Glaciergate post script – they’ll shrink anyway

Target glacier near Rinchen Zoe La, Bhutan. Base camp is located on the moraines in the foreground.

From Brigham Young University and the “IPCC, take your 2035 and shove it” department comes this study:

Himalayan glaciers will shrink even if temperatures hold steady

Come rain or shine, or even snow, some glaciers of the Himalayas will continue shrinking for many years to come.

The forecast by Brigham Young University geology professor Summer Rupper comes after her research on Bhutan, a region in the bull’s-eye of the monsoonal Himalayas. Published in Geophysical Research Letters,Rupper’s most conservative findings indicate that even if climate remained steady, almost 10 percent of Bhutan’s glaciers would vanish within the next few decades.

What’s more, the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could drop by 30 percent.

Rupper says increasing temperatures are just one culprit behind glacier retreat. A number of climate factors such as wind, humidity, precipitation and evaporation can affect how glaciers behave. With some Bhutanese glaciers as long as 13 miles, an imbalance in any of these areas can take them decades to completely respond.

“These particular glaciers have seen so much warming in the past few decades that they’re currently playing lots of catch up,” Rupper explains.

In fact, snowfall rates in Bhutan would need to almost double to avoid glacier retreat, but it’s not a likely scenario because warmer temperatures lead to rainfall instead of snow. If glaciers continue to lose more water than they gain, the combination of more rain and more glacial melt will increase the probability of flooding — which can be devastating to neighboring villages.

“Much of the world’s population is just downstream of the Himalayas,” Rupper points out. “A lot of culture and history could be lost, not just for Bhutan but for neighboring nations facing the same risks.”

To illustrate the likelihood of such an outcome, Rupper took her research one moderate step further. Her results show if temperatures were to rise just 1 degree Celsius, the Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25 percent and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65 percent. With climate continuing to warm, such a prediction is not altogether unlikely, especially given the years it can take for glaciers to react to change.

To make more precise predictions for Bhutan, Rupper and BYU graduate students Landon Burgener and Josh Maurer joined researchers from Columbia University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, NASA and Bhutan’s Department of Hydro-Meteorological Services. Together, they trekked through rainforests and barren cliffs to reach some of the world’s most remote blocks of ice. There they placed a weather station and glacier monitoring equipment that can be used to gather real-time data in the months and years to follow.

“It took seven days just to get to the target glacier,” Rupper recounts, having returned in October. “For our pack animals, horsemen and guides, that terrain and elevation are a way of life, but I’ll admit the westerners in the group were a bit slower-moving.”

Rupper’s forecasts and fieldwork are among the first to look at glaciers in Bhutan, and the government hopes to use her research to make long-term decisions about the nation’s water resources and flooding hazards.

“They could potentially have a better idea of where best to fortify homes or build new power plants,” Rupper says. “Hopefully, good science can lead to good engineering solutions for the changes we’re likely to witness in the coming decades.”

About these ads
This entry was posted in Glaciers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Glaciergate post script – they’ll shrink anyway

  1. H.R. says:

    No snow, no glacier. Up in those mountains, it’s plenty cold enough to snow. I’d think moisture patterns would have the biggest effect on snowfall, not temperature. But still, it’s worse than we thought, whatever happens.

  2. Kurt in Switzerland says:

    Sounds like fun field work. Bound to get her annual research trips to Bhutan for a decade or so, provided the prognosis is drastic enough…

    Kurt in Switzerland

  3. Tom O says:

    Did I misunderstand this, or does she imply that shrinking glaciers will cause a drop off in melt water? Do they shrink by subliming as opposed to melting?

  4. \\Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25 percent and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65 percent//

    As superficial as this story is, there is a lot less here than meets the eye. The annual melt water increases as glaciers shrink. Elsewhere the story talks of flooding as the glaciers shrink from increased rain/snow.

    The point about a time-lag between changes in temperature, snow-fall rates and glacier growth is solid.

    That point, however, got lost in the PR recasting of the speculative underpinning a research project to fund a Himalayian adventure to plant a weather station or two with no fewer than five organizations on the trek. How many GRL authors does it take to screw in a weather station?

  5. Dave says:

    Summer Rupper – must be conclusive.

  6. Jimbo says:

    What’s more, the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could drop by 30 percent.

    Check.

    If glaciers continue to lose more water than they gain, the combination of more rain and more glacial melt will increase the probability of flooding — which can be devastating to neighboring villages.

    What???
    OK just kidding, I know these are the experts and I’m no glaciologist.

    What I find peculiar about the Himalayan glaciers and all this future rain is:

    Himalayan ice is stable, but Asia faces drought
    And although the glaciers are safe for now, the study warns of drought to come: the five rivers will be able to water crops for almost 60 million fewer mouths by 2050.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19029-himalayan-ice-is-stable-but-asia-faces-drought.html

    Phew, it’s a good thing the hottest decade on the record has, so far at least, kept it stable or is that unstable? I’m getting a headache. :(

  7. jgmccabe says:

    “Summer Rupper”? This is a joke isn’t it? If not, at least her parents had a sense of humour!

  8. geronimo says:

    “The northern region of the country consists of an arc of Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows reaching up to glaciated mountain peaks with an extremely cold climate at the highest elevations. Most peaks in the north are over 7,000 m (23,000 ft) above sea level; the highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.”

    Wikipedia.

    Now what I’m struggling to understand is that these mountains are very high, let’s assume that the lapse rate is 2C/1000 feet, and that the temperature on the ground in the Summer is 20C in the Himalayas, and the glaciers are at 12,000 feet, and above then the temperature of the glaciers at 12000 feet will be -4C, below freezing. So why are they retreating? The only reason they can be retreating is lack of snow if my, rather crude, outline of the geopgraphy is correct. But if we are in a warming world then the physics tells us that there will be more water vapour in the atmosphere, which inevitaby should lead to increased precipitiation, which should come as snow at around 10,000 ft and above for all mountains across the globe. Or have I got it wrong? If there’s anyone out there who can set me straight I’d appreciate it.

  9. john robertson says:

    Well some prediction, based on what?The sensors have just been installed but Rupper predicts, if temps stay steady, ice will melt. Based on first field work to look at Bhutan Glaciers. And if temperatures fall? If wind cycles behave normally and adjust to ocean cycles? If these glaciers have been retreating since the little ice age then yes melting might continue, but as there is no previous field work, how would we know? All this press release lacks is invocation of computer models and it will be perfect IPCC tabloid journalism.
    Since reading the CRU emails this is my default reaction to any climatology, trust once lost is gone. Curious that the clergy was advising BBC on how to present this religion, professional courtesy or jealous sabotage? Inquiring minds might wonder? On second read a wiff of models is present in the , if temps rise 1 degree. Call me cynical, but as geologists are a profession most likely to mock CAWG and its pseudo evidence, maybe the proggs have launched a recruitment program amongst the junior ranks .
    Post modern science is , know answer- find data to suit.

  10. mkelly says:

    “If glaciers continue to lose more water than they gain, the combination of more rain and more glacial melt will increase the probability of flooding…”

    “Her results show if temperatures were to rise just 1 degree Celsius, the Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25 percent and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65 percent.”

    I am having trouble squaring these two statements. Flooding or less water which is it?

  11. Jimbo says:

    The abstract says:

    Under the conservative scenario of an additional 1°C regional warming, glacier retreat is going to continue until about 25% of Bhutan’s glacierized area will have disappeared and the annual meltwater flux, after an initial spike, would drop by as much as 65%.

    Is that warming caused by co2 or soot? I only wonder because Bhutan is 8,000 feet above sea level and I see these two papers mention atmospheric warming due to aerosols and soot ice placebo effects.

    Enhanced surface warming and accelerated snow melt in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau induced by absorbing aerosols
    http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/2/025204

    Estimated impact of black carbon deposition during pre-monsoon season from Nepal Climate Observatory – Pyramid data and snow albedo changes over Himalayan glaciers
    http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/insu-00554381/

  12. StigerDen says:

    I found the last paragraph to be very encouraging, No daft ideas on how to eliminate the glacial melt but instead a hope for Scientists & Engineers to aid Bhutan’s population in adapting to their situation… A step in the right direction perhaps?

  13. Alan the Brit says:

    In for a penny, Bhutan, that’s the place where last year “scientists” discovered a breeding pair of tigers above the altitude line where they said they couldn’t survive! When it was discovered via remote camera, not one ruddy scientists came on terrestrial tv to say, “sorry folks, we got it wrong!” Just wouldn’t do you know, would it, to apologise for getting expert jusdgement wrong I mean, what would people think?

  14. Kaboom says:

    Glaciers are the result of a wrestling match between winter precipitation and summer temperatures. The latter doesn’t have to be higher if the former is lower to get shrinkage.

  15. Robert M says:

    “These particular glaciers have seen so much warming in the past few decades that they’re currently playing lots of catch up,”

    Except that there has been no warming for 16 years…

    “Snowfall rates in Bhutan would need to almost double to avoid glacier retreat, but it’s not a likely scenario because warmer temperatures lead to rainfall instead of snow.

    Well, that really depends on whether the temperature is actually above freezing now, doesn’t it.

    This “What’s more, the amount of melt water coming off these glaciers could drop by 30 percent.” + this “the combination of more rain and more glacial melt will increase the probability of flooding” = She’s right no matter what happens. Convenient no?

    Her results show, that if something that is not going to happen, happens, things could get ugly… So send more money.

  16. David Larsen says:

    Like I said before, the Wisconsionian glacier shrunk from Racine/Kenosha county (yes, that ’70’s Show) back to above the arctic circle. OMG, what melted that last major glacier in the western hemisphere? Not mastedon flatulence. Not coal plants. Not humans. The sun. Duh.

  17. Monty says:

    Even at high altitudes glaciers will ablate during the summer, and if it’s dry enough a proportion of this will be by sublimation. With warming then the glaciers will retreat.

  18. Bill Illis says:

    Bhutan is the same latitude as Florida.

  19. Tom Davidson says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t there been a net shrinkage of the Himalayan glaciers that goes back – oh – about 11,000 years to the Upper Dryas? It will continue until it enters a phase of net growth, or until all the glaciers are gone like the Appalachian glaciers.

  20. CodeTech says:

    Logic fail…

    And it still reminds me of the situation here in Calgary – the river we get our water from is fed by glaciers. Some years ago we were told that we should use less water to conserve the glaciers. The only way this could possibly make sense is if our municipal water supply was somehow directly melting the glaciers to obtain water.

    And seriously… “A lot of culture and history could be lost”…? Washed away by the meltwater floods? Or abandoned due to water shortage? People could at least be consistent in their panic mongering…

  21. Bruce Cobb says:

    A lot of speculation and, with the exception of the glacier monitoring station, not much science. She just assumes the warming which has leveled off will re-commence at some point. What if it cools, though? Then, the meltwater rates would drop as well. Would they really prefer glaciers to grow?

  22. So why are they retreating?

    The South Asian brown cloud gets pulled northward over the Himalayas by the Monsoon and black carbon gets precipitated out as snow (brown snow if you like). Lower albedo than normal snow that not only melts faster, but leaves a black carbon layer on the surface of older snow/ice and melts that.

    Glaciers in Bhutan are south facing, with high levels of solar insolation. So they are particularly susceptible to black carbon,decreased albedo melting.

    Across the Himalayas, glaciers that don’t get their precipitation from the Monsoon and are north facing are mostly stable with many advancing.

    http://www.ualberta.ca/~eec/Scherler_2011_Nature_Geoscience.pdf

  23. Bruce Cobb says:

    “Come rain or shine, or even snow, some glaciers of the Himalayas will continue shrinking for many years to come.”
    Perhaps. Meanwhile, those in the western corner, some 230 in all, have been holding steady, or growing the past few decades. Other glaciers world-wide are also growing, including in Alaska, California, Norway, France, Switzerland, New Zealand and Russia.
    Alarmists never like to mention those.

  24. Mike Jonas says:

    With climate continuing to warm.

    Might have been a good idea to check, before writing that.

  25. Billy Liar says:

    News just in – all the glaciers in Scotland have disappeared. There appears to be enough run-off for continued habitation in the Scottish mountains.

    Summer Rupper obviously has cruel parents; maybe Blackadder was her father.

    A lot of culture and history could be lost

    It would appear that a lot of graduates these days are confused as to whether they are scientists, searching for knowledge which other people can apply, or activists seeking to become involved in saving the planet, its cultures and species frozen in some kind of 21st century time warp.

  26. Chuck Nolan says:

    jgmccabe says:
    November 16, 2012 at 7:58 am
    “Summer Rupper”? This is a joke isn’t it? If not, at least her parents had a sense of humour!
    ——————–
    No! It’s no joke.
    Haven’t you read of her brother Fixer?
    cn

  27. Seb says:

    It was only a few weeks ago that we were told warmer seas would cause the fish to become smaller.

    Yesterday BBC radio 4. “Saving Species” did a report from Florida about the endangered Goliath Grouper, whose problem is that recent cold winter water temperatures have been killing them off. They described the Goliath Grouper as a large wardrobe with fins

    So not only do we have cooler waters in the Gulf we have Goliath sized fish that need warmer waters.

    The reporter did not persue this apparent contradiction to the recent report. Funny that.

  28. Gail Combs says:

    geronimo says: @ November 16, 2012 at 8:01 am

    This is what Indian scientists say

    Changes in the Pattern of Distribution of Southwest Monsoon Rainfall Over India Associated With Sunspots
    P. JAGANNATHAN and H. N. BHALME
    Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Poona 5, India

    ABSTRACT
    Despite the systematic nature of the monsoon rains over India, large year-to-year variations in the pattern of distribution of rainfall during the season occur. The yearly pattern of rainfall distribution during the monsoon season (May 31–October 2) for each of the years 1901–51 for a network of 105 stations over India is characterized by a set of six distribution parameters. A brief description of the spatial distribution of the different patterns is given to indicate the nature of the component patterns. Polynomial trend analyses of the time series of the distribution parameters indicate oscillatory features. Power spectrum analyses reveal certain significant periods corresponding to the sunspot cycle or some higher harmonics with regional preferences. The variation of distribution parameters in the different parts of the country with the different sunspot epochs is demonstrated. Studies of the distribution of surface pressure anomalies, frequency of storms and depressions, and the frequency of “breaks in monsoon” associated with the contrasting sunspot epochs suggest that the monsoon circulation features as well as the characteristics of the rainfall distribution have a periodicity nearing the sunspot cycle.
    PDF: http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/mwr/101/mwr-101-09-0691.pdf

    Other studies:

    The Indian summer monsoon during peaks in the 11 year sunspot cycle
    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 39, L13701, 5 PP., 2012
    doi:10.1029/2012GL051977
    Key Points
    During peaks in the solar cycle, there is lower sea level pressure around India
    During peaks in the 11 year solar cycle, there is stronger monsoon precipitation
    During peaks in the 11 year solar cycle, there is a stronger monsoon


    Influence of solar activity on the rainfall over India
    (NASA)
    “Among all the seasons of the Indian rainfall activity, the Indian Monsoon rainfall, with a high significance, is positively correlated with the sunspot and irradiance…”

    Sunspots and Pressure Distribution in Monsoon Regions.
    Hanzlík, S.
    Nature, Volume 126, Issue 3174, pp. 312 (1930).
    THE excellent collection of “World Weather Records” affords an opportunity to examine the mutual relation between the sunspot period and air pressure distribution over the globe. This relation I have studied by computing the difference between mean annual air pressure (for three years) near sunspot minimum and that for the following maximum. This difference I call `effect’, as does Dr. Mecking, who introduced this expression (Annalen der Hydrographie und maritimen Meteorologie, 1918). I have used all pressure material published in the above mentioned collection, computed the differences for years: 1911-13-1917-19 1900-02-1905-07 1888-1890-1892-94 1877-79-1882-84 1866-68-1870-72 1855-57-1859-61 1842-44-1847-49 and so far as it was possible, plotted charts showing lines of zero effect separating the areas of positive and negative effect. These charts show slight differences from one sunspot period to another; a discussion of them will be published elsewhere.

    (Full text is pay to view)

  29. JazzyT says:

    It seems like you’d have to get more meltwater at first, as the glaciers were shrinking. After a while, if they stabilized at a new, smaller size, then the area catching sunlight in the spring and summer would be smaller, which ought to give less meltwater. Precipitation changes could adjust this up or down.

    Clicking through to the article, we can pick up a page for free with abstract and key points along with title and authors. From the abstract:

    “However, the most conservative results indicate that, even if climate were to remain at the present-day mean values, almost 10% of Bhutan’s glacierized area would vanish and the meltwater flux would drop by as much as 30%. Under the conservative scenario of an additional 1°C regional warming, glacier retreat is going to continue until about 25% of Bhutan’s glacierized area will have disappeared and the annual meltwater flux, after an initial spike, would drop by as much as 65%.”

    So, this makes sense, at least.

    From the key points:
    “Glacier changes are unlikely to be compensated for by precipitation changes”

    Okay, so their predictions include this…

    Also from the abstract, their results were
    “Based on a suite of gridded climate data and a robust glacier melt model…”

    Without passing through the paywall, there’s no telling what model they used, how it worked, or how it was validated.

  30. So, this makes sense, at least.

    Not really.

    The only way to get a reduction in meltwater ‘flux’, precipitation being constant, is by less melting (over a year).

    Essentially what they are saying is, as glaciers retreat (melt), the amount of ice available to melt decreases and so does the amount of meltwater.

    To me, this looks like a lame attempt to shore up the false ‘melting Himalayan Glaciers will cause water shortages’ meme.

  31. Crispin in Waterloo says:

    Interesting that once the glaciers are gone, the rainfall is just run-off and is no longer stored for a springtime meltwater flood. And this is a bad thing that will cause floods? Huh? By spacing out the rainfall over a year instead of a spring melt? This makes no sense.

    Remember Monbiot’s claim on BBC that if the glaciers melt, there will be no more riverflow (at all) and the Mekong will dry up because the headwaters start from melting glaciers and that if they are gone there will be nothing to melt. Etc. Some people are as dumb as a bag of hammers.

  32. Omnishambles says:

    Let’s see…global warming causes glaciers to retreat, yet the meltwater run off will decrease, yet there will be an increased probability of flooding. Global warming is the new boogeyman and is responsible for everything bad. What next…the European (economic) meltdown, the Fiscal Cliff (need to hide that decline), earthquakes and hemorroids?

  33. garymount says:

    A picture of Mount Baker, WA taken Oct. 7, 2012 after the driest September in recorded history, and before the seasonal snow started again:
    https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=4b6b9fffe2e23537&id=4B6B9FFFE2E23537%211185

  34. Interesting that once the glaciers are gone, the rainfall is just run-off and is no longer stored for a springtime meltwater flood. And this is a bad thing that will cause floods? Huh? By spacing out the rainfall over a year instead of a spring melt? This makes no sense.

    Most rainfall is in mid to late summer, the monsoon. Spring is actually the driest time of the year and when rivers are their lowest levels.

    Peak glacier melt co-incides with the monsoon. So, you are right. Decreased glacier melt will decrease flood severity.

  35. Streetcred says:

    Build a dam up near the glaciers so that if they do ‘disappear’ ( in a Mannian sense ? ) the melt water and rainfall can be arrested and released in a controlled manner. Problem solved … next !

  36. JazzyT says:

    Actually, the abstract and “key points” don’t say anything about yearly totals of water flow. Generally, this doesn’t seem to be an issue at lower elevations, although there’s some concern about the dry season, and drought years, since glacial melt is more steady than precipitation.
    At higher elevations, such as parts of Bhutan, reduced meltwater would result in changes that they’d like to plan for, if they can, for, e.g., agriculture and hydroelectric plants. In the near term, they’re concerned with flooding not only just from increased meltwater as the glaciers retreat, but also from new lakes formed by retreating glaciers, in which the water is stopped up by a dam that is basically a random pile of rocks. If that pile lets go, the whole lake can drain at once in an “Outburst Flood.” This is said to be impressive at locations downstream, especially nearby ones.

  37. Most glacial melt water is from base melting due to geothermal heat because this is a year round process. Water from surface melt during the summer will add to this total melt via moulins. But most summer water is not from glaciers but snowmelt especially on lower slopes that get seasonal snows. Spring/summer flooding is from snowmelt because this supplies a sudden, over a few weeks, great volume of water.
    Glaciers need constant snowfall at altitude for the supply of ice and the mass to drive the glacier downhill. Even during summer high mountains get snow given enough moisture in the atmosphere to provide precipitation.

  38. B. Baak says:

    Thank you for all the enlightening comments made about factors that influence glaciers in Bhutan.
    It seems that so many different factors are involved: cyclical, seasonal factors, natural variations, oscillations, long term influences and glaciers taking decades to respond.

    Why climate scientists are always looking for balance and stability? Maybe in climate there is only change and a constant flow of dynamics.

  39. Mike says:

    In that part of the world the snow/ice level is about 18,000 feet. Valley floors where the people live is generally about 10,000 feet and devoid of snow most of the year due to being nearer to the equator I would guess.

  40. Gail Combs says:

    Streetcred says:
    November 17, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Build a dam up near the glaciers so that if they do ‘disappear’ ( in a Mannian sense ? ) the melt water and rainfall can be arrested and released in a controlled manner. Problem solved … next !
    _________________________
    Next? Why, add hydro-electric generators of course.

  41. pkatt says:

    Maybe the glaciers know something the scientists don’t. Anyone checked the ground temp of that big volcano they are sitting on? But more likely, they have been melting since the ice age, adapt or die.

  42. pkatt says:

    Sorry I should have said tectonic collision instead of volcano just to be clearer.

  43. JazzyT says:

    Gail Combs:
    Bhutan has dams, and generators, already. They are planning to build more. But actually deciding what to build involves knowing about river flows and their seasonal variations, not just now, but in the future. That will depend, in part, on what the glaciers do. So, to plan for dams, agricultural water supplies, and whatever. they have to try and figure out what the waters feeding the rivers will be doing, including the glaciers. And that, in a nutshell, is what the paper is about.

  44. Mike M says:

    JazzyT says:
    Actually, the abstract and “key points” don’t say anything about yearly totals of water flow.

    Ditto. In the reverse scenario, if these alarmists were grabbing at grant money via claims of man made global cooling, they’d be screaming about the reduction of yearly net water available downstream for civilization. It all comes from the sky, some of it gets held up for a while as ice. If more ice is accumulating than melting it can only mean less water downstream and that really is a ‘bad thing’.

  45. Gail Combs says:

    JazzyT says:
    November 18, 2012 at 2:16 am

    Gail Combs:
    Bhutan has dams, and generators, already…. they have to try and figure out what the waters feeding the rivers will be doing, including the glaciers. And that, in a nutshell, is what the paper is about.
    ______________________________________
    Then they really need to look at the actual science instead of the Science Fiction that passes for peer-reviewed science these days.

    Your comment illustrates another reason why CAGW alarmism is so very very dangerous. It diverts time, money, raw materials and energy that could be used to make life better for all humans into the pockets of a few.

    Agriculture and Energy are the two things that give us civilization. Everything else flows from them especially the leisure needed to invent new stuff and build a better world. The explosive growth in science and technology in recent history proves this.

    The alarmists want to shove us back to the 1700 to 1800’s where it is much easier to control people since they have to work hard just to stay alive. Greed for power and money have driven CAGW from the start.

Comments are closed.