The Glacier Law Conundrum: Protecting Glaciers or Limiting Hazard Response and Adaptation?

The environmental and socioeconomic benefits of the world’s glaciers, from their role in water storage to their influence in tourism, have led to the development of national laws to protect glacial environments from activities like mining that could adversely alter them. While legal protections aim to safeguard glaciers and the value they generate, the laws often fail to account for the actions necessary to mitigate glacial hazards or adapt to climate change. A recently published study in Ambio examined glacier protection laws in Argentina and Chile in an effort to explore how laws could better address interventions in rapidly changing glacial areas.

Figure of rapid growth of a glacial lake
Figure detailing the rapid growth of a glacial-dammed lake, highlighting the need for a quick mitigation response to glacial hazards (Source: Iribarren et al. 2018).

The study was part of the Newton Picarte project on Glacial Hazards in Chile, a partnership between Universidad Austral in Chile and Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom. Its goal, according to author Pablo Iribarren, a glaciology lecturer at Universidad Austral, was to emphasize that glaciers not only provide environmental and socioeconomic benefits but also pose a threat to mountain communities. In addition, Iribarren told GlacierHub that “…this duality must be considered by Glacier Protection Laws (GPLs) to better face challenges associated with a rapidly changing cryosphere.”

It might seem impossible to protect glaciers, except by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. But there are other concrete steps that countries can take, particularly in relation to mining. GPLs are a relatively new phenomenon intended to preserve glaciers and their surrounding environments from commercial endeavors. Argentina was the first country to ratify a GPL in 2010. Chile and Kyrgyzstan have also developed GPLs, although these laws have yet to be ratified, due largely to the power of the extractive lobby. The opposition to GPLs from the mining industry and even the government is robust because of the economic benefits of natural resource extraction. For example, in the central Chilean Andes 55.1 billion dollars were generated from 2004 to 2011 and over 60,000 people were employed by the industry.

Photo of the entrance to Pascua Lama mine
The entrance to the controversial Pascua Lama mine. Barrick Gold is the Canadian mining company behind the project (Source: infogatecl/Twitter).

Mining and other natural resources extraction activities on and near glaciers in many cases destroy ice or cover it with debris and contaminate water resources. Chiles’s unresolved GPL, for instance, stemmed from a mining project known as Pascua Lama developed by Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company that proposed the removal of glacial ice for mining purposes. However, despite intending to protect glaciers from destruction or alteration, GPLs can also inhibit the mitigation of glacial hazards and climate change adaptation by limiting intervention in glacial environments.

Glacial hazards are primarily caused by three sometimes concurrent processes: glacial advance, glacial blockage of mountain streams, and the growth and subsequent failure of glacial-dammed lakes. In the case of advancing glaciers, their leading fronts can become stranded, blocking streams and creating lakes. These glacial dams are then particularly vulnerable to melting. A well-known glacial disaster occurred through this mechanism in the Argentinian Andes in 1934, when an ice-dam blocking a stream failed. The resultant flood inundated a valley below, killing 20 people. Conversely, retreating glaciers often leave in their wake glacial lakes, some of which can be very large in volume. When the volumes of these lakes increase or when waves from glacial calving strike the dam, damaging outburst floods can occur.

Photo of the draining of a glacial lake
The draining a glacial lake in the Himalayas to reduce the risk of an outburst flood (Source: Renaud Meyer/Twitter).

To reduce the risks posed by glacial hazards, different strategies can be employed. One strategy for an ice-dammed lake is the modification of the ice dam itself through reinforcement methods like increasing its impermeability. Another strategy involves the actual excavation or blasting of ice to prevent glacial advance or to preemptively drain an ice-dammed lake. In another form of intervention, local communities near glaciers might utilize glacial lakes as a water reservoir in response to reduced water availability due to climate change or reduce the risk of outburst floods by lowering lake levels.

However, conflict arises between these glacial interventions and GPLs because interventions usually involve the modification of the glacial environment. Under Argentina’s GPL Article 6, activities that modify a glacier’s natural condition or result in the destruction or movement of glacial ice are prohibited. Section 6b continues by prohibiting the construction of infrastructure on or near a glacier, although it does allow infrastructure for scientific purposes or to prevent risks.

Glacial hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation would fall under this article, but any proposed intervention would be subject to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), according to Article 7 of the GPL. Thus, the authors presume that “the most likely scenario for handling a hazard would be to conduct an EIS, yet this procedure may take months or even years.” During this possibly time-consuming process, a hazard “could put lives and infrastructure in danger.” For another view on this issue, GlacierHub spoke to Jorge Daniel Taillant, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Environment, and author of “Glaciers: The Politics of Ice,” who finds it unlikely that preventive action against a potential glacial hazard would be delayed by a GPL and an accompanying EIS.

Why the disconnect between Argentina’s GPL and glacial interventions for hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation purposes? For Iribarren, it’s a result of the GPL being developed in response to conflict between mining and local communities fighting to protect their water supplies. Glacial hazards were simply ignored in the midst of a seemingly existential fight between international mining conglomerates and local people.

Photos of mine waste on a glacier and a damaged road that was built on top of a glacier
Photo A shows the mine waste that was dumped on top of a glacier in Kyrgyzstan. Photo B shows a road built over a glacier in Chile which was damaged when the ice beneath it crept forward (Source: Iribarren et al. 2018).

The omission of glacial hazards and climate change adaptation during the development of GPLs means intervention into the glacial environment could possibly be impeded or even prohibited altogether. To improve upon this current intersection, the authors argue that GPLs should include allowances for glacial interventions that protect lives or infrastructure. They further argue that the process to authorize intervention should be sped up so that hazards are addressed in a timely manner, reducing the possibility of disaster. Finally, they propose that GPLs should clearly designate the government institutions responsible for glacial interventions.

While these proposals would likely help to improve GPLs, challenges would still remain. The biggest of these, according to Iribarren, is the possibility that GPLs that allow for easier glacial interventions could be used as a loophole for parties to intervene in glacial environments for strictly economic purposes like mining.

With Argentina’s GPL, the only one of its kind enacted worldwide, future research is undoubtedly needed to truly assess the conflicts these laws potentially pose. A first step in this process, Iribarren believes, is to study how other glacial countries like Peru or Switzerland have balanced “conflicts between economic interests and the protection of the cryosphere and surrounding landscapes.”

The Pascua-Lama Mining Project Threatens Glaciers

Fabiana Li, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, brings new insight to a long-standing conflict over a South American mining project in her recently published article “Moving Glaciers: Remaking Nature and Mineral Extraction” on Sage Journals. Li’s article investigates the controversial Pascua-Lama mining project, located on the border between Chile and Argentina, run by Barrick Gold, a prominent mining company from Canada. The project gained recognition because of its plan to move three glaciers located at the mining site, disturbing the integrity of the glaciers in the region. Ongoing debate over the site’s future and expenses led Barrick to abandon the project in 2013, but controversy over the future of the site continues.

“The Pascua-Lama project is still in limbo,” Li said in an interview with GlacierHub. “Like other mining companies recovering from the downturn in the metals market, Barrick is now looking for partners for a joint venture in order to mitigate the risks involved in the project. The company has already spent $8.5 billion on Pascua Lama, so it is not likely to abandon it entirely, but it will not be able to continue operating as before, without a new approach to community relations and environmental issues.”

The Pascua-Lama project first ran into trouble when dealing with the glaciers that surrounded the ore deposit, notes Li. In the company’s initial environmental impact assessment, they disregarded the glaciers’ existence. In 2001, the company decided to include the glaciers in the environmental impact assessment by creating a section called the “glacier management plan.” The plan stated that Barrick would move 10 hectares of glaciers with bulldozers, front loaders, or even “controlled explosives,” if necessary, to an adjacent area outside of the development. This plan was approved by the Chilean authorities in 2001.

Outlined borders of the Pascua-Lama project area (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

However, the company’s proposal to move the glaciers was met with animosity from environmental organizations, local residents of the Huasco Valley (a region in Chile located below the mine), representatives of the Catholic Church, Diaguita indigenous communities (who claimed the land as their own), and local and foreign activists. Li told GlacierHub that she tried to show in her article how glaciers, mountains and rivers are more than just resources. “They make up people’s sense of place, their identities, and ways of life,” she said. “They form part of important relationships that people forge with their surroundings and that sustain life.” Communities in the Huasco Valley, for example, protested the glaciers’ removal, arguing that they are dependent on the water supply for agriculture and drinking, with the glaciers storing water for the dry season.

During the 1990s, there was a boom in companies investing in exploration and extraction from countries in South America like Peru. As of 2013, Pascua-Lama was thought to own one of the world’s largest gold and silver resources. Barrick first began exploring the Chile/Argentina border in 1994, searching for possible mining opportunities. It was not until 1997 that both the Chilean and Argentinian presidents signed the Mining Integration Treaty that allowed mining development along the mountain ranges. The treaty granted access to economic activity, foreign property ownership, and water and resources. The Pascua-Lama project also became the world’s first binational mine, creating an example for other projects and developments to follow.

One of Barrick Gold’s sites in Pascua-Lama (Source: Barrick Sudamerica/Creative Commons).

In 2004, the company released an environmental impact assessment, which diminished the importance of the glaciers once again, calling them “ice reservoirs,” “ice fields,” or “glacierets.” One of Barrick’s top executives even denied that there were any glaciers at all. Scientists and researchers hired by the company, such as those at the Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas (Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones) and the Centro de Estudios Científicos (Center for Scientific Studies), stated that snow and ice features identified “are of very small surface area and it is not clear from the images whether they would be classified as névés, glacierets or glaciers.” They defined the term glacieret as an ice body “formed primarily by blowing or avalanching snow, which usually shows no surface signs of flow.”

In 2006, the assessment was approved under the condition that the company “only access the ore in a manner that does not remove, relocate, destroy, or physically interfere with the Toro 1, Toro 2, and Esperanza glaciers.” Barrick modified the size of the mining pit and claimed that the three “ice fields” were outside of the mining pit limits and wouldn’t be touched.

Community groups protesting against the Pascua-Lama mining project (Source: The future is unwritten/Creative Commons).

Mining construction resumed in 2009, but inspectors soon found that the company neglected their water management plan, which affected the Estrecho glacier and environmental mitigation strategies to protect the glaciers, such as plans to reduce the amount of dust from the site over the glaciers. Chilean government inspections confirmed the company’s negative impact on the glaciers, rivers and wetland systems, resulting in the project’s closure.

According to a local paper, Diario Financiero, the judgement authorized the “temporary closure of Pascua-Lama mining operations, without having the necessary measures in place to ensure the physical and chemical stability of the water sources affected by the project.” Barrick’s continued disregard for environmental regulations resulted in a $16 million fine, the highest possible fine under Chilean law, according to Li. Originally, the company estimated the mining project would cost $3 billion, but this estimate increased after additional costs were added, including from legal battles and additional fees for not abiding with environmental regulations. The project was officially halted in 2013 after the Supreme Court of Chile suspended the project due to the company’s environmental wrongdoings.

Due to complications with the Pascua-Lama project, Argentina created a law in 2010 that prohibited mining and oil drilling in glacier and peri-glacier areas to preserve its water resources. Additionally, Argentina started a national glacier inventory, so that the government and companies are able to identify where mining projects can and cannot take place. Barrick also signed a memorandum of understanding with 15 indigenous communities in Chile to open a dialogue, although there have been no updates on whether or not the project will resume. In the end, the Pascua- Lama project provides an important example to all sides. “This conflict helped to raise awareness about the consequences of resource extraction and inspired people to speak out against mining in a country where this industry has long been considered the backbone of the economy,” Li said. “Pascua Lama also helped make glaciers more visible, and brought to light new issues that had not been addressed.”

Science on Trial at Pascua Lama

Edited NASA image of a Chilean glacier, unnamed. ©Stuart Rankin
Edited NASA image of a Chilean glacier, unnamed. ©Stuart Rankin

Chile’s environmental court ruled on Monday that Pascua Lama, the Andean nation’s most controversial mine, is not responsible for damage done to three glaciers near the mine site.

While the mine’s operations will remain suspended due to a variety of other challenges, the decision was a setback for local environmental groups, who seek to protect the country’s glaciers. Some say it also represents a defeat for Chile’s scientific institutions.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2013, was brought by farming communities in the Alto del Carmen region of northern Chile, who depend on water from the glaciers, together with NGO Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA). Alto del Carmen sits in the Huasco Valley, an oasis at the southern end of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. The suit alleged that dust from Pascua Lama, which straddles the border with Argentina, accelerated melt at glaciers in the area, depleting waters that feed into the El Toro river.

Alto del Carmen. ©lanube360
Alto del Carmen. ©lanube360

In a statement (translated from Spanish), OLCA noted that in its decision, the environmental court ignored scientific documents produced by the state’s own scientists in favor of scientists hired by Canada’s Barrick Gold, the company that operates the mine. Though the court recognized that dust from the mine had settled on the glaciers, it did not accept scientific arguments made in a final state environmental rating resolution on the mine, or RCA, that indicated one millimeter of dust could accelerate melting of the glaciers by as much as 15%. An RCA represents the final outcome of the environmental impact assessment process.

The case seemed to bear out the findings of recent research published in Science and Culture, which suggest that Chilean scientists and scientific institutions have little power in policy debates despite efforts by Chile’s democratic government to build them up over the past decade and a half, post-Pinochet.

“Legally there is this ongoing debate over these resolutions, called RCAs,” said Javiera Barandiaran, assistant professor in global studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of the paper. “How much legal weight do they have vis a vis the law? In the past, there have been challenges, that these resolutions should become the law, the legal standards that the companies are held to. But they say, ‘No, all we’re held to are permits and the country’s laws.’ Because there is no law, it doesn’t matter.”

"PascuaLamaPlanMap" by I, Earthsound. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
PascuaLamaPlanMap” by I, Earthsound. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

In mid March, Chilean authorities put forward a proposed framework for a glacier protection law, but it was unclear what specific protections it would offer to glaciers outside Chile’s national parks like the ones affected by Pascua Lama.

Controversy over the Pascua Lama mine is what first put glaciers on the map for Chilean authorities, according to Barandiaran, and launched the debate over the need for laws to protect them.

The Pascua Lama decision inspired a renewed call for strong glacier protection laws from the Chilean branch of global environmental organization Greenpeace.

“If today the environmental court couldn’t credit [the mine] with destruction of the glaciers, having concrete evidence in hand, then we urgently need a law that protects and conserves glaciers,” said Greenpeace Chile director Matias Asun in a statement. He added that Barrick Gold is still charged with glacier damage by Chile’s environmental enforcement agency, the Superintendencia de Medio Ambiente (SMA).

Run by Minera Nevada, the Chilean subsidiary of Canada’s Barrick Gold, Pascua Lama still faces numerous environmental, legal and administrative challenges. Among other things, Barrick is waiting to hear from the SMA about fines that could total over $200 million.

Atacama desert, Chile, the driest desert in the world. ©Tom Goskar
Atacama desert, Chile, the driest desert in the world. ©Tom Goskar

Barrick said the decision confirmed the findings of its own scientists. “Barrick worked with leading independent experts and glaciologists to develop and implement one of the most rigorous glacier monitoring programs anywhere in the world,” said Eduardo Flores, Barrick’s Executive Director for Chile in a statement, available on the company’s website. “We are pleased that the court has confirmed what the technical and scientific evidence demonstrates, that these ice bodies have not been damaged by activities at the Pascua-Lama project.”

The controversy is far from over, but for now Chile’s political and business elites seem to have the upper hand when it comes to competing claims over scientific truth.

Will Chile Get Its Five-Star Glacier Law?

Horn of the Mountains, Torres del Paine National Park, home to many of Chile’s glaciers. ©Chris Ford
Horn of the Mountains, Torres del Paine National Park, home to many of Chile’s glaciers. ©Chris Ford

Chilean authorities and legislators agreed last week to a new framework for a law to protect thousands of melting glaciers in the towering Andes. The new proposal would safeguard glaciers inside of Chile’s national parks, but it’s not clear what protections would be offered to those glaciers that lie near some of the country’s major mining concessions.

Some 31,000 glaciers span the Chilean side of the cordillera, which represent 82% percent of all glaciers in South America and provide critical water resources to the region. But the billions of dollars worth of copper, gold and other mining projects operating in the Andes represent a significant source of income for Chile, the world’s biggest copper exporter.

Though Chilean authorities pledged to make the new proposed law a priority—it will be presented to environmental authorities this week—glacier laws have been a subject of heated debate for some time in the country, and it’s not clear this one will pass any more readily than its predecessors. While the new legal framework includes approximations of some measures contained in a “five star” glacier law proposal put forward by Greenpeace and a handful of Chilean politicians last year, environmentalists charge that there are too many loopholes for mining companies to exploit.

Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine National Park. ©Daniel Diaz Vera
Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine National Park. ©Daniel Diaz Vera

The new glacier law framework consists of 14 amendments to an earlier law proposed last year, according to Chilean newspaper La Segunda and radio station Radio UChile. These amendments would assign legal classification to different kinds of glaciers, as well as to the frozen land surrounding them, declare them national “patrimony” to be protected by the government, and allow for the revision of environmental permits already granted for projects that would interfere with glaciers. Such permits could not be revoked, but companies could be required to take additional measures to mitigate the impacts their projects would have on glaciers. The law would also describe specific kinds of activities prohibited on glaciers designated as requiring special protection.

The “five-star” proposal included a few extra steps: de facto protection of all areas defined as “glaciers,” as well as surrounding land, banning any activity that damages a glacier, and requiring all projects that today impact glaciers to stop doing so.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 7.52.25 PMEnvironmentalists have been clamoring for good glacier laws in recent months with a string of colorful protests. In January, Greenpeace activists parked themselves in front of the presidential palace, La Moneda, in the capital city of Santiago with a mock food cart full of withered and dried up fruits and vegetables for the “Market without Glaciers.” Produce was advertised at outrageous prices ($5,000 pesos, or around US$7, for every ratty piece of corn). On Twitter, Matias Asun, head of Greenpeace Chile, explained in Spanish that this is what the country’s produce would look like if all of its glaciers were destroyed.

A few months earlier, on Sept. 27, two thousand people, many of them children wearing superhero costumes, marched to the La Moneda to urge president Bachelet to write glacier protection laws. And last March, Chilean Greenpeace activists declared a “Glacier Republic,” a sovereign state covering 23,000 square kilometers of glaciers in Chile that already has over 15,000 “citizens,” to push adoption of a law to protect Chile’s glaciers.

According to at least one politician, 80 to 85 percent of all glacier surface area in Chile exists within its national parks. Under the new legal framework, the fate of the rest of the glaciers would be determined by the council of ministers as opposed to by legislation. Greenpeace’s Asun told Radio UChile that he believes this would open such decisions up to political influence from mining companies such as Barrick Gold, Angloamerican, Los Pelambres de Luksic and Codelco.

"PascuaLamaPlanMap" by I, Earthsound. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
PascuaLamaPlanMap” by I, Earthsound. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Chile’s neighbor Argentina adopted a glacier protection law in 2010 that defines glacier broadly to include rock glaciers and frozen groundwater left by receding glaciers, because some scientists feel these are key sources of glacier water reserves. The Argentine law has caused delays in a few mining projects, such as Canada’s Osisko Famatina gold exploration and the Argentine operations of Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama gold and silver mine. But even before a law has been passed in Chile, the Chilean operations Pascua-Lama have been suspended over concerns that it was interfering with nearby glaciers.

Other countries that protect glaciers under natural resources laws, water laws, or other laws include Colombia, Ecuador, Pakistan, Peru and Austria.

For more on the threats posed to Chile’s glaciers by mining projects, read this prior post.

 

Copper Versus Ice: Chilean Mine Would Excavate Five Glaciers

Glaciers neighboring Chile's Andina mine. (©Cristobal Hurtado, please contact the photographer before using)
Glaciers neighboring Chile’s Andina mine. (©Cristobal Hurtado, please contact the photographer before using)

The glaciers of Chile are threatened not just by global warming, but by mining operations high in the snow-peaked Andes cordillera.

On July 24, Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, the world’s largest producer of the metal, proposed changes to a controversial $6.8 billion expansion of its Andina mine. Whether the new proposal gets the green light from environmental authorities could determine the fate of 26 glaciers in the central Andes, which form a watershed that supplies drinking water to the 6 million Chileans living in the country’s capital, Santiago.

Activists were not impressed. “Nothing has changed. Andina 244 will continue destroying glaciers,” Greenpeace Chile wrote in a response. In March, Chilean Greenpeace activists declared a “Glacier Republic,” a sovereign state covering 23,000 square kilometers of glaciers in Chile that already has over 15,000 “citizens,” to push adoption of a law to protect Chile’s glaciers. And on Sep. 27, two thousand people, many of them children wearing superhero costumes, marched to the presidential palace La Moneda, in Santiago, to urge president Bachelet to write glacier protection laws.

The site of Andina 244, Codelco's proposed expansion of its Andina copper mine. (©Codelco)
The site of Andina 244, Codelco’s proposed expansion of its Andina copper mine. (©Codelco)

The revisions to Codelco’s project, dubbed Andina 244, came in response to concerns voiced by environmentalists and local authorities in more than 2,000 public comments on the project. But those revisions would do little to alter the mine’s direct impacts on the glaciers.

Codelco had planned to remove six so-called rock glaciers to get at copper ore under the earth; opponents also charged that dust from the project would damage 20 visible ice glaciers that extend along the cordillera. Under the revised project, the range of the open-pit mine was shifted so that it will require partial removal of five rock glaciers instead of six, but the difference in total area is negligible: 89.94 acres instead of 89.97 acres. Codelco also announced that its own research, completed at the request of government authorities, showed that dust from the expansion would not accelerate melting at the neighboring visible ice, or white, glaciers. (Typically, little or no ice is visible at the surface of rock glaciers.)

At least one scientist found flaws in the company’s modeling: Alexander Brenning, a glaciologist from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who has spent many years studying Chile’s glaciers, said Codelco’s wind field data does not match data from meteorological stations in the area, which could skew its calculations of particle dispersion rates. Dust and particulate matter are known to accelerate melting of glaciers given that they darken the glaciers’ surfaces, causing them to absorb more heat from the sun. “You find subtle contradictions. According to their models, dust from their mine won’t affect white glaciers, but anecdotally they mention that you can sometimes see dust clouds from neighboring mine Los Bronces,” he said.

In the revised project, Codelco also proposed measures to protect water resources: it would recycle 65% of the water used at the mine and inject fresh water directly into a nearby river to compensate for loss of glacial meltwater. And the company promised to study and preserve glaciers that feed the area’s major rivers—Mapocho, Maipo and Blanco—over the life of the project, through 2058.

Rio Mapocho at Yerba Loca (“Crazy Herb”), a protected nature sanctuary. (©John Bankson)
Rio Mapocho at Yerba Loca (“Crazy Herb”), a protected nature sanctuary. (©John Bankson)

 

For the Chilean government, weighing water and ice against copper makes for a complicated calculus. Codelco is 100% owned by the state and provides 14% of the government’s revenues, making it a major lifeblood for the country, one of South America’s strongest economies. According to Codelco, Andina 244 would also generate 18,000 jobs over the next six years. The expansion of the mine is part of a larger revamp at Codelco that is apparently needed if the company is to maintain its position as the world’s number one copper producer. Profits were down by almost a third in the first half of this year due to a slide in global copper prices, according to Reuters. (Profit margins, though, are a very generous 40%.)

Some 31,000 glaciers span the Chilean side of the Andes cordillera, which represent 82% percent of all glaciers in South America. Among these are thousands of rock glaciers, which are quite different from the glittering blue ice sheets and jagged crowns and slopes of translucent white that most people associate with the term. Rock glaciers are glacier-like formations consisting of angular rock blocks, between which glacier ice is packed, but not visible. They are just as important to water reserves as white glaciers .

Santiago with the Andes mountains towering behind it, Spring 2013. (©Armando Lobos)
Santiago with the Andes mountains towering behind it, Spring 2013. (©Armando Lobos)

Despite a lack of good laws governing the country’s glaciers, Chilean authorities do have some bite when it comes to protecting them. In July of 2013, a Chilean court suspended the operations of Pascua Lama, a mine run by Canada’s Barrick Gold, after indigenous communities were able to prove that the company had damaged glaciers near the mine, violating its environmental permit.

“Environmental awareness in Chile has been increasing over the last 20 or 30 years,” said Brenning. “NGOs are getting stronger, and the environmental thoroughness with which different government bodies involved examine those projects has been increasing over the last decade, in particular the glaciology group of the Chilean water authority.”

A march in defense of water, partially in protest of Andina 244, on April 26, 2013 in Santiago's Parque Almagro. (©Rafael Edwards)
A march in defense of water, partially in protest of Andina 244, on April 26, 2013 in Santiago’s Parque Almagro. (©Rafael Edwards)