Friday, December 4, 2009

Innumeracy

I happened upon an article discussing glacial retreat and ice melt. At the end of the article there were several ‘glacial facts’. Here are some:
  • Average yearly retreat of the Himalayan glaciers: In 2006, 30 metres;
  • Rate at which Gangotri is melting per year: 28.1 m
  • Gangotri Length: approx 30 km;
  • Year in which Gangotri will disappear: 2050, if glacier melt continues at the same rate.(emphasis mine)
There is an obvious problem here. 30 meters per year times 50 years (1500 meters) is nowhere near the entire length of the glacier (30000 meters). It's a factor of 20 too small. This isn't a rant about climate change, it's a rant that the journalist and the editor didn't notice the problem with the math. I wouldn't expect that the journalist or the editor be wizards at calculus, but this is just a simple estimate. You don't even need an exact answer (I rounded up the melting rate and the time span to make it easy to multiply).
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