June 2015 – CHILE – Haydee Pereira should be tired by this time of year serving clients at the Valle Nevado ski resort near Santiago. As it is, she has a lot of time to contemplate the mountains out the window — and the absence of snow. With 15 years experience working as a waitress at the resort, Pereira can’t remember the last time the slopes were this barren by mid-June. The only snow to be seen is the fake variety, put down last week for a photo shoot. “In all my years here, the snow has never taken so long to arrive or the season so long to start,” Haydee said as she stood in the resort’s deserted restaurant. Santiago, which sits below the ski resorts, has seen just 1.2 centimeters of rain this year, 86% less than normal, and there is none forecast for at least another seven days. The situation gets more complicated for Valle Nevado and the other ski resorts in the Andes mountains by the Chilean capital in a week or so, when package tours start to arrive from places such as Brazil.
People began skiing toward the end of May last year, with the resort officially opening June 14. This year there isn’t so much a shortage of snow, as a complete absence. For now, Pereira is serving the few Brazilians, Mexicans and Colombians that come up to see the mountains in between games of the Copa America soccer tournament. They are rewarded with a view of the smog lying over the city below, pollution that has been able to build up due to the lack of rain. It shouldn’t be this way. According to Chile’s meteorological service, the Pacific coast of South America is experiencing a mild El Nino effect, the climatic condition that typically brings heavy rainfall with it. Since 1968, 44 percent of the time the ski season has officially started after June 25, while it has been after July 1 in 25 percent of the years, according to Sotomayor. Central Chile has a climate similar to that in southern California — and a similar drought that has now lasted eight years. The water shortage forced the Lake Tahoe area ski resorts in California to close early this year.
It is getting harder for ski enthusiasts such as Stefanie Schultz, a 23-year-old graduate from the University of Oregon, to find snow. This pattern is happening everywhere in the world, not just in Chile,” Schultz said. “Every year, annual snowfall declines. This year ski resorts had to close early and Utah, Wyoming and Colorado also saw huge decreases in annual snowfall.” This season rivalled 1976-77 and 1980-81 as the lowest North American snowfall season on record, with most California and Pacific Northwest areas receiving less than half normal snowfall, according to bestsnow.net. Schultz is giving up and booking her return flight from Chile for July, a month earlier than she originally planned. “I will never forget that on July 5 two years ago, there was a huge snow storm, when there was already a lot of snow,” Schultz said. “At this rate, even if there is a huge storm like that, Valle Nevado won’t have enough snow to open many of the areas I skied that season.” –Skift
Glaciers melting at record pace on Mexico’s tallest volcano
As a result of warming temperatures, Mexico’s tallest volcano, Pico de Orizaba, is performing an all-natural striptease, the ice patches near its summit melting away to bare rock. The same process is taking place in the permafrost of Russia, the ice fields of the Yukon and the glaciers of New Zealand. And as the once-frozen world emerges from slumber, it’s yielding relics, debris — and corpses — that have been hidden for decades, even millennia. The thaw has unnerved archaeologists, given hope to relatives of lost mountain climbers and solved the mysteries of old plane crashes. What emerges is not always apparent — or even pleasant. That pungent smell? It’s a massive deposit of caribou dung in the Yukon that had been frozen for thousands of years, and now is decomposing in the air, its sharp odor unlocked. Pico de Orizaba towers above all other mountains in Mexico at 18,491 feet. It is the third-highest peak in North America, after Mount McKinley in Alaska and Mount Logan in Canada’s Yukon Territory. A challenging dormant volcano, Orizaba is a training ground for those interested in high-altitude climbing. For a handful of climbers, it has been their last peak. They’ve been buried by avalanches or swallowed by crevasses. Now, the mountain is spitting back their bodies. Late in February, a climbing party circled the jagged crater atop Orizaba. “One of them slipped, and they later said he skidded down and came to a stop. When he got up, he saw a head poking out of the snow,” said Hilario Aguilar Aguilar, a veteran climber
It was a mummified climber, a member of a Mexican expedition hit by an avalanche on Nov. 2, 1959. Some climbers fell near the Chimicheco Ridge, their bodies frozen in an icy time machine, only to re-emerge 56 years later. Hearing of the macabre discovery, prosecutors dispatched Aguilar and other climbers March 4 to document the scene of death. “Upon clearing away some snow so that I could take some photographs, I saw another hand. Suddenly, there were one, two, three hands. It didn’t seem possible. Digging a little more, we discovered that there was another body,” Aguilar said. The natural fiber rope connecting the two bodies had disintegrated to little more than a stain in the ice, he added. Aguilar said one of the mummified climbers appeared to be wearing remnants of a red sweater.
“I tried to bring a piece as a sample, for evidence, but it turned to dust when I touched it,” he said, adding that the mummified bodies are unlikely to be retrieved from the mountain until weather clears, perhaps in November. Then word came of another body, this one at an oxygen-deprived elevation of about 16,900 feet on another side of the crater. Aguilar and his crew went up June 4 and brought the body down on a metal gurney, dragging it down a steep slope. Wearing a suit inappropriate for a freezing clime, the victim may have been thrown from a small plane that crashed on Orizaba in 1999, although his identity is not yet known. Elsewhere around the world, explorers and scientists are stumbling upon mountainside plane wrecks, finding mummified Incan children, and discovering a frozen graveyard of ancient marine reptiles once hidden under a Chilean glacier.
Archaeologists are turning into unlikely beneficiaries of a warmer Earth, and several have started a new publication: the Journal of Glacial Archaeology. Its editor, E. James Dixon, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, frets about the phenomenon of ancient ice melting after thousands of years. “For every discovery that is made, there are thousands coming out of the ice and are decomposing very rapidly,” Dixon said. “In the ice, some of the most delicate artifacts are preserved. We’ve found baskets, arrow shafts with the feathers intact and arrowheads and lashings perfectly preserved.” Once the ice melts and the artifacts are exposed, they decay quickly. –The Bulletin
Solar output plunging to levels not seen in centuries – mini “Ice Age”