March 4 - New research shows that warming temperatures are melting Andean glaciers at unprecedented rates, raising fears of water shortages by the middle of the century. Using the latest satellite data, scientists say glaciers along the Cordillera Real range are losing about one metre of ice thickness per year because of climate change. Tara Cleary reports.
Bolivia's Chacaltaya glacier, situated in the Cordillera Real mountain range. In just 11 years it went from this … to this. Scientists like researcher Edson Ramirez are discovering unprecedented ice loss in Andean glaciers. He says some are likely to disappear by 2050. SOUNDBITE: EDSON RAMIREZ, GLACIER EXPERT AND COORDINATOR OF A PROJECT PROJECT TO MAP BOLIVIAN GLACIERS, SAYING (Spanish): "We now know that from the '80s to the present, we have lost 43 percent of the entire surface area of the Cordillera Real." Ramirez says the statistics are conclusive. The world's largest concentration of tropical glaciers is melting because of climate change. But how have scientists been able to make their predictions? It's due partly to satellite data, transformed into high resolution 3-D images, which clearly show a loss of glacial cover when compared to images taken in the past. The ice loss is blamed on an average temperature spike of 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past 70 years, a trend Ramirez says is bound to continue. SOUNDBITE: EDSON RAMIREZ, GLACIER EXPERT AND COORDINATOR OF A PROJECT PROJECT TO MAP BOLIVIAN GLACIERS, SAYING (Spanish): "The glaciers as such are excellent indicators of climate change, therefore these drastic changes that we are observing are clearly showing us that there are already significant changes in our ecosystems and therefore we need to begin to prepare ourselves and take action to adapt." And according to Wilson Suarez, a glaciologist in Peru, preparation is all important. He says glaciers 5,100 metres and lower have already vanished. And he predicts those between 5,300 and 5,400 metres high will also melt in the next 30 to 40 years with potentially devastating consequences. Suarez says entire cities which rely on glacial water in the dry season could simply disappear. Ronald Woodman, president of Peru's Geophysical Institute agrees. SOUNDBITE: RONALD WOODMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE PERU GEOPHYSICAL INSTITUTE, SAYING (Spanish): "Many of the coastal rivers, especially in the dry season, depend on the water that comes from the melting of the glaciers and these will disappear. The flow of water in the dry season from the rivers is going to be much lower, if not zero in many of the valleys in Peru." Scientists believe the Andean glaciers have reached a tipping point. They say reversing the thaw is an unrealistic prospect. The question they're now asking is: how can communities successfully adapt as their main source of water melts away?