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Bolivian Glacier Melting Faster Than Experts Projected

November 13, 2009

Bolivia’s Chacaltaya range has succumbed to the precipitous melting of glaciers, AFP reported.

The site was once home to the highest ski-run in the world as it was perched on the Chacaltaya glacier nearly 17,390 feet high, but now all that remains is a rusted skilift.

Only 538 square feet of snow remains on the magnificent Chacaltaya glacier.

Alfredo Martinez, a veteran guide and founder of the Bolivian Andean Club, said nothing is left but a little piece of ice that is disappearing and will likely last no more than a year.

“Today, it’s a dead glacier,” said Edson Ramirez, glaciologist at the Institute of Hydraulics and Hydrology in La Paz.

Skiers now head to nearby Cerro Charquini, where they can still find enough snow.

An international team of scientists is now studying the Tropical Andes stretch of mountain range on horseback in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The team has studied Chacaltaya for the past 15-20 years, and had forecast it would completely disappear in 2015. But with accelerated global warming spurring the ice to melt at the rate of 20 feet per year compared to about a meter in the 1940s, its demise has come six years earlier than they anticipated.

Over the past 33 years, at least 43 percent of the snow-capped peaks around Chacaltaya, Bolivia’s Royal Cordillera region, which boasts pristine valleys, fields, lakes and waterfalls surrounded by mountains, are now gone.

The scientists now fear that the neighboring Huayna Potosi Mountain or the majestic Illimani, which dominates La Paz, may be headed toward the same fate.

Ramirez believes climate change is the only culprit, and experts say most tropical glaciers in the Andes are doomed to disappear in the medium term due to global warming.

The humanitarian group Oxfam noted in a report published ahead of key UN-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen next month that Bolivia only emitted 0.35 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases in 2000.

Oxfam warned that Bolivia will be hit disproportionately as thousands of Andean farmers and La Paz residents depend on melt waters from the glaciers, which accounts for 15 percent of the capital’s supply.

Hydroelectric sources account for nearly half of the country’s energy supply.

Now a government-backed civil lobbying effort is beginning to push for “international climate justice” and pressure industrialized countries to compensate populations hit by their “climate crimes.”

As the debate over global warming heats up, Chacaltaya with its breathtaking view of the Altiplano high plain, remains a sought-after hiking spot.

Tourists can now plainly witness the devastating consequences of glacier loss — the area where snow has already melted heats up even more quickly thus causing the snow around it to melt faster.

Martinez demonstrated the phenomenon by grasping a handful of snow between his fingers and rubbing it against a rock. He explained that before, the rock was so cold that the snow was preserved, but now, it disappears within a few seconds.

Image Caption: The world’s highest ski resort at the Chacaltaya glacier in La Paz, Bolivia. Courtesy Ville Miettinen – Wikipedia




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