Another warming myth busted? Only in a Mail Online headline

  • 29 May 2012, 14:07
  • Verity Payne

The Mail Online's random climate headline generator has struck again - this time on an innocuous story about South American glaciers. The problem? The disparity between the article itself, which discusses continuing research, which has yet to reach any conclusions, and the headline declaring " Another warming myth busted".

As we have documented, the Mail Online seems keen to put a 'global warming myth busted'/'question mark over global warming'/'forget global warming' headline on any story alluding to climate change, regardless of the real implications of the research, or even whether the research has even happened yet. This week's effort is no exception to what seems to be fast becoming a rule.

The Mail article covers research into why Bolivia's glaciers are melting so quickly, and particularly the theory that tiny airborne particles (aerosols) might be making glaciers in the Andes melt more quickly.

This is an important area of research since tropical mountain glaciers, such as those found in the Bolivian Andes, are shrinking rapidly and some are retreating faster than predicted based on the effects of climate change alone. Chacaltaya glacier, for example, was predicted to disappear by 2015, but actually retreated entirely by 2009 - six years earlier than projected.

The Mail Online article appears to be based on a Reuters video report, entitled Scientists seek answers to Bolivian glacier melt

The Reuters video features Professor Francesco Zaratti, Director of the Laboratory of Atmospheric Physics at the University of San Andrés in La Paz, explaining his aerosol hypothesis, and that researchers are currently investigating the theory:


Here's how Reuters summarises the research:

"The scientists here hope to show that aerosol particles are settling in the glaciers, increasing their capacity to absorb energy and solar radiation, which in turn causes the glaciers to melt faster."

The body of the Mail Online article also exlains the hypothesis that aerosols may increase glacier melt, and makes it clear that this is a story about continuing research, still at the stage of testing a hypothesis - so the results aren't yet in:

"[Francesci Zaratti] said: 'The phenomenon that we believe contributes more and that we are going to measure, is airborne aerosol particles that deposit on the glaciers and in turn increase their capacity to absorb energy and solar radiation.'

"Most atmospheric aerosol particles are produced by natural processes such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

"But man-made chemicals through industry, mass transportation and agriculture, as well as smog from nearby cities such as La Paz and El Alto are thought to be contributing.

"The researchers are now investigating the area to test their theories."

So actually, the article is mostly a sensible summation of the Reuters report. Where it falls down is with the headline: Another warming myth busted: Climate change ISN'T to blame for melting glacier in Bolivia - but our aerosols are.

'Warming myth busted' - a leap too far

Why is the Mail Online headline wide of the mark?

For a start, given that the scientists haven't yet finished collecting their data, let alone reached any conclusions, it is too soon to be making definite statements about aerosols being responsible for Bolivian glacier melt.

Furthermore, if the research does turn out to find that aerosols are contributing to glacier melt in Bolivia, it doesn't necessarily follow that climate change played no part in the melting. 

In fact, as a soundbite from the Reuters video report shows, Zaratti explicitly mentions global warming as a factor affecting the glaciers. He says:

"We are in a part of the range that suffers the most from the melting of the glaciers. Here, this entire mountain was covered by a glacier, the glacier of Chacaltaya, that has been lost, the whole back part. And other glaciers will disappear with time. Why? Because they are vulnerable, they are small, they are near inhabited areas, a series of things, including global warming."

 Mail's misleading headlines keep coming

The article ends by revisiting a recent research finding that glaciers high in the Himalayas don't appear to be losing much ice. Why include this? We're not sure, but it seems like an attempt to demonstrate that climate science is uncertain, and thus doubtful.

As we have pointed out previously, the Mail group seems to be following a trend of rebranding scientific research to fit its skeptical stance on climate change, perhaps in an attempt to provide support to its editorials claiming the "science of climate change remains questionable".

But of course there is a big difference between areas of ongoing research, subject to normal scientific debate, and the indisputable fundamentals of climate change. Highlighting a few glaciers that buck the global melting trend doesn't overturn these climate science fundamentals, however much the Mail Online might hope otherwise.

And, as glaciologist Professor Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol points out, the world's glaciers "are still shrinking - and rapidly". 

It's perhaps rather telling that the Mail Online only chooses to cover those research papers showing the few instances of glaciers bucking the global trend, but seems to completely ignore other new research showing glacier melt more in line with the global average.

We have to wonder whether the recurrence of these sort of misleading headlines are merely to provide the Mail group with useful support to its criticisms of green policies.


UPDATED 14:47 29/05/12 to include translation of soundbite from Reuters video report. 

Tags |
Email Share to Facebook Stumble It
blog comments powered by Disqus