Indonesian glaciers will be gone within a few years, rather than decades, taking with them a unique record of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon that drives climate patterns in the tropics, according to researchers.
The ice cap, on a 4,800 metre high mountain ridge in Indonesia, "was riddled with crevasses and lacked any substantial snowfall," said Ohio State University glaciologist Lonnie Thompson after a trip earlier this summer.
The local people believe that the ice is part of their deity, Thompson said. "In their religion they are a part of nature, and by extension they are a part of the ice, so if it disappears, a part of their souls will also be lost."
But if the remaining 1.7 square kilometres of ice fields near Punkak Jaya melt, they may also take away a valuable archive of climate history — situated on the fringes of the world's warmest ocean that generates El Niño, they may hold important information about past climate.
Thompson took three ice cores from the cap and expects to analyse the first of the cores that could yield some of El Niño's secrets by December.