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Andean Glaciers Melting at Faster Rates, Says Study

Jan 24, 2013 08:17 AM EST
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A new study reveals that the glaciers of the Andes Mountains have shrunk by up to 70 percent since the 1970s.

Researchers from France and Bolivia examined the data of about half of all Andean glaciers and found that they are retreating at record rates in more than 300 years, owing to the rise in average temperatures. The average temperature has seen a rise of 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 degree Celsius) in the last 70 years.

Climate change is causing the rapid decline of glaciers across the globe. In particular, the glaciers of the tropical Andes are reacting more rapidly to changes in climatic conditions than any other glaciers on Earth.

"Glacier retreat in the tropical Andes over the last three decades is unprecedented," said lead author Antoine Rabatel, a scientist with the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France.

According to the author's report, glaciers everywhere in the tropical Andes are retreating, but smaller glaciers are getting impacted more due to temperature rise. Smaller glaciers are melting twice the rate at which larger, high-altitude glaciers are retreating. Glaciers below 5,400m have already lost about 1.35m thickness every year since the late 1970s, reports BBC.

This could lead to the disappearance of small glaciers within the coming decades. According to scientists, some smaller glaciers such as the Chacaltaya glacier of Bolivia, which was once the world's highest ski resort, have already completely disappeared.

The Andean glaciers are the main source of water for tens of millions in South America. The melting of glaciers could affect all those inhabitants who rely on glacial water for agriculture, hydropower and domestic consumption.

The details of the study appear in the academic journal The Cryosphere.

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