Monday, June 14, 2010

Scientists on hunt for climate-change clues explore rare tropical glacier

Simon Montlake in the Christian Science Monitor: Indonesia’s towering Puncak Jaya mountain on the island of Papua straddles one of the world’s richest and most inaccessible gold and copper mines. But the scientists currently prospecting on the 16,000-ft peak are digging for a different kind of treasure: fragile ice cores that can yield clues to the climatic past and give pointers on the future.

Puncak Jaya, a patch of ice on a barren peak that juts from the jungle-clad southern shores of western Papua, is one of only a handful of tropical glaciers in the world. Scientists study ice cores as a proxy for climatic data stretching back thousands of years. The data can be used for climate modeling to understand how natural cycles work and to predict the impact on manmade warming on temperature and precipitation.

For Lonnie Thompson, an alpine glaciologist at Ohio State University and a leading authority in the field, climbing Puncak Jaya completes a longtime ambition. … “It’s melting and retreating very quickly. We want to capture its history while it’s still possible,” he says.

The six-person expedition team includes Indonesian oceanographer Dwi Susanto of Colombia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), who studies the Pacific Ocean and the El Nino system that brings either drought or rainfall to Indonesia. The ice-core data can complement other proxies of oceanic temperature oscillations such as seabed samples and tree rings….

The Puncak Jaya ice cap in 1936

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