Science Correspondent in India Receives Prestigious David Perlman Award

Pallava Bagla, Science’s long-time correspondent in India, was named 31 August 2010 to receive the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism.

The award, bestowed by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), recognized two articles exploring dissent among glaciologists regarding the claim by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035.

The first of the two articles, “No Sign of Himalayan Melt Down, Indian Report Finds,” published 13 November 2009 in Science, reported on research by Vijay Kumar Raina, who challenged an assertion within the IPCC’s 2007 Working Group II report. Bagla reported that Raina agrees with researcher Anil V. Kulkami, whose satellite data on 1000 glaciers suggests that almost a fifth of the Indian Himalayas’ ice coverage has disappeared since 1960. But, Bagla wrote, Raina also questions the connection to global warming because he found that “‘many’ Himalayan glaciers are stable or have advanced and the rate of retreat for ‘many others’ has slowed.”

Pallava Bagla, standing before the Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps | Photo © and courtesy of Pallava Bagla
View a larger version of this image.

The research triggered controversy within the scientific community. The issue prompted glaciologists to discuss, for example, the rate of glacial retreat at different elevations, or given different snowfall patterns. “At issue in scientific circles is how lengthy the response time is, and how it varies among glaciers,” Jeffrey S. Kargel of the University of Arizona, Tucson, told Bagla.

Bagla’s second award-winning article, “Himalayan Glacier Deadline ‘Wrong,’” was published 5 December 2009 by BBC News. “The Himalayas hold the planet’s largest body of ice outside the polar caps—an estimated 12,000 cubic kilometers of water,” Bagla wrote. “They feed many of the world’s great rivers—the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra—on which hundreds of millions of people depend.”

In addition to writing for Science, Bagla serves as science editor for India’s New Delhi Television, and his latest book is entitled Destination Moon: India’s Quest for Moon, Mars and Beyond. He prepares freelance articles for the BBC and other media outlets, and he contributes photographs to Corbis images.

The David Perlman Award is named in honor of the veteran science journalist who, now in his 90s, still serves as science editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. The award consists of a plaque and a $2,000 stipend.

Bagla was one of two journalists to receive a 2010 journalism prize from the AGU. Roberta Kwok of Nature won the Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism-Features for her 25 March 2009 article, “The Rock That Fell to Earth.” Her piece, “recounts the tale of an asteroid that was detected in space and then tracked by many earth scientists and civilians,” the AGU reported.