a “state of the art” review (probably they were a bit pissed off with IPCC for having such a short section on Indian glaciers; the quote I gave above is just about it). The list of papers at the back looks very “Indian”, too: westerners only get a brief look-in in the early days (what happened to the likes of “Walker, H. and Pascoe, Sir, E.H. (1907): Notes on certain glaciers in Lahaul”?).

And just like that, without even a hint of a conclusion, the post was over.

[Update: oh no it wasn’t. But late to the party, and with nothing new to say, Nurture appear to have decided to waste their readers time by telling them about it. Odd]

14 thoughts on “India ‘arrogant’ to deny global warming link to melting glaciers?”

  1. I suppose I should continute the regress with a useless comment about Carmen S’s useless comment.

    [I deleted it as worthless, so you can’t 🙂 -W]

    But I find it interesting – living in the US, I had assumed that India would be very interested in what “Western” science suggests about its future climate, without all the political resistance that we have here. Worth keeping an eye on this sort of “report.”


  2. This false dichotomy between “western science” and “Indian science” reminds me of Ex-President Thabo Mbeki’s disastrous policies on HIV and AIDS in South Africa.

    HIV denialism in South Africa stemmed largely from a reaction to the left over baggage of colonialism and apartheid in the country. Mbeki was deeply distrustful of “western science” and called for “African solutions to African problems”.

    Good science is good science and bad science is bad science no matter where it is done and by whom.


  3. Irrespective of “Indian science” or “Western Science” the fact remains that the IPCC report is not as inclusive as it claims to be its citations either, has anybody labeled them as “exclusionist” ? The Indians have every right to study the problem themselves and come to a conclusion themselves with science. Can anybody here prove that this “discussion paper” uses bogus science ?
    Apparently, the snide skepticism about a third world country seeking the temerity to question the IPCC report doesn’t inspire confidence from any side of the discussion! Scientific “studies” in the West also describe India to be a state where 40% of the populace is below the poverty line or 20% of the populace has AIDS etc, yet anybody who has been to India knows this to be patently untrue! Such articles and “theories” about what India is, can and cannot do have long been the staple of “Western scientists” who have never actually been to India and studied the work of Indian scientists who have been doing the same work for decades! It’s no wonder then that UN reports and studies “cooked up” in Europe dont find much favor in either the civil or scientific community in India. The platitude that “good science is good science irrespective of whom it is done by or where” is nice to hear and nice to say but in reality, the who and the where are just as important to the “good scientists” as to the “bad scientists”. The reaction of to the “so-called” discussion paper by an Indian scientist in the blog-sphere is evidence of this “undiscriminating” scientific practice!

    So what, if the paper cites Indian papers only ? Is quoting the IPCCs report a standard indicator of “state-of-the-art” climate science, especially if the paper is written by somebody who isn’t a climate scientist ? It is, as it describes itself- a discussion paper. It’s function is neither to draw conclusions nor to present a cogent theory, as anybody in the scientific field knows. It is merely published to present facts and observations that question the status quo.



    The Ministry of Environment and Forests has recently released a discussion paper reviewing glacial studies and glacial retreat in India. Minister Jairam Ramesh has a clear caveat in the report that the views so expressed are not endorsed by the Union of India, and that it is only mean to ‘stimulate discussion’. Interestingly, India does not have a position on glacier retreat in the Himalayas.

    Prepared ex deputy chairman of the Geological Survey of India V.K. Raina, the paper provides a summary of the literature on glacier studies so far, but its main claim to fame is that it challenges internationally accepted views that the Himalayan glaciers are receding due to climate change. It says there is little evidence for the same, and that ‘none of the glaciers under monitoring are recoding abnormal retreat’.

    Data from a large proportion of the studies considered in this report indicate that glacier mass balance – a measure of the difference between melting and sublimation – is negative, and that most monitored glaciers have retreated since the earliest records. Nevertheless (and despite credible evidence from around the world and closer home – China, Nepal, Bhutan), concluding remarks suggest ‘glaciers in the Himalayas, although shrinking in volume and constantly showing a retreating front, have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat…’.

    Of note also, is the fact that ‘recent years’ implies 2007-2009 – a period of time that is clearly far too short to come to such sweeping conclusions, particularly on climate-related studies.

    While the report suggests that the Sonapani glacier has retreated 500 m in the last century, the Kangriz glacier has ‘practically not retreated even an inch’. These statements however, are not backed by studies, neither does the ‘even an inch’ give an indication of the exact measure. In direct contrast, photographs of these glaciers in the report clearly show significant retreat – but it might be that photographs are not sufficient evidence.

    The report also suggests that while glaciers are climate indicators, they need not respond to ‘immediate climatic changes’ for if that were the case, all glaciers in the region would retreat ‘equally’. Nevertheless, elsewhere in the report, an uneven retreat pattern across nearby glaciers has been justified on the grounds of local variations.

    The report omits references to key scientific literature including GSI survey and studies including Vohra (1981) on Satluj River Basin glaciers, Shukla and Siddiqui (1999) on Milam glacier, all indicating significant retreat, and other scientific including the WWF (2005) report and the ICIMOD (2007) satellite-based studies and reviews on Himalayan glaciers across India, Nepal and China. It ignores known fact that small glaciers in the Bhutan (not so far away, as one may well see), have disappeared completely.

    Glacier changes are recognized as high-confident climate indicators, and even considered as evidence for climate change by the IPCC. Reports from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) indicate that measurements taken over the last century ‘clearly reveal a general shrinkage of mountain glaciers on a global scale’ (WGMS report). Despite this, this report suggests that ‘to postulate that a glacier can warn of climate changes likely to take place in the future is a big question mark’. In that case, even the IPCC might be wrong in assuming that rapid glacier retreat (even in the Himalayas) is a confident indicator of climate change!

    The report awaits ‘many centuries’ of data to conclude that glacier snout movements are a result of ‘periodic climate variation’ or to make a statement that glaciers in the Himalayas are ‘retreating abnormally because of global warming’.


  5. W,

    I find it curious that you should castigate the Indians for denying the Himalayan glacier retreat is a threat, when you seem to regard the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in an equally phlegmatic way.

    [You haven’t read what I’ve written. I’ve “castigated” them, if you want to use that word, for producing a report that clearly isn’t able to sustain the conclusions that have been placed on it, and for failing to reference stuff they certainly should have -W]


  6. Simon Donner at Maribo, has a useful comment, which boils down to RTFR.

    OTOH the humor in “The report awaits ‘many centuries’ of data” can be found in the best estimates for when the glaciers disappear, like in thirty years or so.


  7. Now it seems very easy for denialists to say “that’s not proof” with any empirical science. Maybe a reminder of the difference between formal and abstract logic and empirical sciences would be useful here.


  8. Thanks for that, Kaavya. I’ve bookmarked your blog. A question for you: Are there any studies projecting hydrological impacts in the affected watersheds? If not, are you aware of any plans for such?

    Re Raina, it turns out he telegraphed this study a few years ago. The original article seems to have aged out, but I found this from Morano on Inhofe’s Senate blog:

    ‘VK Raina, India’s leading Glaciologist, questioned the assertion that global warming was melting glaciers in India. “Claims of global warming causing glacial melt in the Himalayas are based on wrong assumptions,” Raina told the Hindustan Times on February 11, 2007. The paper continued, “Raina told the Hindustan Times that out of 9,575 glaciers in India, till date, research has been conducted only on about 50. Nearly 200 years data has shown that nothing abnormal has occurred in any of these glaciers. It is simple. The issue of glacial retreat is being sensationalized by a few individuals, the septuagenarian Raina claimed. Throwing a gauntlet to the alarmist, he said the issue should be debated threadbare before drawing a conclusion.’

    Sounds like Bill Gray disease to me.


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