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Peru Has Lost Over Half of Its Glaciers in Six Decades

In a stark reminder of the growing impacts of climate change, a recent report from Peru has revealed alarming reductions in the country’s tropical glacier coverage. 

The National Institute of Research on Mountain Glaciers and Ecosystems announced on Wednesday that Peru, home to 68% of the world’s tropical glaciers, has seen a dramatic 56% decrease in its glacier area over the last six decades.

Significant risks

This loss, attributed to rising global temperatures, is not just a matter of environmental concern but also poses significant risks to local communities. 

The melting glaciers have resulted in the formation of new mountain lagoons, increasing the danger of floods due to potential overflow. This revelation comes from an extensive study involving satellite imagery data up to 2020.

Concerning loss 

Peru, which once boasted 2,399 square kilometers of ice and snow in 1962, now has only 1,050 square kilometers of glaciers, spread across 2,084 identified glacier sites. 

Beatriz Fuentealba, the director of the institute, highlighted the severity of the situation, noting a concerning 6% loss of high mountain glaciers in just four years, from 2016 to 2020. This observation was particularly noted in the Ancash region, where many glaciers have vanished.

Glacial lagoons 

The report also brings to light the formation of new glacial lagoons, a number that has increased to 8,466, covering an area of about 1,081 square kilometers. These lagoons, while potentially serving as future water reserves, are located at high altitudes between 4,000 and 5,000 meters, posing significant flooding risks. 

“The new lagoons could be, in the future, water reserves, but being at high altitudes they cause a danger of overflowing and flooding,” said Jesus Gomez, director of research on glaciers at the Ministry of the Environment.

Study implications 

Peru’s tropical glaciers, primarily located above 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) above sea level, are critical not only for the local ecosystems but also for the communities that depend on them for water and agriculture. 

The loss of these glaciers is a clear indication of the urgent need for global action on climate change, as the consequences are now directly affecting countries and communities.

More about glacier loss

The loss of glaciers globally, and particularly in regions like Peru, signifies a profound environmental shift that is deeply interconnected with the broader impacts of climate change. 

Glaciers, often referred to as Earth’s “freshwater reservoirs,” play a crucial role in the global ecosystem. They not only store fresh water but also reflect sunlight, helping to moderate the planet’s temperature. However, with rising global temperatures, glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, leading to a cascade of environmental consequences.

Sea-level rise 

One of the most visible effects of glacier loss is the rise in sea levels. As glaciers melt, they add more water to the oceans, contributing to the gradual, yet steady, increase in sea levels. This poses a significant threat to coastal communities and low-lying areas, increasing the risk of flooding and potentially displacing millions of people.

Glacial lakes

Furthermore, the melting of glaciers can lead to the formation of glacial lakes, which can be a source of freshwater but also present a risk of catastrophic outburst floods. These floods can cause widespread destruction, particularly in mountainous regions where communities may be located downstream.

Water availability 

The loss of glaciers also affects water availability. Many rivers are fed by the meltwater from glaciers, especially during the warmer months. With the decrease in glacier volume, the water supply in these rivers is reduced, affecting agriculture, hydropower generation, and the daily life of those who depend on these water sources.


Moreover, glacier retreat is altering ecosystems. As glaciers recede, they leave behind barren land that undergoes ecological succession, creating new habitats but also disrupting existing ones. This has implications for the flora and fauna that have adapted to the cold glacier environments.

Cultural significance 

In addition, the aesthetic and cultural significance of glaciers cannot be overlooked. Many cultures revere glaciers as sacred entities, and their disappearance can have cultural and psychological impacts on these communities.

Source : earth.com