In 1989, Indonesia’s highest peak, Puncak Jaya (16,564 ft), within the Sudirman Range of Papua New Guinea, boasted five glaciers along its slopes. Today, these rare equatorial glaciers of Asia are nearly gone. By 2009, both Meren and Southwall, two of Puncak Jaya’s glaciers, had disappeared completely, and the remaining three glaciers, Carstenz, East Northwall Firn, and West North Wall Firn glaciers, were well on their way to doing the same, according to NASA Earth Observatory.
A group of scientists collecting cores on Puncak Jaya reported to NPR in 2010 that they had watched the glacier “drop 12 inches in just two weeks.” Tropical glaciers— 99 percent of which are found in the Andes of Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru— have retreated rapidly in the last century, many losing more than half of their ice mass. Puncak Jaya’s glaciers experience only slight equatorial mean temperature variation during the year (around 0.5°C), according to NASA. “Experts think rising air temperatures are the primary reason that the glaciers have lost so much ice so quickly,” the Earth Observatory reports, but it also notes that “changes in humidity levels, precipitation patterns, and cloudiness can also have an impact.”
View images of the massive retreat of Puncak Jaya’s glaciers.
Even though mountain peaks near the equator have supported glaciers for thousands of years, they have retreated significantly in the last century because of climate change. Many tropical glaciers have lost more than half of their volume with the rapid development of global industry. Puncak Jaya, the earth’s highest island peak in Indonesia, holds the last glaciers in the tropical Pacific. Back in 1989, five ice masses sat on the slopes of Puncak Jaya. But by 2009, two of the glaciers, Meren and Southwall, were gone. The other three, Carstenz, East Northwall Firn, and West North Wall Firn, have retreated dramatically since the 1970’s, according to satellite imagery analyzed by Joni L. Kincaid and Andrew G. Klein, from the department of Geography in Texas A&M University. The Meren Glacier melted away sometime between 1994 and 2000. Pictures below, provided by NASA and U.S. Government show, the dynamic shrinking glacier in Puncak Jaya.
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