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According to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Indonesia’s glaciers, which are known to few people, are melting so quickly that they will disappear within a decade. The study is yet another piece of research shedding light on the detrimental effects of our climate crisis, and the visible impacts that are already underway right here in Southeast Asia.
A newly published study by scientists and researchers in the United States, Indonesia, Chile, Russia and Switzerland has revealed that rising temperatures are posing an imminent threat to the little-known ice sheets in Indonesia’s Papua region. While glaciers are usually found in colder climates, the western half of Indonesia’s New Guinea island is home to a number of ice sheets that once spanned 20 square kilometres. However, due to increasing global temperatures and reduced rainfall, which has been exacerbated by the El Nino phenomenon, these tropical glaciers are thinning over five times as quickly compared to a few years ago. Having already shrunk by 85% to a mere 0.5 square kilometres, researchers predict that Papua’s glaciers will completely disappear by 2030.
“Tropical glaciers are mostly smaller and so their response time to variations in climate change is faster compared to larger glaciers and ice sheets. The situation has reached worrying levels because ice formation is no longer happening – only glacier recession,” said Donaldi Permana, an Indonesian-based glaciologist and study author.
While the authors suggest that greenhouse gas reductions and tree planting measures can slow down the rate of ice recession in the region, they believe that melting will inevitably occur due to the current trajectory of global warming. Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report on 2019 being the end of the hottest 5 year period since records began.
Not only will this be a huge environmental loss to the Papuan community, the disappearance of the glaciers will leave a significant negative cultural impact. The ice sheets represent a sacred symbol for many indigenous Papuans. “The mountains and valleys are the arms and legs of their god and the glaciers are the head,” explained Lonnie Thompson, professor at Ohio State University and study author.
The international study found that glaciers were not only melting in Indonesia, but those in the African continent and the Peruvian Andes are being threatened by warmer temperatures too. According to Thompson, the Papua glaciers are only the “first to go” if greenhouse gases are left unchecked, a stark warning about the depressing fate of other glaciers around the world. These findings add to an entire database of scientific research emphasising the immediate impacts climate change is already having on our planet, most visibly in Asia-Pacific.
As we have covered before, Asia is home to over half of the global population and is most at risk to the effects of the climate crisis, from being vulnerable to flooding to the spread of diseases due to rising temperatures. While the COP 25 summit in Madrid attended by world leaders comes to an inconclusive end, what is clear is that governments and global corporations must take collective climate action now before we reach the point of irreversibility.
Lead image courtesy of Snow Brains.