May 28, 2024 - World

Venezuela becomes first nation in the Americas to lose all glaciers

Illustration of pile of melting snow next to a flame

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Venezuela, once home to six glaciers, now has none after the last remaining one was recently classified as being too small to qualify.

Why it matters: Venezuela is the first country in the Americas to lose all of its glaciers.

  • Thawing has been worsening for the last decade in the Andes, which stretch across Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
  • That carries devastating consequences for communities that live on their slopes and depend on them for water and for energy and food production, as well as for unique ecosystems like the páramo (high-altitude moorlands).

State of play: Five of Venezuela's glaciers had largely melted away by 2011, as the loss of ice sheets formed in winter became so large during the other seasons until practically no more ice formed at all.

  • Now the Humboldt glacier, also called La Corona (the crown), which is on the highest peak of Venezuela's Mérida cordillera, has joined them.
  • Recent satellite images show only 2 hectares of ice (slightly less than 5 acres) left. La Corona used to be about 450 hectares (more than 1,100 acres) wide.
  • The U.S. Geological Service defines glaciers as ice bodies of about 25 acres in size.

What they're saying: Previous forecasts in the area estimated the Humboldt might last another decade. The mix of human-caused global warming and strong seasons of warmer temperatures from the El Niño phenomenon changed the tide, specialists say.

  • "The speed at which these glaciers melted is evidence of climate change … they started to thaw a long time ago, but the speed at which they've vanished is from the high temperatures," Alejandra Melfo, an astrophysicist that studies tropical glaciers at the University of the Andes in Mérida, tells Noticias Telemundo.

The big picture: At least 80% of glaciers worldwide are on track to almost disappear by 2100 because of current global warming conditions, according to a peer-reviewed study from last year.

  • But the fate of the Humboldt is a sign that the full melt could happen earlier than expected.

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