That role has come even more sharply into focus after recent attacks on the U.N.'s climate panel, which included a wrong estimate for the pace of melting for Himalayan glaciers in a major 2007 report.
The report said Himalayan glaciers could all melt by 2035, an apparent typographical error that stemmed from using literature not published in a scientific journal.
Climate skeptics seized on the error and used it to question the panel's findings on climate change.The evidence for rapid glacial melting, though, is overwhelming.
The problem is no one knows exactly what's occurring in the more remote Himalayas and parts of the Andes. Far better measurements are crucial to really understand the threat to millions of people downstream.
"There is no serious information on the state of the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayan-Tibetan complex," Kurt Lambeck, President of the Australian Academy of Science, told a climate science media briefing in late February.
The high altitude and remoteness of many glaciers in the Himalayas and Andes is the main reason.
DATA IN A DEEP FREEZE