Global Warming Melts Andean Glaciers Toward Oblivion
Planetark.org, June 11, 2007
Small glaciers are scattered across the Andes and have for long been a crucial source of fresh water in
The glacier on
But the glacier is now only 10 feet (3 meters) thick on average, down from 49 feet (15 meters) in 1998, and glaciologist Edson Ramirez says it will disappear this year or next.
"This is a process that unfortunately is now irreversible," he said, adding that industrialized nations are doing too little and too late to slash carbon dioxide emissions.
"Even if they were to take measures now, it will take many, many years to replenish these glaciers, because unfortunately the damage has already been done," he said. "Most of these glaciers are similar to the Chacaltaya and that makes us think that those small glaciers could disappear in 20, 30 years."
Over 2 million people in the La Paz region depend heavily on the thawing of Chacaltaya and neighboring glaciers for tap water and, indirectly, for electricity supplies.
"At least 35 percent of the drinking water comes from melting glaciers, and about 40 percent of the electricity," said Oscar Paz, the head of the Bolivian Climate Change Panel, a government task force.
Water is already scarce in El Alto, a sprawling lower-class satellite city north of the country's administrative capital
Daniel Cuencas, a father of four, walks several blocks every day to fetch water from a stream and is well aware of what will happen when the glaciers disappear.
"This right here is ice melt. That is where the drinking water comes from, from the mountains. So we know that there isn't going to be enough water," he said, fetching water with a rusty tin can from the stream.
Water needs will only increase in coming years with the population in the
About 80 percent of the Andean glaciers are similar in size to Chacaltaya at under 1 square kilometer, and experts say they are similarly doomed.
Paz said rich countries should create a global fund to compensate poor nations for the effects of global warming.
"We're the victims of climate change, the underdeveloped countries like
Earlier this year,
The extreme weather was triggered by El Nino, a weather phenomenon believed to be aggravated by global warming.