El Nino could doom Indonesia's rare tropical glaciers by 2026

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Two of the world's few tropical glaciers in Indonesia are melting, their ice under threat to vanish by 2026 or sooner, as an El Nino weather pattern lengthens the dry season in the southeast Asian nation, its geophysics agency said on Wednesday.

Indonesia, home to a third of the world's rainforest after Brazil and Congo, expects the dry season could run until October as El Nino increases the risk of forest fires and threatens supplies of clean water.

While the agency has warned that the Pacific weather phenomenon could make this year's dry season the most severe since 2019, one of its climate researchers said it could also imperil Indonesia's 12,000-year-old tropical glaciers.

"The glaciers might vanish before 2026, or even faster, and El Nino could accelerate the melting process," said Donaldi Permana, referring to the so-called 'Eternity Glaciers'.

The glaciers, which he said were among the few left in the tropics, are the 4,884-m (16,000-ft) -high Carstensz Pyramid and the East Northwall Firn, which is 4,700 m (15,420 ft) high, in the Jayawijaya mountains in the easternmost region of Papua.

The glaciers have thinned significantly in the past few years, Donaldi said, going to 8 metres (26 ft) in 2021 from 32 m (105 ft) in 2010, while their total area fell to 0.23 square kilometres in 2022, from 2.4 square kilometres in 2000.

But little can be done to prevent the shrinking, he said, adding that the event could disrupt the regional ecosystem and trigger a rise in the global sea level within a decade.

"We are now in a position to document the glaciers' extinction," added Donaldi, a coordinator of the climate research division of the agency, known as BMKG. "At least we can tell future generations that we used to have glaciers."

In addition to Papua, tropical glaciers may be found in the Andes of South America and the mountains of Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and Rwenzory in Africa.

Indonesia is the world's top exporter of coal, and aims to reach net zero emissions by 2060. Coal-fired power makes up more than half its energy supply.

Last year it set an ambitious deadline of 2030 to cut emissions by 31.89% on its own, or by 43.2% with international support.

(This story has been corrected to rectify units of measurement to square kilometers from kilometers in paragraph 6)

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)