Sunday, November 15, 2009

Warming brings early demise to Bolivian glacier

The Independent (UK): Once home to the highest ski resort in the world and now reduced to a rocky mountainside, Bolivia's Chacaltaya range bears powerful witness to the precipitous melting of glaciers. The rusting remains of a ski lift now dominate what was once the highest ski-run in the world perched on the Chacaltaya glacier at some 5,300 meters (17,390 feet) high.

"That's all there's left: a little piece of ice that is disappearing and will last no more than a year," said Alfredo Martinez, a veteran guide and founder of the Bolivian Andean Club. Glancing at old black and white photographs, he recalled better times for his beloved Andean glacier, when ski competitions saw Argentine and Chilean athletes make the two-hour trip from the capital La Paz on a narrow and winding road.

…But today, "it's a dead glacier," said Edson Ramirez, glaciologist at the Institute of Hydraulics and Hydrology in La Paz. … Ramirez is part of a team of international scientists studying the Tropical Andes stretch of mountain range on horseback in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The scientists, who have studied Chacaltaya for the past 15-20 years, had forecast it would completely disappear in 2015. But with accelerated global warming spurring the ice to melt at the rate of six meters (20 feet) per year compared to about a meter in the 1940s, its demise has come six years earlier than expected. … For Ramirez, there is only one culprit, climate change, blamed on greenhouse gases that are particularly prevalent in industrialized countries....

The lodge at Chacaltaya with no snow in sight, shot by Ville Miettinen, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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