Peru’s tropical glaciers to disappear in the next few years

April 27th, 2010

The glaciers below 5,000m.a.s.l. that make up Peru’s famous Cordillera Blanca in the Ancash region are expected to disappear in the next few years, experts warn.

While visiting Huascarán National Park, about 400km north of Lima, environmental engineer Marlena Rosario stated that in the next 5 years most of the glaciers will be affected. However, the region’s Glaciology Unit says the time frame may in fact be 10 to 15 years due to a slowing in glacial retreat in the past year (Peru has seen a wetter and colder Andean winter).

The melting of the glaciers is to have serious affects. From the green mountain valleys to the rivers that flow into the Pacific on the desert coast, hundreds of thousands are dependent on the gentle trickle of melt waters. Should the glaciers disappear, so too would millennia of civilisation and fields go barren. As well as a humanitarian and economic disaster in the long run, in the shorter term tourism will suffer as the beauty of the region fades.

Covered in ice decades ago

Covered in ice decades ago

One popular tourist attraction is the Pastoruri glacier, which attracts thousands of visitors. At a little over 5000 metres above sea level, it has been retreating an average of twenty metres a day as a result of climate change.

2008 alone saw 23 metres of the glacier disappeared. This has already affected numbers of visitors. The following year only 1,400 of the normal 6,000 visitors felt it worth making the trip during Peru’s national holiday celebrations.

According to Marco Arenas, head of the national park, technically the glacier is already dead. “For many, the pastoruri glacier no longer exists because their is only one cap and no further natural accumulation of ice”.

Pastoruri is just one of many peaks in the national park, another is the towering Nevado Huascarán at 6,768 metres, the highest in the country.

These icy peaks make up what is called the Cordillera Blanca, or the White Cordillera, for obvious reasons. Former park head René Valencia explained that 30 years ago the Cordillera Blanca was 723 kilometres long while today it is just 530km.

Peru’s Glaciology Unit of the National Institute of Natural Resources confirms that the region has lost 22% of its glaciers so far.

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