US scientist in race to learn from Indonesia's dying glacier

Jul 02, 2010

The only glacier in the western Pacific could disappear in less than five years, taking with it vital clues about the earth's changing climate, a US scientist said Friday.

Ohio State University Professor Lonnie Thompson has just completed what he calls a "salvage mission" to extract ice cores from the glacier on Punjak Jaya, which soars above the tropical, reef-fringed waters of eastern Indonesia.

The samples he collected after his 13-day trip to the Papuan central highlands are set to be shipped back to Chicago on Wednesday for further analysis.

But Thompson said one thing is clear: the glacier is dying.

"This is the only ice in the western end of the Pacific warm pool, which is the warmest water on earth. When it melts that history (from ice cores) is lost forever and there's no way we can recapture it," he told AFP.

"My biggest concern is that we may be too late to capture that history. Some is already missing from the top and from the bottom. How much of that history do we still have?"

Thompson estimated the glacier is disappearing at a rate of seven metres (22 feet) a year. As it is only about 32 metres deep, it could be gone in four or five years.

"Looking at the loss of ice that's been occurring since the 1830s we thought that we were looking at decades (before the Punjak Jaya ice disappeared)," he said.

"But I've never been to a glacier anywhere else in the world where it rains every day... If it rains on a glacier then that's the death of the glacier."

One of the world's leading experts, Thompson has visited from Kenya to Peru. But he said he had never seen anything like what he experienced in Papua, where the ice was visibly melting under his tent.

"It's the first glacier that I've visited where you can hear the water flowing underneath the ice," he said.

The 88 metres of ice samples from his expedition will be added to the Ohio State University's valuable archive of tropical ice cores, where it will remain available for researchers years after the glacier itself may have gone.

The study of glacier ice reveals evidence of past climate fluctuations, which can then be referenced with samples from other parts of the planet to get a better understanding of current climate change.

"We hope to be able to reconstruct past temperatures, look at the history of the ice here and compare that with ice from around the world, particularly with ice from the other side of the Pacific Ocean," Thompson said.

He said he hoped to publish his findings early next year.

Explore further: Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Melting glacier worries scientists

Jul 25, 2005

Scientists monitoring a Greenland glacier have found it is moving into the sea three times faster than a decade ago, The Independent reported Monday.

Tasman Glacier retreat extreme

Apr 23, 2008

The Tasman Glacier is retreating faster than ever and will ultimately disappear, glaciologists at Massey University are warning.

Indonesia's last glacier will melt within years

Jul 01, 2010

(AP) -- Lonnie Thompson spent years preparing for his expedition to the remote, mist-shrouded mountains of eastern Indonesia, hoping to chronicle the affect of global warming on the last remaining glacier ...

New plant finds in andes foretell of ancient climate change

Sep 14, 2005

For the third time in as many years, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has returned from an Andean ice field in Peru with samples from beds of ancient plants exposed for the first time in perhaps as much as 6,500 years. In 2002, ...

2 more glaciers gone from Glacier National Park

Apr 07, 2010

(AP) -- Glacier National Park has lost two more of its namesake moving icefields to climate change, which is shrinking the rivers of ice until they grind to a halt, a government researcher said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

50 minutes ago

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

There's something ancient in the icebox

50 minutes ago

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

Image: Grand Canyon geology lessons on view

7 hours ago

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is a favorite for astronauts shooting photos from the International Space Station, as well as one of the best-known tourist attractions in the world. The steep walls of ...

First radar vision for Copernicus

8 hours ago

Launched on 3 April, ESA's Sentinel-1A satellite has already delivered its first radar images of Earth. They offer a tantalising glimpse of the kind of operational imagery that this new mission will provide ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nartoon
1 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2010
Complete and utter tripe.
Excalibur
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 04, 2010
Complete and utter tripe.

How very self-descriptive.

More news stories

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

A new nano-membrane made out of the 'super material' graphene is extremely light and breathable. Not only can this open the door to a new generation of functional waterproof clothing, but also to ultra-rapid filtration. The ...