Unprecedented glacier melting in the Andes blamed on climate change

January 24, 2013CLIMATEGlaciers in the tropical Andes have been retreating at increasing rate since the 1970s, scientists write in the most comprehensive review to date of Andean glacier observations. The researchers blame the melting on rising temperatures as the region has warmed about 0.7 C over the past 50 years (1950-1994). This unprecedented retreat could affect water supply to Andean populations in the near future. These conclusions are published in The Cryosphere, an Open Access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU). The international team of scientists – uniting researchers from Europe, South America and the US – shows in the new paper that, since the 1970s, glaciers in tropical Andes have been melting at a rate unprecedented in the past 300 years. Globally, glaciers have been retreating at a moderate pace as the planet warmed after the peak of the Little Ice Age, a cold period lasting from the 16th to the mid-19th century. Over the past few decades, however, the rate of melting has increased steeply in the tropical Andes. Glaciers in the mountain range have shrunk by an average of 30-50% since the 1970s, according to Antoine Rabatel, researcher at the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France, and lead author of the study. Glaciers are retreating everywhere in the tropical Andes, but the melting is more pronounced for small glaciers at low altitudes, the authors report. Glaciers at altitudes below 5,400 meters have lost about 1.35 meters in ice thickness (an average of 1.2 meters of water equivalent [see note]) per year since the late 1970s, twice the rate of the larger, high-altitude glaciers. “Because the maximum thickness of these small, low-altitude glaciers rarely exceeds 40 meters, with such an annual loss they will probably completely disappear within the coming decades,” says Rabatel. The researchers further report that the amount of rainfall in the region did not change much over the past few decades and, therefore, cannot account for changes in glacier retreat. Instead, climate change is to blame for the melting: regional temperatures increased an average of 0.15 C per decade over the 1950-1994 period. “Our study is important in the run-up to the next IPCC report, coming out in 2013,” says Rabatel. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pointed out that tropical glaciers are key indicators of recent climate change as they are particularly sensitive to temperature changes. The tropical Andes host 99% of all tropical glaciers in the world, most of them in Peru. –SD
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7 Responses to Unprecedented glacier melting in the Andes blamed on climate change

  1. Rosa says:

    Thank you for the information. I will be looking forward to see more in the 2013 report.


  2. Irene C says:

    Back when I was in school (pre-computer, still using stone and chisel) we learned that climate change was cyclical. We also learned that, as the ice-age retreated, it would once again advance. Now I wonder if what I learned was wrong. And I wonder if what our children are learning now will be proven wrong also. Yes, I do believe the climate is changing. I also believe that it’s to be expected. Just saying…


    • Shon says:

      Irene, I agree and often ask people if they don’t remember trips to the CSIRO (Australia) where we were taught about the Earth’s cycles and tectonic shifts etc. It’s normal!


  3. tonic says:

    So many comments have been posted on here over the years about climate change. Climate change never seems to be the issue.. but it’s cause is the jinx.
    This is the first time in human history that we are able to witness the changes across the globe. Via the internet. So for the first time ever, humankind is forced into awareness.
    It’s like a villian in a Sherlock Holmes, old time radio show.
    Who is the guilty one?
    Or maybe the normal routine the Earth has par-taken in, over eons, with us, or without us on board.


  4. winterseeker says:

    Looks like the folks above are truly lost in history…climate change is real for every dramatic increase we see in our increasingly unstable atmosphere – people may say it again and again with seemingly endless evidence (and now 99.99% certainty) and still “they” will deny global warming…They cite Earth’s cyclical cycles but can they find a 100-year period in history where all greenhouse gases accelerated beyond a million year + benchmark? Where ocean acidification reached record levels, the average number of hurricanes per year increased 3-fold, incidence of flooding became global and chronic and heat waves (and even some cold waves) broke mutli-thousand year records every single year!?! That is not normal and, as much as it would comfort our mostly polluting, arrogant and selfish western idealists, this is not the normal cycle of Earth. This is an anthropocene gone out of control and out of touch with nature.

    Climate Change is real and our generation will have to deal with it’s consequences and not hide in antiquated notions of wealth equalling intelligence. We need smart people and sustainable solutions. It starts with getting informed and being aware.


    • tonic says:

      Our generation (oldies) will have to deal with very little. The problem we have, is our youngsters looking to us for guidance. And outside of guessing, I have none to give.
      So you are completely correct, we need people with cred, who are prepared to bypass the glory thing, and begin the process of making sure humankind will survive the unfolding, disentegration, now occuring on our planet.
      A task, I do not envy.


    • tonic says:

      As a footnotre, “the folks above” lost in history, are your conception only. Shocking for sure.
      Imagine someone having a view different from yours. (what is the world coming to)
      Yep, these folks are surely lost in history and have no idea of what is really happening on this planet, and have no concern about their youngsters.
      So hey, what do they know.?
      Outside of the arrogance you display.


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