Friday, May 28, 2010

Ice-coring on the Glaciers of Puncak Jaya

Mt. Kinabalu on Borneo is perhaps most famous mountain in Southeast Asia, but taller still and less well known is Puncak Jaya in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. Although the island of Papua, which Indonesia shares with Papua New Guinea, is to the East of the Wallace Line, making it biogeographically outside of SE Asia, it's still important because it and its neighbors bear the only tropical glaciers "west of the Andes and east of Mount Kilimanjaro." Like the rest of them, they're also receding fast, and a team led by Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University is traveling to the glaciers on Puncak Jaya to core them and study the ice layers. They aim to date the ice to find out how old the glaciers are, and to use the gases trapped in the ice to reconstruct ancient climates, to study how the Earth's climate has changed over time.

The image above (source: Wikimedia Commons) shows how patchy the remaining ice cover is, and the big hole in the foreground is a mine run by PT Freeport Indonesia; the company is helping the team ferry its ice samples back.

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