Drilling the three cores proved hazardous.
who drilled through an ice cap perched precariously on the edge of a
16,000-foot-high Indonesian mountain ridge say that the ice field could vanish
within in the next few years, another victim of global climate change.
The Ohio State University researchers, supported by a National
Science Foundation grant and the Freeport-McMoRan mining company and
collaborating with Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency (BMKG)
Indonesia and Columbia University, drilled three ice cores, two
to bedrock, from the peak's rapidly shrinking ice caps.
these new cores will provide a long-term record of the El Nino-Southern
Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon that dominates climate variability in the
were able to bring back three cores from these glaciers, one 30 meters (98.4
feet) long, one 32 meters (105 feet) long and the third 26 meters (85 feet)
long," explains Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor in the
School of Earth Sciences and a senior researcher with Ohio State's Byrd Polar
cores are relatively short compared to those retrieved during some of
Thompson's previous 57 expeditions, he notes, "We won't know what history
they contain until we do the analyses." A short 164-foot core previously
drilled in 2000 through ice fields atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa
yielded an 11,700-year history of climate.
is largely focused on capturing a record of ENSO. Last year, Thompson's team
drilled through an ice cap atop Hualcán, a mountain in the Peruvian Andes on
the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean.
they brought back a 620-foot and a 640-foot core (to bedrock), from which they
are reconstructing a high-resolution climate record going back more than 500
years. The Hualcán record should complement the more recent part of their
19,000-year record recovered from nearby Huascarán in 1993.
effort focused on several small and rare ice fields almost due west of the
Andes on the other side of the Pacific – near a mountain called Puncak Jaya in Indonesia.
Along with the ice core, the team collected rainwater samples from locations
ranging in elevation from sea level up to the site of the glacier.
with weather data garnered from 11 weather stations operated by
Freeport-McMoRan, the isotopic composition of the rainwater samples will help
the team interpret the climate history locked in the ice cores.
relative abundances of the stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen provide a
proxy for temperature, while concentrations of different chemical species
preserved in the ice reveal changes in the atmosphere, such as those occurring
during major volcanic eruptions.
dust content in the ice may signal increased drought while the presence of
specific organic compounds may reflect increased fire activity (forest
from atomic bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s provide time markers that help
date the cores. However, cores recently collected from Himalayan ice fields
lacked these radioactive layers, indicating the glaciers now are losing mass
from the surface down, destroying the time markers.
site itself was hazardous. "The area was riddled with crevasses and lacked
any substantial snowfall," Thompson says. This meant that the team had to
wear crampons – pointed metal cleats on their boots – to maneuver on the ice.
Daily rainstorms in the area, complete with lightning, increased the risks at
the drill site.
expedition was stalled almost before it began when a pallet containing the ice
core drills was missing from the equipment delivered to the drill site.
Inquiries with the shipping company failed to uncover the missing pieces, so Freeport-McMoRan
offered its own machine shop to fabricate a new drill. While that effort got
underway, Thompson, Freeport liaison Scott Hanna
and researcher Dwi Susanto of Columbia
University flew back to Jakarta, and eventually
found the lost equipment inside the shipper's warehouse.
end, the project came close to catastrophe again at the end when members of a
local native tribe, after failing in their attempt to reach the ice core
drilling site, broke into the freezer facility where the cores were stored,
intent on destroying them. Company officials, fearing the worst, secretly had
transported the ice to another facility for safekeeping a few hours earlier.
tribes claim the ice fields as their own, Thompson says. "They believe
that the ice is their god's skull, that the mountains are its arms and legs and
that we were drilling into the skull to steal their memories," he explains.
"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
days later, at a public forum arranged by Freeport-McMoRan, Thompson addressed
more than 100 tribal members and Freeport employees to explain the importance
of the project to understanding local to global climate changes. After 4.5
hours of discussion, the local people agreed to allow the ice cores to be
returned to Ohio State for analysis.
says that the project could never have been done without the aid of
Freeport-McMoRan, which provided aircraft and helicopter support, provided
cooks and food for the drill camp, and long-term storage of the ice cores and
safe transport of the ice from Papua back to Jakarta.
provided hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of support to the project. And
the result is that these cores are in the best possible condition of any core
we've ever brought out of the field," Thompson reveals.
Indonesian Ice Cores May Contain Climate Secrets
August 24, 2010