Indonesia’s vanishing tropical glacier

In 1623, the Dutch East India Company sent Jan Carstensz and the vessel Pera on the second expedition to explore the south-land after the 1606 voyage of Willem Jansz and the Duyfken to the Cape York Peninsula.

Hendrick Hondius map - Copy

Chart showing the results of the 1623 expedition, Hendrick Hondius, 1641, State Library NSW


As a result of the continuing collision of Australia with Asia, the Papuan mountains have been thrust up to 5000 metres above sea level and are almost continuously covered in cloud. However, while sailing along the south coast of Papua, the clouds suddenly parted and the crew of the Pera saw the most amazing sight. It was what Jan Carstensz described as a sneebergh and what we would call a glacier:

‘At a distance of about 10 miljen by estimation into the interior we saw a very high mountain range in many places white with snow, which we thought a very singular sight, being so near the equator’.

His report probably caused some amusement in Batavia, because who had ever heard of a glacier formed in the tropics and just a few degrees south of the equator? However his sighting was duly recorded on the 1641 map by Hendrick Hondius showing the results of the Pera expedition.

Hendrick Hondius map 3

Detail of the mountains and snee bergh observed in Papua by Jan Carstensz

Later expeditions to the interior of Papua proved he was correct and the Dutch named the highest mountain in Indonesia, and at 4884 meters the highest mountain in Oceania, Carstensz Top in his honour. ( Later renamed Puncak Jaya by Indonesia).

As a result of global warming, the glacier has been rapidly shrinking as shown in these photographs.


Puncak Jaya around 1980

Indonesian glaciers+2 Tim Jarvis

Puncak Jaya around 2015

Unfortunately, it has been predicted that by this year, 2018, the glacier may completely disappear and later generations will never believe there was a tropical glacier in Indonesia and just north of Australia.


About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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9 Responses to Indonesia’s vanishing tropical glacier

  1. Bama says:

    It truly is sad to know that the Carstensz Pyramid will forever lose its snow — unless the earth drastically cools down which I think is highly unlikely to happen in our time.

  2. carol graham says:

    This is a subject of which i know nothing, but find truly amazing. I would not have imagined a glacier in Papua, in fact did not know its mountainous area to be so grand. I am so glad to be a bit better informed. What a world we live in, and how sad that Puncak Jaya may soon disappear. Thank you, Ian.

  3. Denis O'Hara says:

    The existence and history of European discovery of Carstensz Top and subsequent copper mine establishment at Ertsberg by Freeport Mining, in turbulent political times for the new nation, is not widely known. Well done Ian. Further reading for the inquisitive is The Conquest of Copper Mountain by Forbes Wilson (Atheneum 1981). Thanks again Ian.

  4. Graham says:

    These Glaciers eg Nepal have been retreating since the end of the “Littile Ice Age” – Mid 18th Century

  5. Zaki Pstp says:

    But I haven’t been theree, and it’s on my top 3 bucket lists, please don’t disappear any sooon (cry)
    Thanks for writing this anw!

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