One of the few tropical glaciers in the world in the Indonesian province of Papua is under threat from increasing global warming. Experts warn that the millennia-old ice mass of Puncak Jaya could have completely melted as early as 2025. The highest mountain in Oceania on the island of New Guinea is a popular destination for alpinists from all over the world. The 4800 meter high mountain is also known as the Carstensz Pyramid. It may come as a surprise, but glaciers are not only found in the Arctic and the Alps, but also around the equator.

Zero degree limit is above the peak

“The temperature at Puncak Jaya has risen with global warming,” Dodo Gunawan, head of the climate change department at the Indonesian Institute for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG), told the German Press Agency on Thursday. “The so-called zero-degree line – the point at which water freezes – is now at a higher altitude than the summit.”

This year’s El Niño phenomenon has made the situation even worse. Especially in the East Pacific between South America and the island state of Indonesia, the weather event leads to far-reaching changes in ocean currents and trade winds. The result: the seawater in the tropics and the atmosphere are getting warmer.

The only glacier in all of Southeast Asia

Puncak Jaya is a natural wonder in Lorentz National Park, one of Southeast Asia’s largest wildlife sanctuaries. The population worships it as a sacred mountain. The ice caps on its slopes are believed to be the only glaciers in all of Southeast Asia – because temperatures in the tropics are usually too high for snow to form. Equatorial glaciers are found in the tropical Andes of South America, especially in Peru, and in the Rwenzori Mountains between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – but they are also disappearing.

According to Gunawan, the melting of the glacier in Papua will have serious consequences for the ecosystem. Because it supplies the surrounding rainforest, in which many endangered species live, with water and regulates the temperature there. There is also a risk of a dangerous rise in sea levels.

Shrunk from 20 to 0.23 square kilometers

The latest measurement data made it clear how serious the situation was, warned Donaldi Permana a few days ago, who had examined the glacier in 2010 with a team from Ohio State University. At the time of the industrial revolution around 1850, the total area of ​​ice on Puncak Jaya was estimated to be 20 square kilometers. By 2002 it had already shrunk to two square kilometers and by 2022 to 0.23 square kilometers.

“The thickness of the glacier has also decreased since 2010, when it was 32 meters, and was only 22 meters in 2016,” he said. In 2021 alone, the ice thickness had decreased by a further eight meters. Permana warned, “Given this situation, it is very likely that the glacier will be gone between 2025 and 2027.”

Ohio State University study