In Bolivia, a battle around a receding glacier “doomed to disappear”


LA PAZ, April 21 (Reuters) – In the Andean mountains of Bolivia’s western high plains, where snow is powdered on dark rocks rising into harsh gray skies, scientists and climbers are battling to the future of a dying glacier that has become controversial. lure for tourists.

The Charquini Glacier, about 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) from the highlands administrative capital La Paz, sits in the Cordillera Real, a mountain range that separates the Amazon lowlands from the high Andean plateau.

It has been retreating rapidly, losing about 1.5 meters in thickness each year, according to the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) and the French Research Institute for Development, reflecting the broader issues facing glaciers in the Andes.

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In recent years, it has also started to attract tourists, with local governments charging fees to visitors. Some have snowboarded on the glacier, worrying scientists who say increased activity will hasten the glacier’s decline.

“What we have here is a very sensitive, unbalanced glacier that is practically doomed,” said Edson Ramirez, a glaciology doctor at UMSA, who said responsible tourism was needed to preserve it.

“This is a glacier that is now changing as it undergoes a process of melting. It is also the product of global changes such as the increase in temperature and changes in the amount of solid precipitation in the form of snow.

Glaciers in the Cordillera Real began to lose mass at the end of the Little Ice Age in the 17th century, but this process has accelerated with global warming, scientists say. Charquini has already lost three quarters of its original mass.

Some, however, argue that mountains and glaciers belong to all Bolivians and should be enjoyed and explored.

“As far as global warming, what’s happening is bringing us down, but as long as we have our mountains, I’d like people to come here,” said Ivette Gonzales, an indigenous ‘cholita’ and famous mountaineer as she was walking near the glacier.

“Let’s enjoy our mountains.”

Gonzales wore a helmet over her braided hair and a colorful wide skirt that cholitas are known for.

UMSA analysis of satellite data shows how glaciers have retreated in recent decades. Snowfall has declined, preventing glaciers from accumulating and causing the decline of water reservoirs that supply major highland cities like El Alto.

Bernardo Guarachi, 69, has been climbing mountains since he was 18. He said that when he was younger, Charquini reached several kilometers below what he does now. As it retreated, it left a lagoon where there was once only ice.

“Look how far it’s retreated. It’s amazing and it’s not just Charquini, but all the mountains are in the same condition,” Guarachi said. “I don’t like to see the mountain this way, look how half is already gone.”

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Reporting by Monica Machicao, Sergio Limachi and Santiago Limachi; Written by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Richard Chang

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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