Wednesday, January 23rd 2013 - 09:27 UTC

Climate change devouring Andean glaciers and source of fresh water for millions

Climate change has shrunk Andean glaciers between 30% and 50% since the 1970s and could melt many of them away altogether in coming years, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Cryosphere.

The Andes rocky bottom exposed as glaciers retreat

Andean glaciers, a vital source of fresh water for tens of millions of South Americans, are retreating at their fastest rates in more than 300 years, according to the most comprehensive review of Andean ice loss so far.

The study included data on about half of all Andean glaciers in South America, and blamed the ice loss on an average temperature spike of 0.7 degree Celsius (1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 70 years.

“Glacier retreat in the tropical Andes over the last three decades is unprecedented,” said Antoine Rabatel, the lead author of the study and a scientist with the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France.

The researchers also warned that future warming could totally wipe out the smaller glaciers found at lower altitudes that store and release fresh water for downstream communities.

“This is a serious concern because a large proportion of the population lives in arid regions to the west of the Andes,” said Rabatel.

The Chacaltaya glacier in the Bolivian Andes, once a ski resort, has already disappeared completely, according to some scientists.

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1 Idlehands (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 10:53 am Report abuse
If it's the fastest rate for 300 years then what was causing it 300 years ago? The CO2 produced by soldiers huffing and puffing their way around the world?

To believe it's AGW due to industrialisation it needs to be the most rapid since the thaw of the last ice age.
2 Shed-time (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 11:46 am Report abuse
Well, we do complain about the weather in the UK, but it's fundamentally quite rainy, which is nice for drinking water, and the climate is good for growing things. So, we're not in a bad position really.

Moral to the tale... if South Americans insist on cutting down all their rainforests causing huge amounts of CO2 to be unfiltered from the atmosphere, then they shouldn't complain about their ice melting, lack of fertile land for crops or the fact everyone dies in a mega-drought.
3 Idlehands (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 12:09 pm Report abuse
What I hate about the AGW debate is that even the experts can't agree so how are we supposed to know.

However they have never shown that even if it's true that reducing carbon emissions now will reverse the problem. I believe the money is better spent adapting to the situation while we master cleaner energy - not throwing cash into a bottomless pit.
4 Shed-time (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 03:45 pm Report abuse
@3 as with any kind of prediction of world events it's massively complex and so finding the contributing factors isn't easy. People have tried to use things like morphological analysis, and other simplifying tools to break up the issues and find what's actually contributing.

Basic common sense, however, suggests that we are butchering the ecosystems on the earth at a rate unheard of in recent earth history and the world is getting warmer. And as with much research, there is proof of correlation but not the proof of causation. Not yet anyways, so we'd be better just make our footprint less until we find out either way.
5 Rufus (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 04:31 pm Report abuse
@1 Idle

Good question, my most likely answer would be the tail end of the deforestation of massive parts of Western Europe and the switch to burning coal for fuel that started in the late 16th century.

My concern is that adapting may prove more expensive in the long term than mitigating the damage until cleaner electricity becomes more readily available, both in terms of money and potentially lives as well. Better to do both.
6 briton (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 07:20 pm Report abuse
Is it not true?
That tree breath out air,[that we need to breath]
And breathe in carbon monoxide, that we breathe out,

So are humans not destroying the very thing that keeps us alive,
Whilst still breathing out, the very thing that kills us,
Or am I barking up the wrong tree.
7 Britninja (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 07:43 pm Report abuse
Well like Dave says, humanity is a bit of a pestilence. Some more than others.
8 Idlehands (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 08:09 pm Report abuse
6 briton

Errr - not quite.

Trees (like nearly all plants) absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day through the process of photosynthesis but absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide at night. However those two processes are not balanced. It produces roughly 10 times more oxygen during the day than it absorbs during the night. That's why forests are described as “carbon sinks” - they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it.
9 briton (#) Jan 23rd, 2013 - 08:30 pm Report abuse
8 Idlehands
thank you for that,
now i understand it a bit better,
10 Ayayay (#) Jan 24th, 2013 - 05:29 am Report abuse
@3 97% of scientists agree that it's happening.
11 Idlehands (#) Jan 24th, 2013 - 01:16 pm Report abuse
10 Ayayay

Where does that figure come from?

Climate was cooling in the 70's, warming in the 90's and nowadays they prefer to call it “Changing”

It seems to be based on the politics of fear like global terrorism is.

I don't really care one way or the other as I doubt it will affect me much.

In other news those spawny Australians have just discovered 233 billion barrels of oil. How's that for a lucky day?
12 yankeeboy (#) Jan 24th, 2013 - 05:03 pm Report abuse
It is all a bunch of B/S, the world goes through cycles we happen to be hot now ( actually I guess it is leveling off) and soon enough we will be cold.
Good gracious they used to farm in Greenland! Now it seems to be coming back to that.
The problem is the rich countries can mitigate the problems to continue with a nice lifestyle and the poor countries citizens will either migrate (like they have done since the beginning of our existence) or die.
13 Idlehands (#) Jan 25th, 2013 - 10:06 am Report abuse
The Romans used to grow grapes for wine in Scotland and the gulf stream still flowed at that temperature.

Mankind is badly polluting the environment but AGW seems to be the least of our environmental worries. Why is the ocean of waste in the Pacific less important? Or the toxicity of the air in cities? Or the destruction of the rainforests? Or the hunting of endangered species? Overfishing? Pesticides in groundwater? The list is endless.

If I were to guess they've hit on AGW as it is a question of faith and a better cash cow.

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