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Originally published January 20, 2010 at 5:12 PM | Page modified January 21, 2010 at 2:14 PM

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Errors about Himalayan glacier melt in report

Five glaring errors were discovered in one paragraph of the world's most authoritative report on global warming.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Five glaring errors were discovered in one paragraph of the world's most authoritative report on global warming, forcing the Nobel Prize-winning panel of climate scientists that wrote it to apologize and promise to be more careful.

The errors are in a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N.-affiliated body. All the mistakes appear in a subsection that suggests glaciers in the Himalayas could melt away by 2035, hundreds of years earlier than the data indicate. The year 2350 apparently was transposed as 2035.

The climate panel and the scientist who publicized the errors said they are not significant in comparison to the whole report, nor were they intentional. They said the errors do not negate the fact that worldwide, glaciers are melting faster than ever.

But the mistakes open the door for more attacks from climate-change skeptics.

Patrick Michaels, a global-warming skeptic and scholar at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, called on the head of the panel, Rajendra Pachauri, to resign.

A number of scientists, including some panel critics, said the mistakes do not invalidate the main conclusion that global warming is without a doubt man-made and a threat.

The mistakes were found by a few of the scientists themselves, including one who is an IPCC co-author.

The report in question is the second of four issued by the panel in 2007 on global warming. This 838-page document had chapters on each continent.

The errors were in a half-page section of the Asia chapter. The section got it wrong as to how fast the thousands of glaciers in the Himalayas are melting, scientists said.

"It is a very shoddily written section," said Graham Cogley, a professor of geography and glaciers at Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, who brought the error to everyone's attention. "It wasn't copy-edited properly."

Cogley, who wrote a letter about the problems to Science magazine that was published online Wednesday, cited these mistakes:

• The paragraph starts, "Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world." Cogley and Michael Zemp of the World Glacier Monitoring System said Himalayan glaciers are melting at about the same rate as other glaciers.

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• It says if the Earth continues to warm, the "likelihood of them disappearing by the 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high." Nowhere in peer-reviewed science literature is 2035 mentioned. However, there is a study from Russia that says glaciers could come close to disappearing by 2350.

• The paragraph says: "Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometers by the year 2035." Cogley said there are only 33,000 square kilometers of Himalayan glaciers.

• The entire paragraph is attributed to the World Wildlife Fund, when only one sentence came from the group, Cogley said.

• A table says that between 1845 and 1965, the Pindari Glacier shrank by 2,840 meters. Then comes a math mistake: It says that's a rate of 135.2 meters a year, when it is only 23.5 meters a year.

Cogley credited Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon with telling him about the errors.

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