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Scientist Watches Glacier Melt Beneath His Feet

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Scientist Watches Glacier Melt Beneath His FeetEarlier this summer, a group of scientists spent two weeks in Indonesia atop a glacier called Puncak Jaya, one of the few remaining tropical glaciers in the world. They were taking samples of ice cores to study the impacts of climate change on the glacier.

Lonnie Thompson, a professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, led the team and what he witnessed shocked him: The glacier was literally melting under their feet.

Thompson tells NPR's Guy Raz he has conducted 57 expeditions around the world, but this trip was unusual. It was the first one where he experienced rain on the glacier every day.

"Rain is probably the most effective way to ... cause the ice to melt," Thompson says. "So this was the first time you could see the surface actually lowering around you." While Thompson and his team were there drilling cores, he says, they witnessed the glacier drop 12 inches in just two weeks.

"If that's representative of the annual ice loss on these glaciers," he says, "you're looking at losing over seven meters of ice in a year. Unfortunately, that glacier's going to disappear in as little as five years if that rate continues."

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