In its 2007 report, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said: “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.”

If this is true, three quarters of a billion people in Asia who depend on glacier melt for water supplies would suffer severe water shortages witin a generation.

In fact, the average thickness of the Himalayan glaciers is about 300 metres. The average rate of melting is between 0.6 and 0.9 metres a year. The notion that the rate of melting could increase to an average of about 12 metres per year is unrealistic.

Drang Drung Glacier (Creative Commons via Wikimedia)
Drang Drung Glacier
(Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

According to the Sunday Times, the IPCC got the 2035 date from a World Wildlife Fund report which cited an article which appeared in the New Scientist in 1999. The World Wildlife Fund says that its article was a “campaigning report” rather than an academic paper and was not subjected to formal scientific review.

The New Scientist, which is a science news magazine and not a peer reviewed journal, obtained the figure in a short interview with Syed Hasnain, an Indian scientist then at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, who said that the figure would be in a report to be published in Britain. When the report was published, it did not contain the date and referred only to a limited area of the Hiimalayas.

J Graham Cogley, a professor at Ontario Trent University, says he believes the date may have originated from a misreading of an earlier report published in 1996 by a leading hydrologist, VM Kotlyakov. This paper predicted massive melting of the glaciers by 2350 – not 2035.

While there is no doubt that the Himalayan glaciers are receding at an alarming rate, bu as Michael Zemp from the World Glacier Monitoring Service comments that “From a present state of knowledge it is not plausible that Himalayan glaciers are disappearing completely within the next few decades. I do not know of any scientific study that does support a complete vanishing of glaciers in the Himalayas within this century.”

(Based on sources including the Sunday Times, New Scientist and BBC)