Glacial melt creates Andes time bomb

(Climate News Network, 16 Dec 2019) The speed of glacial melt in parts of Latin America is threatening water supplies – and life and limb in cities downstream.

Rising regional temperatures in the Andes and the warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean, off Latin America’s west coast, are driving the mountains’ glacial melt to alarming new speeds.

Long-term water supplies to many millions of people are under threat. Capital cities like Lima in Peru and La Paz in Bolivia, largely dependent on water from glacier melt flows, face an uncertain future.

The prospects for agriculture – a mainstay of the economies of countries in the region – will be imperilled as land dries up.

There is another, potentially lethal consequence of the melting of the Andes’ glaciers. In 1941, large chunks of ice breaking off a glacier and falling into Lake Palcacocha, more than 4,500 metres up in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in the Peruvian Andes, are said to have triggered what’s known as a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).

The sudden influx of ice caused the lake to burst, its waters racing down a canyon to burst another glacial lake below and then on to flood the city of Huarez, more than 20 kilometres away. It’s estimated that more than 4,000 people – about a third of the city’s population at the time – were killed.

Rising temperatures caused by climate change in mountain ranges around the world are leading to an ever-increasing number of GLOF incidents. Mountainous countries like Peru and Nepal, in the Himalayas, are particularly vulnerable to the sudden flooding caused when glacial lakes burst.

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Climate News Network, 16 Dec 2019: Glacial melt creates Andes time bomb