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The Dynamic Behavior of India's Chhota Shigri Glacier
Volume 15, Number 37: 12 September 2012

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Glaciology, Azam et al. (2012) introduce their newest study of one of India's western Himalayan glaciers by reminding us of the controversial statement of Solomon et al. (2007), who wrote that the likelihood of those glaciers "disappearing by the year 2035 or perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate," which opinion was expressed by that group of nine editors in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report.

In response to this climate-alarmist contention, Azam et al. direct us to the brief note of Cogley et al. (2010), who describe how this misinformation came to be trumpeted to the world; and they additionally affirm that "the effect of global warming in the Himalaya is still under debate," citing Yadav et al. (2004) and Roy and Balling (2005)." What is more, they go on to show us the real-world science-side of why.

The eleven researchers (six from India and five from France) begin by describing the history of mass balance and surface ice flow velocity measurements that were made between 2002 and 2010 on the Chhota Shigri glacier (32.2°N, 77.5°E) in the Chandra-Bhaga river basin of Lahaul and Spiti valley in the Pir Panjal range of the western Himalaya, as well as how they compared those data with similar data collected back in 1987-89. So what did they find?

"Given the limited velocity change between 1987-89 and 2003/04 and the small terminus change between 1988 and 2010," in the words of Azam et al., the eleven scientists were led to suggest that "the glacier has experienced a period of near-zero or slightly positive mass balance in the 1990s," before "starting to shrink at the beginning of the 21st century." And they make a point of noting that "this result challenges the generally accepted idea that glaciers in the Western Himalaya have been shrinking rapidly for the last few decades," as erroneously implied by Solomon et al. in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report.

In concluding their paper, the French and Indian research team writes that "as Chhota Shigri seems to be representative of other glaciers in the Pir Panjal range (Berthier et al., 2007), it is possible that many Western Himalayan glaciers of northern India experienced growth during the last 10-12 years of the 20th century." And so it is that basic real-world science slowly but surely progresses, as glaciers themselves often do, unraveling the twisted tales told by individuals - both sincere and not-so-sincere - before sufficient observational data are in hand and the only other source of climatic forecasting is that predicated upon computer-based climate modeling and/or mere speculation.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Azam, M.F., Wagnon, P., Ramanathan, A., Vincent, C., Sharma, P., Arnaud, Y., Linda, A., Pottakkal, J.G., Chevallier, P., Singh, V.B. and Berthier, E. 2012. From balance to imbalance: a shift in the dynamic behavior of Chhota Shigri glacier, western Himalaya, India. Journal of Glaciology 58: 315-324.

Berthier, E., Arnaud, Y., Kumar, R., Ahmad, S., Wagnon, P. and Chevallier, P. 2007. Remote sensing estimates of glacier mass balances in the Himachal Pradesh (Western Himalaya, India). Remote Sensing of Environment 108: 327-338.

Cogley, J.G., Kargel, J.S., Kaser, G. and Van der Veen, C.J. 2010. Tracking the source of glacier misinformation. Science 327: 522.

Roy, S.S. and Balling Jr., R.C. 2005. Analysis of trends in maximum and minimum temperature, diurnal temperature range, and cloud cover over India. Geophysical Research Letters 32: 10.1029/2004GL022201.

Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B., Tignor, M. and Miller, H.L. (Eds.). 2007. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and New York, New York, USA.

Yadav, R.R., Park, W.-K., Singh, J. and Dubey, G. 2004. Do the western Himalayas defy global warming. Geophysical Research Letters 31: 10.1029/2004GL020201.