Colombia May Lose All of Its Glaciers in Next Thirty Years

Colombia’s six remaining glaciers are likely to vanish in thirty years if current melting rates persist, says a recent study conducted by Colombia’s Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales (IDEAM). Currently, all six glaciers lie on the peaks in the Los Nevados National Park. Each year, about three to five percent of the ice-covered area is lost.

Research Shows High Rates of Glacier Loss in Colombia

According to a paper published in 2017, satellite images have estimated that Colombia’s overall glacier extent is only 42 square kilometers. This is a 36 percent decrease compared to the mid-1990s.

Different textures of glaciers found in Colombia on GlacierHub Different textures of glaciers found in Colombia (Source: IDEAM).


“Every glacier worldwide is facing this dilemma,” Ómar Franco, the director of IDEAM, told the local press during a briefing. Franco attributes the melting to the changing El Niño weather pattern, reports The City Paper, a local newspaper. Between 2015 and 2016, severe drought impacted the country, and limited precipitation hindered glacier growth during the winter months.

While an average increase of 2 degrees Celsius is expected worldwide, it could be twice as serious in the Latin American countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. These countries are home to 99 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. When an El Niño occurs, temperatures could increase by up to 8 degrees Celsius, with extremely low monthly precipitation of only 7mm.

However, not all of the glaciers will melt at the same rate. Their microclimate varies and is dependent on the glacier’s distance from urban centers and the presence of tourism activities including hiking. The presence of human activities on glaciers erodes their delicate structures, for example. Thus, glaciers on Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Nevado del Cocuy could potentially have a longer lifespan, as they are relatively pristine. The last to go will probably be the largest and most extensive Sierra Nevada El Cocuy glacier.

Military Involvement in Data Collection

Decreasing Rates of Colombia’ six glaciers from 1960 to 2017 on GlacierHub
Decreasing Rates of Colombia’ six glaciers from 1960 to 2017 (Source: IDEAM)

Given these somber predictions, the government of Colombia is paying close attention to the issue, especially with the end of the Columbian armed conflict that took place from 1964 to 2017. Absent war against the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the military can now focus its efforts on other issues such as glacier monitoring. The Colombian Air Force that for decades flew over the country in search of guerrillas, drug traffickers and paramilitaries now uses its technology to monitor the frozen surfaces of the country. The latest findings in the IDEAM study are based on the data collected by the Air Force.

An Official Comments on Global Political Issues

“We call on countries that are big emitters of greenhouse gases to live up to their commitments,” Luis Gilberto Murillo, the Colombian Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development, announced after the IDEAM briefing on the study. Colombia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 were estimated to be only 0.37 percent of global emissions, but the glaciers and environment could still suffer tremendously.

This draws back to the north-south divide on environmental issues, with themes of responsibility, compensation and carbon emission cuts being sources of contention between the developed and developing world.

Previously, Glacierhub reported that Venezuela is losing its last glacier. Will this be the future of Colombia’s glaciers too?

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