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".
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
claiming the "science of climate change remains
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
And, as glaciologist Professor Jonathan Bamber of the University
points out, the world's glaciers "are still shrinking - and
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
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.