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Famed glacier melted
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Only the memory remains of the Chacaltaya glacier, the site of international ski competitions in the 1970s.

Bolivia´s famed Chacaltaya glacier, once the world´s highest ski peak at 5,300 meters above sea level, has melted six years before glaciologists´ estimates.

Chacaltaya, or “cold path” in Aymara, two hours from La Paz, started to melt during the 1980s. A decade ago, the Hydraulics and Hydrology Institute at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés estimated that the rapidly melting ice cap would disappear in 2015. It melted completely in March, however.

Edson Ramírez, an expert with the institute, said the rapid melting of Chacaltaya was caused by both more greenhouse gases and higher average global temperatures.

Other Bolivian glaciers, such as the emblematic Illimani, at 6,462 meters above sea level, southeast of La Paz, could melt within 30 years.

Seventy-one percent of the world´s tropical glaciers are found in Peru, 20 percent in Bolivia, 4 percent in each Ecuador and Colombia, and their melting threatens water, energy and food production for millions of people.

According to Juan Carlos Sánchez, member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the melting glaciers are “probably the clearest and best documented evidence of climate change in Latin America.”

Between 1970 and 1997, 22 percent of Peru´s glacier area has melted, an equivalent of 11.3 billion cubic meters of water, Sánchez said in an article published in the Venezuelan magazine Analítica.

“That loss has been more pronounced in the case of smaller glaciers and in altitudes of less than 5,500 meters above sea level. That represents a significant loss of glacier-fed water resources” estimated at 7 billion cubic meters of water.

In Ecuador, the Cotopaxi and Antisana glaciers have lost as much as half of their area.

“Glaciers are of major importance in Ecuador because they are the source of water for the country´s central valleys and they ensure the supply water for Quito,” he said.

Eight of Colombia´s 15 glaciers disappeared in the last 50 years, and the remaining glaciers have receded an average of 20 meters per year for the last five to 10 years.

“In the short term, the melting causes an overflow of reservoirs and breaking off of blocks of ice that translate to floods and avalanches,” he added. “In the longer term, there could be a significant reduction in water supplies for human consumption, farming and hydroelectricity. The change of mountain ecosystems could put numerous species at risk because of the deterioration and destruction of their habitats.”
—Latinamerica Press.

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