Glaciers in the Peruvian Andes are retreating at an ‘alarming rate’

Between 2000 and 2016, there has been a 30% reduction in the glacial area in the Peruvian Andes, an area equivalent to 80,000 football pitches, a study has found.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Thorsten Seehaus at Fredrich Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) worked alongside colleagues in Peru using satellite imagery to measure the changes in the Peruvian glaciers.

This is the first study to measure the region-wide measurements of changes in mass and area of the glaciers.

Tropical glaciers exist around the equator at altitudes higher than 4,000 meters, Peru is home to about 92% of all glacial areas in the tropics.

Due to their location, tropical glaciers are particularly sensitive to any changes in climate.

Peru’s glaciers are a valuable source of water, they supply drinking water, ensure that the rivers continue to flow and supply water to the hydroelectric power plants, however the researchers have forecasted that the maximum amount of water which can be obtained from the melting ice has already been exceeded in certain areas of the Andes.

By looking at the satellite imagery, the researchers identified a glacial retreat of 29 percent during the period of investigation, this is an area that is equivalent to 80,000 football pitches with a loss of nearly eight gigatons of ice.

The researchers have also observed that the rate of retreat is accelerating, the glacier has retreated almost four times more between 2013 and 2016 than it did in the years before.

This increased rate of retreat poses a higher risk of natural hazards.

Lakes can form in areas that were previously covered by ice and this water can be held back by the former terminal moraines left by the glacier.

If the ice or rock avalanches end in the lake then the dam can break or overflow.

This leads to the glacial lake emptying without any warning, sending a destructive flood wave down the valley.

The researchers conclude that: ‘We highly advocate resuming and further extending the glacier monitoring in the tropical Andes, not solely to gain scientific knowledge, but also to provide important information for local authorities and decision-makers regarding water resource management and civil protection.’

In related news, the world’s oceans are facing ‘unprecedented’ challenges due to climate change, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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