Venezuela’s Final Glacier Vanishes: A Sad Farewell to La Corona

Last Updated: June 18, 2024By
Venezuela’s Final Glacier Vanishes: A Sad Farewell to La Corona

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Venezuela has seen its last glacier melt away, turning what once was a glacier into just an ice field. This change marks a significant moment in modern history, as Venezuela is now the first country to completely lose its glaciers.

Once upon a time, six glaciers adorned the Sierra Nevada de Mérida mountain range, sitting at around 5,000 meters above sea level. By 2011, five of these icy giants had already disappeared, leaving only the Humboldt glacier, also called La Corona, near Pico Humboldt, the country’s second tallest peak.

A Decade Cut Short

Scientists had predicted that Humboldt glacier would last at least another ten years. However, due to the country’s political turmoil, they couldn’t monitor it closely. Recent evaluations show the glacier melted much quicker than expected, shrinking to less than 2 hectares. Because of this drastic reduction, it was reclassified from a glacier to an ice field.

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Climatologist and weather historian Maximiliano Herrera explained that while other countries lost their glaciers decades ago, Venezuela is the first to lose them all in the modern era. According to him, other countries like Indonesia, Mexico, and Slovenia might soon face the same fate, with Indonesia’s Papua island and Mexico experiencing record-high temperatures recently, hastening their glaciers’ retreat.

The Disappearing Act

Luis Daniel Llambi, an ecologist with Adaptation at Altitude, noted that Humboldt glacier lacks an accumulation zone, meaning it only loses ice without gaining any new ice. Llambi’s team last visited the area in December 2023 and observed a significant reduction—from 4 hectares in 2019 to less than 2 hectares now.

The world is currently going through the El Niño climate phenomenon, which brings hotter temperatures and speeds up the melting of tropical glaciers. In Venezuela’s Andes, temperatures have been exceptionally high, with some months showing anomalies of +3°C to +4°C above the 1991-2020 average.

A Reflection of the Future

Llambi highlighted that Venezuela’s glacier loss reflects what is likely to happen throughout the Andes, affecting countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia next. This loss is not just a national tragedy but a chance to highlight the urgent impacts of climate change and study how life adapts to such extreme conditions.

In a desperate move to save the glacier, the Venezuelan government placed a thermal blanket over it to slow the melting. However, experts believe this effort is futile.

Beyond the Ice

Caroline Clason, a glaciologist from Durham University, pointed out that losing La Corona means losing more than just ice. Glaciers provide crucial ecosystem services, including unique habitats and cultural significance. While Venezuela’s glaciers didn’t play a big role in water supply like those in Peru, their disappearance impacts local culture deeply. Llambi emphasized how glaciers were part of the region’s identity, influencing mountaineering and tourism.

Clason concluded that Venezuela’s loss of all its glaciers symbolizes the changes expected worldwide due to ongoing climate change. For glaciologists, it is a stark reminder of the importance of their work and what is at stake for these fragile environments and society as a whole.

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