The Quelccaya ice cap of Peru is the worlds largest tropical body of ice. The ice cap has accrued its mass for over 50 centuries, and in 2009 it was estimated that the area of Peru’s glacier had been reduced by about 20 percent. A study led by PhD candidate Justin Stroup and Meredith Kelly from Dartmouth’s department of Earth’s Sciences found the cause to be related to warming temperatures. Dartmouth’s findings support the argument that the rising temperatures, and not other natural phenomena, are responsible for Peru’s receding glacier, amounting the evidence of global climate change.
Peru’s glacier took about 1,600 years to establish it’s volume, yet in 25 years most of it has been lost. Quelccaya’s area, once spanning over 800 acres, has reduced in size to less than 250 acres. According to the National Geographic, in another 30 years the glacier will have completely melted away. Research into the melting of Peru’s glacier and other tropical ice sheets has led to debates on the causes of such rapid changes. Among the causes that scientists have considered are temperature, precipitation, solar irradiation, and the effect that human carbon emissions have in aggravating climate change.
The World Glacier Monitoring Service has been closely observing shifts in our climate and the effect that such shifts have on glaciers. On their web page, WGMS explains that the melt off of Peru’s glacier and glaciers worldwide, has been triggered by climate change and amounts to evidence that climate change is becoming an even greater global threat. In a WGMS report, “Global Glacier Change: Facts and Figures,” argue that climate change has impacts on sea level fluctuations, increased probability of regional and local natural hazards, as well as social and economic implications for societies that depend on these glaciers as a consistent water source.
Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute, explains that the Peru glacier recedes about 20 feet per year and 60 percent of Peru’s population live in the arid costal region which depend on glacial runoff to supply water to cities and farmers. Initially, the increase in runoff would also increase the water supply in tandem, artificially inflating food production; but as the years continue, with the glacier only becoming smaller, water for irrigation will rapidly decline and leave these communities with a considerable shortage. Brown concludes that this will ultimately result in a threat to food security and political stability in the region. This is a global reality. Climate change is occurring rapidly worldwide; as glaciers melt and aquifers are depleted, we could be looking at the greatest threat to food security that the world has ever faced.
Peru’s receding glacier is only one example which supports the amounting evidence of climate change on a global scale. With all the buzz surrounding not just the melting glaciers but the impact that rising temperatures will have on our way of life, it is necessary to consider the effect this will have on our societies and our economy. The melting of Peru’s glacier is not an event that can be understood in isolation only, for it is not just Peru’s problem. The implications of rising temperature stretch to Africa, China, and the United States, just to name a few. The Mount Kilimanjaro melt off has occurred at an equally alarming rate in comparison to Quelccaya. From 1912 to 2007, 85 percent of the glacier a top Mt. Kilimanjaro has melted away.
The melting of the Himalayan glacier and Tibetan Plateau sustains the major rivers of Asia. With China leading the world in wheat production, reduced water levels put a greater demand on countries like India and the U.S. to help cushion the production setback. And with populations only continuing to rise, there is no way to ease demand. In the U.S. it is estimated that by the mid-century there will be a reduction of snow-pack by 70 percent. The effects of this have already been seen as reservoirs across California are emptied and Governor Brown announces that citizens must reduce their water consumption by 50 percent. As temperatures rise and water sources dry up, developed countries will begin to feel as though they are in a literal pressure cooker, while social and economic demands become more difficult to meet.
By Natalia Sachez
Brown, Lester. World On The Edge. Earth Policy Institute, 2011. p. 52-53