Last remaining glaciers in the Pacific will soon melt away

Researchers believe other mountaintop glaciers will follow quickly

pexels-photo-2180427

Ohio State University

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The last remaining tropical glaciers between the Himalayas and the Andes will disappear in the next decade – and possibly sooner – due to climate change, a new study has found.

The glaciers in Papua, Indonesia, are “the canaries in the coal mine” for other mountaintop glaciers around the world, said Lonnie Thompson, one of the senior authors of the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These will be the first to disappear; the others will certainly follow,” said Thompson, distinguished university professor in the School of Earth Sciences and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at The Ohio State University.

The glaciers, atop a mountain near Puncak Jaya, on the western half of the island of New Guinea, have been melting for years, Thompson said. But that melt increased rapidly due in part to a strong 2015-2016 El Niño, a phenomenon that causes tropical ocean water and atmospheric temperatures to get warmer. El Niños are natural phenomena, but their effects have been amplified by global warming.

The study suggests that the glacier will disappear in the next 10 years, most likely during the next strong El Niño.

Thompson said it is likely that other tropical glaciers, such as those on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Quelccaya in Peru, will follow.

“I think the Papua, Indonesia, glaciers are the indicator of what’s going to happen around the world,” Thompson said.

Thompson and his team have been monitoring the glacier since 2010, when they drilled ice cores to determine the composition and temperature of the atmosphere around the glacier throughout history. Even then, the glacier was shrinking. That melt started at least 150 years ago, Thompson said, but has quickened in the last decade. The researchers found signs of melting at both the top of the glacier and at the bottom.

During the 2010 drilling expedition, the team installed a string of PVC pipe sections, connected by a rope, into the ice. Their idea was to measure how much ice had been lost by periodically measuring the rope sections left uncovered as the ice melted.

When the stake was measured in November 2015, about five meters of rope had been uncovered, meaning that the glacier surface was melting at a rate of about one meter per year. A team went back in May 2016, and saw that an additional approximately 4.26 meters of rope had been uncovered – a rapid increase in melting over just six months.

The team also measured the extent of the glacier’s melt by measuring its surface area, which shrank by about 75 percent from 2010 to 2018. The ice field had shrunk so much that by 2016 it had split into two smaller glaciers. Then, in August 2019, a mountain climber scaling the peak took a photo of the glacier, showing its near disappearance.

“The glacier’s melt rate is exponentially increasing,” Thompson said. “It’s similar to visiting a terminal cancer patient, and documenting the change in their body, but not being able to do anything about it.”

Globally, glacier melt is a major contributor to sea level rise, which, along with warming ocean waters, can lead to more frequent and more intense storms.

Thompson said the mountaintop glaciers around the world contribute between a third and a half of the annual sea level rise in the Earth’s oceans.

“They are much more vulnerable to the rising temperatures because they’re small and they’re warmer – they’re closer to the melting threshold,” he said. “Ice is just a threshold system. It is perfectly happy at freezing temperatures or below, but everything changes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Climate change has increased the temperature of the atmosphere, which means the air around the glacier is warmer. But it has also changed the altitude at which rain turns to snow. That means that where snow once fell on top of the glacier, helping rebuild its ice year-by-year, rain is now falling. That rainfall is the kiss of death for a glacier.

Water absorbs more energy – more heat – from the sun than snow does, so increasing the water on top of the glacier warms the glacier even more, accelerating the melting of the remaining ice.

“If you want to kill a glacier, just put water on it,” Thompson said. “The water basically becomes like a hot water drill. It goes right through the ice to the bedrock. So, when water starts to accumulate on top of the glacier, the glacier starts to melt much faster than current models predict as the models are driven by temperature changes but don’t account for the effect of water accumulating on the glacier surface.”

Once water starts streaming through crevasses in the glacier to the bedrock, it also begins to lubricate the glacier along its bottom. This eventually creates a warm pool beneath the glacier, which may cause the glacier to slide, ever-so-slowly, down the mountain to lower elevations where temperatures are warmer.

Such was the case with this glacier, the researchers learned when they first drilled in 2010. The cores they brought to the surface showed meltwater at the base of the glacier as well as at the top.

That melt can affect the information scientists are able to learn from the cores, which normally provide year-by-year data records of the climate around the glacier. As the glacier melts, those year-by-year records can become blurred. In this case, however, the cores still showed evidence of El Niño events throughout the ice cores’ history. Because so much of the glacier has melted, the cores hold data for only the last 50 years, despite the fact that these glaciers have likely occupied these mountaintops for the last 5,000 or so years.

The glacier’s disappearance is a cultural loss, too, Thompson said: The indigenous people who live around the mountain worship it.

“The ridges and the valleys are the arms and legs of their god, and the glacier is the head,” he said.

When the team drilled in 2010, some of the elders of the indigenous communities protested: “In their words, they thought we were ‘drilling into the skull of their god to steal the god’s memories,'” Thompson said. “I told them that was exactly what we were doing. We needed to preserve those memories because the glacier was going to melt.”

That started a debate throughout the indigenous community, weighing whether the team should be allowed to continue its research mission to learn the history contained within the ice, or was it more important that the glacier remain undisturbed? Thompson said the elders of the community were strongly in favor of kicking the research team out while the younger people, he said, wanted the mission to continue. In this case, the younger people won.

“It was the young people who were saying, ‘Have you not seen what’s happening?'” Thompson said.

###

Other Ohio State researchers on this study are Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Mary E. Davis, Ping-Nan Lin, Julien P. Nicolas, John F. Bolzan, Paolo Gabrielli, Victor Zagorodnov, and Bryan G. Mark. This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

From EurekAlert!

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123 thoughts on “Last remaining glaciers in the Pacific will soon melt away

  1. Not Kilimanjaro again!

    Has Thompson already forgotten that he himself admitted that retreat of its ice field was due to downslope deforestation, not nonexistent warming around the mountain?

    As he also must know, Karakoram glaciers are advancing, staying the same or only slightly retreating, although in the subtropics rather than tropics.

    • Hey Bob (oh yea of excellent books on ocean cooling & heating). He made a comment that got me wondering: ” El Niños are natural phenomena, but their effects have been amplified by global warming”.

      How far back do we have a record of El Ninos?
      Any valid proxies that you are aware of?

      I’m not sure if he is just making that up but at least he got the first part correct.

      • They just make shit up. When someone writes that statement do any peers ever say “hey that’s a little more of a hypothesis than a solid cause.”

      • Evidence of paleo El Nino events do exist in the rock record. Clip of abstract below (and citation)

        A Review of Paleo El Niño-Southern Oscillation
        Zhengyao Lu 1,*, Zhengyu Liu 2,3, Jiang Zhu 4 and Kim M. Cobb 5

        A Review of Paleo El Niño-Southern Oscillation
        Article (PDF Available) in Atmosphere 9(4):130 · March 2018 with 930 Reads 
        DOI: 10.3390/atmos9040130

        Abstract: The Earth has seen El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)—the leading mode of
        interannual climate variability—for at least millennia and likely over millions of years. This paper
        reviews previous studies from perspectives of both paleoclimate proxy data (from traditional

    • “The mountain has lost about 80 percent of its ice since 1936 – two-thirds of that since the last scientific expedition in the early 1970s….Geoffrey Hope, a professor at Australian National University who took part in the 1971 expedition to Puncak Jaya, noted that Papua has the wettest mountain region in the world, so high precipitation levels didn’t come as a great surprise.

      Still, his own experience was markedly different.

      “The roof of our marque tent fell in on many evenings due to the weight of the snow,” he recalled, “and all water coming from the glacier would freeze by 8 p.m. each night.”,

      Kind of makes you wonder if there was massive growth between 1950 to 1970.

      • The mountain lost lots of its ice from AD 1850 to 1936, as well.

        But then, of course, it gained huge amounts from c. 1450 to 1850.

    • These are mountaintop glaciers. Disappearance of high altitude ice has much to do with sun exposure and related sublimation. Air temperatures at high altitudes depend on humidity levels with warm and dry adiabatic lapse rates varying from dry adiabatic rates of 9.8 C/km to a much much lower 4.5 C/km at higher humidity levels. In Indonesia, El Nino’s bring precipitation rates up to twice as high as normal. So it’s complicated…more precipitation builds up ice but increased humidity GREATLY affects temperatures at altitude.

      Blaming Global Warming for ice losses that happened only during an El Nino is crap. El Nino’s don’t MAGICALLY collect CO2 warmed air from all over the globe and deliver that air to the equator…then adds Solar heat along the equator…then get carried West on the on the trades….then N and S on the Hadleys…resulting in an increased Global temperature response.

      The article claimed 5000 year old ice exists on those mountains. Climatologically three blinks of an eye. What happened 5000 years ago? CO2 was far lower than now. The Gods must have gone on vacation, aye?

      That is 100% certain that these glaciers melted during warmer periods. The Holocene Optimum was FAR warmer than now (up 5 C warmer)…and each of the Holocene warm periods were each “less warm” than the former, but ALL were warmer than now. We are still up to one degree C cooler now than during the peak of the Midieval Warm Period.

    • As far as I know there are glaciers on every continent and every large island. From what I understand, that fact indicates that we are still in an “ice age” – hopefully headed towards an interglacial period in a few thousand years. As has happened as far back as we can find proxies for, the climate oscillates between glacial and interglacial periods. I am only upset that I will not be here for the peak interglacial warmth.

      • Yes. Australia is the exception , the major mountainous area, the Snowy Mountains are near the coast and get plenty of snow over winter. The average altitude of the peaks is only around 2000m. Glaciers have occurred only during the Ice Age. Glaciers occur in higher altitude mountain areas of NZ in the same Pacific region

      • Sal

        we are still in an “ice age” – hopefully headed towards an interglacial period in a few thousand years.

        We are already in the interglacial and have been for about 15,000 years, please try to keep a breast of changes.

        I am only upset that I will not be here for the peak interglacial warmth.

        Don’t be upset you probably missed peak interglacial warmth by about 8000 years already. It’s called the Holocene optimum. Enjoy what we’ve got.

  2. So can someone here please help me clarify in my senile mind how it could be that if this glacier started melting some 150 years ago, this process could in any way be attributed to man-made industrial emissions?

    • The claim is that melting is accelerating due to human-caused warming. May or may not be true as to the cause. It’s clear that these glaciers are on the margin if the end of the Little Ice Age was the start of glacial retreat.

      • The last remaining tropical glaciers between the Himalayas and the Andes will disappear in the next decade – and possibly sooner – due to climate change,…”

        Assumes facts not in evidence!

        Thompson and his team have been monitoring the glacier since 2010, when they drilled ice cores…[and]…installed a string of PVC pipe sections, connected by a rope, into the ice.

        …or did the melting accelerate because of the drilling? Or because of the PVC pipe sections? Even PVC can conduct heat, and the holes they left in the ice, with or without PVC pipe become channels for water, that will accelerate the melting. Or just due to the increase in surface-volume ratio because it’s getting smaller? And that’s just in a couple of seconds thought, how many more variables might exist for which the researchers failed to control?

    • In one sense it is. The Freeport mine site and associated township lives just below the glacier and has been pumping out prodigious amounts of diesel exhaust and effluent since say the early ’70s. I’m surprised it has lasted so long. I landed just below the ice cap in a chopper in Jan ’92 and it looked in dire straits then.

      • But Iain, the observation was that this glacier started melting 150 years ago (circa 1870?)

        Was the mine operating then?

        (and I’m reasonably certain that at that time nobody was landing choppers anywhere near there)

        • Cobbler, I’m not arguing the toss, I am just saying that apart from any other factors it has had a mine site, it’s power station ( since moved to the coast) and 15,000 plus people living and working at 12,000ft just below it. Influential? I would think so.

        • The Grasberg mine is the largest gold mine and the second largest copper mine in the world.[1][2] It is located in the province of Papua in Indonesia near Puncak Jaya, the highest mountain in Papua. It has 19,500 employees.
          The mine is located within what used to be a small equatorial mountain glacier.[21][failed verification] Steepening of slopes related to mining activities, as well as earthquakes and frequent heavy rainfall, have resulted in landslides within the open pit mine.[citation needed]
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grasberg_mine

  3. This is certainly not the case for the Sierra Nevada glaciers which I ski on every month during the summer. Since the minimum during the summer of 2015, they’ve been growing every year. This October, they were as big as I’ve ever seen them that late and I’ve been doing this for nearly 2 decades. BTW, the 2015 minimum was the culmination of 3 years of drought and unusual late summer monsoon rains and had nothing to do with the temperature.

    • You must be hallucinating. We were assured by 97% of climate scientists “The End Of Snow” in the Sierra by now.

      • This report looks to be over a decade old, besides, I believe my own senses and not a report obviously biased to the fake narrative. The hard pack glacial ice gets covered every winter by new snow and how much of this new snow remains at the end of the summer depends mostly on how much fell during the winter.

        The pictures from 2003 are very misleading as there was a significant drought in the early 2000’s and 2003 was the worst of it. All of those glaciers were significantly larger at the end of this summer then they were at the end of the 2003 summer.

        • I tried to reply to you but the mods didn’t approve my comment for some reason. You obviously know a lot about the glaciers. Where did you study climate/glaciers?

          • Bill,
            My science degrees were from Cornell (EE specializing in the physics of it). My experience with glaciers is first hand and comes from hiking to many different alpine glacial snowfields to ski them ever month of every summer for decades, including some of the ones in the article you cited.

  4. Google historic satellite imagery only goes back to 1984 but it looks like these glaciers were hardly ever glaciers at all in that time. It certainly doesn’t look like they have begun shrinking faster based on this imagery going back 35 years and they only have data going back 15 years beyond that. The proclamation of increased melting rate is another one of those climastrology 1-year trends.

  5. How many times have they rotated the same talking points over and over? I mean, do they even rewrite the story or just cut and paste and change the dates?

    • They follow the same algorithm as climastrologists:

      REPEAT:
      IF recent global temps are decreasing
      THEN artificially increase recent temps
      AND artificially decrease earlier temps
      INDEFINITELY

  6. Glaciers come and go.

    Gee whiz, these science people would be upset if they were measuring the Wisconsin glacial maximum after it started melting back like it was supposed to do. What’s with them?

    There is no such thing as a static landscape on this planet and that includes glaciers. They come and go with the way the wind blows and the snow falls.

    • Yes, the Conness glacier just east of Yosemite nearly disappeared in 2015 yet has recovered nicely and has grown significantly every year since. If you extrapolate its growth since 2015, it will be in Nevada within a decade or so, so I’m quite sure it will start to shrink again during the next drought.

  7. The glaciers in Papua, Indonesia, are “the canaries in the coal mine” for other mountaintop glaciers around the world, said Lonnie Thompson

    I haven’t keep track, but I think this is a new entry in the parade of climate coal mine canaries.

  8. What gets me is that people grumble about shovelling snow in the driveway, and then travel to some exotic location and shed tears for a disappearing glacier, as if it’s some endangered species. It happens all the time in New Zealand. “The glacier might soon be gone,” they say, wide eyed with horror. But (a) it’s just frozen water, and (b) it can (and probably will) come back !

  9. ““Ice is just a threshold system. It is perfectly happy at freezing temperatures or below, but everything changes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.”
    Define ‘Sublimation’, you rent seeking hack.
    HINT: What happens to a tray of ice cubes left in a freezer for weeks? And yes, he CERTAINLY knows better than that.

    • But he went on to qualify his statement…
      “The last remaining tropical glaciers between the Himalayas and the Andes will disappear in the next decade …” So all those you mentioned are ignored by his claim.

  10. > “The glaciers, atop a mountain near Puncak Jaya, on the western half of the island of New Guinea, have been melting for years, Thompson said. ”

    Hey, Thompson. You misspelled millennia.

  11. The key question I don’t see addressed is “How old is this glacier?”

    Without wasting my time on junk science to find their paper, my hunch is it is only a several thousand years old at most. It likely was completely absent during the HTO unti 4-6 Kya. It likely gained most of its current mass during LIA, once again demonstrating the LIA was global in extent.

    So why do Climate scammers think humanity returning to the LIA would be good?

    • That was my first thought. 4-6 Kya the oceans were a couple of meters deeper. I look at the Arctic ice and glacial ice as beginning to grow from their lowest to non-existent extents. Any minor fluctuation(s) in environmental influence(s) will have an apparently large influence on these baby ices.

  12. “Such was the case with this glacier, the researchers learned when they first drilled in 2010. The cores they brought to the surface showed meltwater at the base of the glacier as well as at the top.”

    That is known as a “warm-based” or “wet-based” glacier. As a matter of fact most glaciers are warm-based, even a large proportion of the Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets are warm-based:

    https://nsidc.org/sites/nsidc.org/files/images/sample-date-map-RDBTS4.png

  13. Well of course the glacier melt appears to be accelerating. As the glacier shrinks, so the ratio of surface area to volume increases. This is why ice cubes in a glass disappear more rapidly the smaller they become.

  14. “tropical glaciers…[that] have been melting for years… will [now] disappear in [only] the next 10 years”.

    Mkay. Maybe he’s upset because he had 11 years and took “over”?

    Typical of the alarmists: can’t sell the fact that this is Brand New Doom because, well, one would think even tropical glaciers are gonna melt ’cause of the, you know, BEING IN THE TROPICS.

    So now, its because its a decade instead of maybe, if anyone looked (and they did but won’t say) a decade and a half, or even two (or even three).

    What would magically happen to the planet in the ensuing difference of 5, 10, or 20 years?

    Besides things getting better and all?

  15. Last remaining glaciers in the Pacific will soon melt away

    On a related note, the Sun is expected to rise, again tomorrow!

    Researchers believe other mountaintop glaciers will follow quickly

    Update! The Sun is expected to set, not long after it rises.

    Seriously though, this irrational navel gazing reminds me of the “ban dihydrogen monoxide” meme.

  16. So the melt rate increases naturally – I’d expect that. And it started 150 years ago. Then by golly they cannot say it is getting worse because of climate change. It would have got worse anyway. Their conclusion is invalid.

  17. This was my favorite part,

    Thompson said the mountaintop glaciers around the world contribute between a third and a half of the annual sea level rise in the Earth’s oceans.

    If we add up the amount of CAGW sea level rise that each alarmist attributes to their particular area of study, then we are now up to 265% of current observed rise.

  18. Just like the glaciers in Glacier National Park (about 3000 years old). They are not as old as the end of the last ice age. In other words, just like the Ice Man that melted out of the swiss alps, it used to be warmer than it is now. Thus our recent warming out of the little ice age still has not brought us to as warm as most of the Holocene has been.

    Basically, this whole glacier melting argument is a straw man. All this really shows is that we are well within natural variation.

    • Yes, most of alpine glaciers disappeared during the Holocene thermal maximum about 8K years ago and have been rebounding owing to the long term cooling trend that has occurred since, although the rebound is definitely not monotonic, nor is a change to any climate related metric.

      This illustrates the biggest flaw in the alarmist logic which is the presumption that whatever trend occurred during the last few years will continue in the same direction forever.

  19. Why does Thompson attribute the melting to an El Nino year? During El Nino, water in the eastern Pacific is warmer than that in the western Pacific, leading to increased precipitation along the west coast of North and South America, and decreased precipitation (monsoons) in eastern Asia. Is the melting due to decreased snowfall on the top of the glacier during an El Nino year, or increased sunshine during the monsoon season?

    “Thompson said the mountaintop glaciers around the world contribute between a third and a half of the annual sea level rise in the Earth’s oceans.”

    This statement definitely sounds like a stretch. The ice caps over Antarctica and Greenland have much higher surface area than “mountaintop glaciers” in temperate or tropical areas, and are also much thicker, so that losing a meter of thickness in Greenland would have more consequence on sea level rise than losing an entire glacier in New Guinea.

    Mountaintop glaciers in tropical areas have very small surface areas, due to the limited area over which surface temperatures are below freezing, and receive more snowfall than can melt under the tropical sun, with high sun angles year-round.

    Rather than worrying about the few small glaciers on tropical mountains, anyone worried about sea level rise should be looking at Antarctica and Greenland first, then glaciers in the Himalayas, northern Rockies, Scandinavia, and the Alps. But such larger glaciers are less likely to melt, since they are exposed to low sun angles and high snowfall for several months out of the year.

    • “Thompson said the mountaintop glaciers around the world contribute between a third and a half of the annual sea level rise in the Earth’s oceans.”

      So when those glaciers run out of ice next August or so, Sea Level Rise will be cut by 30-50%? That’s really good news, right?

  20. “Thompson said the mountaintop glaciers around the world contribute between a third and a half of the annual sea level rise in the Earth’s oceans.”

    Sea level rise fear eliminated!
    Professor Thompson says a third to half of sea level rise will stop very soon!

    • Good catch!

      Yes, when the glaciers are gone, the sea level rise “acceleration” should abate a bit, no?

  21. Well, I suppose we can easily argue the only reason the glacier was ever there was due to previous climate change. So, the real question is Should it be there or was it always meant to be temporary?

  22. That’ll be the same Lonnie hoard-your-raw-data-for-decades-and-refuse-access-to-other-scientists Thompson that Steve McIntyre has often written about then?

  23. “Last remaining glaciers in the Pacific will soon melt away”

    Celebrate!
    It’s such good news!
    It means we are still leaving the LIA.
    Hurray!

  24. I can only imagine the circle-running cacophony of cackling that would be going on if such a person as Thompson were alive say 14,000 years ago and the several thousand feet of ice covering where he presently resides started melting to provide the space and food for his present existence.

    Please note that I use the term with forethought–

    “noun, plural ca·coph·o·nies.
    harsh discordance of sound; dissonance: a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails.
    a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds”

  25. Punjak Jaya glaciers from wikipedia…

    The glacier on Puncak Trikora in the Maoke Mountains disappeared completely some time between 1939 and 1962. Since the 1970s, evidence from satellite imagery indicates the Puncak Jaya glaciers have been retreating rapidly. The Meren Glacier melted away sometime between 1994 and 2000.

    Probably due to warming since the end of the Little Ice Age.

    Everything flows and nothing abides [Heraclitus 500BC approx]

  26. As glaciers thin and shrink, more sunlight hits more rock, warming the area around the glacier.

    That melting that started 150 years ago has accelerated recently is hardly surprising and it has nothing to do with CO2.

  27. I am mightily relieved to learn that they have discovered a canary in the coal mine.

    As we no longer get hype over dying polar bears due to shrinking sea ice, along with sinking Tuvalu, I had assumed that there had been one of those feared extinction events that had wiped out the species entirely🤡

  28. Why are climate alarmists panicking? Earth’s climate has been through this many times before.

    How do climate alarmists explain the changes in climate regarding glacial and interglacial periods? It’s all natural, folks… and there’s absolutely nothing humans can do about it.

    • “Why are climate alarmists panicking?”

      1) if they are politicians, they know they have to scare enough people in any particular election cycle
      2) if they are media, they know they have to scare enough people to click on their clickbait
      3) if they are activists, they know they have to scare enough people get funding in a crowded market
      4) if they are kids, they are uneducated

      Actually, #4 can also refer to #s 1 through 3 as well.

      Basically, they don’t have any math, reading comprehension or deductive skills.

      This is what a few decades of grade inflation for the “gold star” kids gets you: they can never be told they are wrong because that would “hold them back”.

      From what, I’m never sure, but “reality” is a good bet.

  29. Those glaciers are only 5,000 years old in the first place, and have been quickly disappearing for over a thousand years. The ice field was much more extensive than it is now and when discovered, was already a mere shadow of what it once was.

  30. Interesting article. Focusing on climate change could be similar to the natives worshiping a glacier. A wider focus might help.

  31. The believers of climate have long foretold the retreat of glaciers form during the Little Ice would melt in the next 50 years.
    The ancient Thompson is now betting it will happen in next decade- I guess, it’s just in time for the end of the world due to the climate emergency which is predicted to happen in next 11 years

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