All gone by the year 2020: Wikipedia rewrites history (1)

This is part 3 in the series on the prediction that glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2020. You might want to see to part 1 and part2 if you haven’t already

The title of this page has been updated to reflect an later update.

Wikipedia claim glacier national park melted by 2020  and 2030

During my research on the “All gone by the year 2020” prediction, I also encountered the Wikipedia page about the Glacier National Park (U.S.). My attention was immediately drawn to the sequence of the predicted estimates when glaciers would be gone according to a Wikipedia contributor (my emphasis):

Based on the warming trend of the early 2000s, scientists had estimated that the park’s remaining glaciers would melt by 2020;[52] however, a later estimate stated that the glaciers may be gone by 2030.[5]

As it is stated, it is seems that the “glaciers would melt by 2020” prediction came first and was followed by the later “gone by 2030” prediction. I went through a lot of material about those predictions in the last week and this statement is in fact the reverse of what happened in reality. The 2020 estimate was a 2009 update of the 2030 estimate that was made originally made in 2003. This post will explain how the Wikipedia contributor managed to switch the two.

To justify the 2020 estimate, the Wikipedia contributor refers to a 2010 snapshot (February 28, 2010) of a currently defunct webpage of the National Park Service on the Glacier retreat in Glacier National Park. This is what is being said about the 2020 estimate (my emphasis):

If the current warming trend continues in Glacier National Park, there will be no glaciers left here in the year 2020.

The alleged “later estimate” comes from a 2014 snapshot (October 14, 2014) of the same webpage. This is what is being said about this 2030 estimate (my emphasis):

Based on current trends, however, glacier recession models predict that by 2030, Glacier National Park will be without glaciers. Most of the park’s glaciers, being of small to moderate size, will likely be gone before then, as many glaciers are retreating faster than their predicted rates.

The 2020 date is not mentioned anymore, only that the smaller glaciers will likely be gone before 2030. However, 2030 is the estimate predicted by the model of Hall & Fagre in 2003. If the 2030 estimate came from that paper, then this is not a later estimate, but an earlier estimate that was rehashed.

To be really sure that it is still the 2003 model that is referred to in 2014, I did a search for the US Geological Survey position on glacier melt in the Glacier National Park. The US Geological Survey is the organization that is doing the actual research of those glaciers, so this will likely be where the National Park Service gets their information from. What did the Geological Survey report on at the same time? When I look at the snapshot of their glacier retreat page of October 26, 2014, then this is what is being said about the estimate (my emphasis):

A computer-based climate model predicts that some of the park’s largest glaciers will vanish by 2030 (Hall and Fagre, 2003). This is only one model prediction but, if true, then the park’s glaciers could disappear in the next several decades. However, glacier disappearance may occur even earlier, as many of the glaciers are retreating faster than their predicted rates.

It is clear that they still refer to the Hall & Fagre, 2003 paper related to the 2030 estimate, not to new understanding after the 2020 claim. The US Geological Survey referred to this paper until April 2016. Shortly thereafter the page went offline. However, the reference to the 2003 study is still used as the lower boundary until today on a different url. Another model prediction is used as the upper boundary since 2017, but maybe more on that in a later post.

The 2020 estimate was more represented in the media. It was broadcast around 2010 (from March 2009). Fagre did many interviews explaining the 2020 estimate and how it relates to his earlier 2030 estimate from 2003. Some examples are CNN: Montana’s melting glaciers: The poster-child for climate change, New York Times: Twilight of the Glaciers, No More Glaciers in Glacier National Park? and Thinkprogress: Another climate impact coming faster than predicted: Glacier National Park to go glacier-free a decade earlier. All place the 2020 estimate AFTER the 2030 estimate, more specially as a “worse than thought” update of it. So unless Fagre lied to all those journalists, the 2030 estimate came first followed by the 2020 estimate about six years later.

Back to the Wikipedia story. Looking at the edit history of that Wikipedia page and more specifically that one statement about the succession of estimates, it gets even more interesting. Following the historical edits, it became clear how the contributor managed to reverse the order of the deadlines.

I was surprised to see that the statement, as it is currently found on that Wikipedia page, was morphed into the current form very recently. This is how the statement looked like until January 2, 2020:

The National Park Service warns that if the current warming trend continues, the park’s remaining glaciers will be gone by 2030.

That is factual incorrect according the source which the original contributor linked to (the snapshot of the website of the National Park Service on glacial retreat taken on February 28, 2010). As seen on top of this post, the stated estimate in that 2010 snapshot was not 2030 as Wikipedia claims, but 2020. The statement on the Wikipedia page is very similar to that of the 2010 snapshot, except for the “warns” (which was not in the original) and “2030” (which was “2020” in the original).

It is hard to grasp why the original contributor changed 2020 (which match with the linked source) into 2030 (which doesn’t match with the linked source). Looking back in the history, this edit was done on April 25, 2015 at 17:00. That is more than 4.5 years of nobody noticing the discrepancy with the linked source.

Wikipedia contributor Okerefalls apparently noticed the discrepancy of the dates and edited that statement on January 2, 2020 at 18:57. He clarified this in a comment: “made correction to date to match archive link”. This is how the statement looked after the edit (I added a blue background to indicate the change from previous version):

The National Park Service believed based on the warming rates of the early 2000s, the park’s remaining glaciers will be gone by 2020.

Not sure why Okerefalls changed “trend” into “rates of the early 2000s”. The 2010 snapshot mentioned “trend”, not “rates” and didn’t even mention the early 2000s at all. However, changing “2030” to “2020” was actually a valid correction. It is indeed exactly what was stated on the archived webpage from 2010.

Another contributor, Brian W. Schaller, swung in action and changed the statement already at 20:14 to:

Based on the warming rates of the early 2000s, scientists have estimated that the park’s remaining glaciers will be gone by 2030.

He then linked to a later snapshot of the same page (October 14, 2014).

Contributor Okerefalls undid the edit some ten minutes later (20:25), but a couple hours later (at 22:10), Schaller undid Okerefalls’ undo with this clarification (my emphasis):

(Undid revision 933745832 by Okerefalls (talk) rvt – not wp:or, if that’s what you’re implying – read the 2014 NPS archive, on which the similar statement in the lead section is based; of course, could also say it was thought the glacier’s would disappear by 2020 (as of 2009), but (as of 2014) it’s estimated at 2030 (see archive), but that seems unnecessarily wordy)

Aha! This comment shows exactly where the confusion originated from: Schaller assumed that because he found the 2030 estimate being reported in 2014, that it was a later estimate than the estimate being reported in 2009…. This explains how the “later estimate” came into the statement.

This is how the statement looked like after the edit, based on this misconception:

Based on the warming rates of the early 2000s, scientists had estimated in 2009 that the park’s remaining glaciers might have disappeared by 2020; however, a later estimate in 2014 stated that the glaciers may be gone by 2030.

Then came the moment when he seems to realize that something was not right. This was the comment accompanying his next edit at 23:23:

m (→‎Glaciers: rm years as only the NPS page dates were used; not sure when the reports were published exactly; one USGS report is linked in the current NPS site page, dated 2003, and it states 2030, not 2020)

He appeared not to be sure about the time line. His earliest source (2003) had the 2030 estimate, which didn’t fit his claim that the 2030 estimate was a later estimate than the 2020 estimate stated in 2009 (the snapshot of that webpage was made in 2010, but the webpage showed that it was last updated September 22, 2009). He only knew that the National Park Service reported on the 2020 estimate in 2009 and on the 2030 estimate in 2014, but not when those estimates were actually made.

The solution to this problem seemed to be to … dump both dates:

Based on the warming rates of the early 2000s, scientists had estimated that the park’s remaining glaciers might have disappeared by 2020; however, a later estimate stated that the glaciers may be gone by 2030.

However, the only thing that he had to determine that the 2030 estimate was the “later estimate” were these reporting dates that he just deleted. Dumping both dates did not solve the problem that he did not know when these estimates were made. He edited the statement without having anything to back it up.

The last edit was made at 23:33. This is the comment accompanying this edit:

m (→‎Glaciers: ce; the 2003 USGS report – https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/53/2/131/254976 – & the current NPS page – https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/nature/melting-glaciers.htm)

He apparently found the Hall & Fagre, 2003 paper and linked to it in the comment. The current National Park Service page indeed mentions the Hall & Fagre 2003 paper and the 2030 estimate, so by now he could have come to the realization that something was wrong. Instead, he made some minor edits:

Based on the warming trend of the early 2000s, scientists had estimated that the park’s remaining glaciers would melt by 2020; however, a later estimate stated that the glaciers may be gone by 2030.

This is the version that is still online.

Concluding. The direct cause for the switch is the assumption that the 2020 estimate was made first and the 2030 estimate came later, because they were reported in that order. However, according to the researcher who made the prediction in 2009, the 2020 estimate was in fact the revision of the 2030 estimate from 2003. It was based on the observation that the temperature rise in the park area was double that what was put into the model, leading to a revision from 2030 to 2020 as the new estimate in 2009. This revision was widely reported in the media back in 2009 and taken as proof that reality was worse than what the model predicted. The 2020 estimate was abandoned when the expiration date came closer and what is still reported is the 2030 estimate from 2003.

Which is the exact reverse of what the contributor suggests. His statement doesn’t give readers insight of how the two predictions actually relate to each other, it rewrites history and in the meanwhile wipes out the inconvenient 2020 prediction that is about to expire this year…

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7

1 thought on “All gone by the year 2020: Wikipedia rewrites history (1)

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