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?

Photo Friday: Glacier Retreat in California

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement at age 81 on Wednesday, effective July 31, 2018. Originally from Sacramento, California, Justice Kennedy was confirmed to the court in 1988 after his appointment by President Ronald Reagan. Since then, glaciers in his home state have seen considerable retreat. Mount Shasta in the Cascade Mountain range has glaciers.. These glaciers have experienced some advances but ultimately retreat since a USGS survey in 1981, just several years before Kennedy took office. Whitney Glacier, the longest on Mt. Shasta, has lost over 20% of its length during Kennedy’s time on the Court.

This Photo Friday provides a look at the glaciers of California and the changes that have been seen during Kennedy’s time on the Supreme Court.

A 1993 Google Earth image depicts the advancement and retreat of Whitney Glacier (Source: Mauri Pelto).


Mount Shasta glaciers on September 20, 2012, as seen from the International Space Station (Source: NASA).


The Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park has lost over 80 percent of its surface area since the 19th century. (Source: National Park Service).


Darwin Glacier on August 14, 1908 (Source: G.K. Gilbert).


Darwin Glacier on August 14, 2004 (Source: H. Basagic).


Glacier retreat in the Sierra Nevada (Source: Hassan Basagic).


Roundup: Lava Flows, Pollen Grains and Village Projects

Hazards at Ice-Clad Volcanoes: Phenomena, Processes, and Examples From Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile

Photo courtesy of the study
Photo courtesy of the study

“The interaction of volcanic activity with snow and ice bodies can cause serious hazards and risks[….] Case studies from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile are described. These descriptions depict the way in which the volcanic activity has interacted with ice bodies in recent volcanic crises (Popocatépetl, Mexico; Nevado del Huila, Columbia; Llaima and Villarica, Chile) and how the lahar processes have been generated. Reconstruction of historical events (Cotopaxi, Ecuador) or interpretation of events from the geological remains (Citlatépetl, Mexico) help to document past events that today could be disastrous for people and infrastructure now existing at the corresponding sites. A primary challenge for hazard prevention and risk reduction is the difficulty of making decisions based on imperfect information and a large degree of uncertainty. Successful assessments have resulted in the protection of lives in recent cases such as that at Nevado del Huila (Colombia).”

Read more about the study here.


Ancient pollen reveals droughts between Sierra Nevada glacier surges

The Sierra Nevada region.
The Sierra Nevada region. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Hidden below the surface of California’s Central Valley are pollen grains from the Pleistocene that are providing scientists with clues to the severity of droughts that struck the region between glacial periods.

The Pleistocene—the age of mammoths and mastodons—occurred between 1.8 million and 11,500 years ago. For this new study, scientists dug up Pleistocene sediment samples containing buried pollen from the Central Valley. They found that pollen samples dated from interglacial periods—years between surges in the mountain glaciers—predominantly came from desert plants. The same sediments lacked pollen from plants of wetter climates.”

To learn more about the new findings, click here.


Adapting in the Shadow of Annapurna: A Climate Tipping Point

02780771-35.3.cover“Rapid climate change in the Himalaya threatens the traditional livelihoods of remote mountain communities, challenges traditional systems of knowledge, and stresses existing socio-ecological systems. Through semi-structured interviews, participatory photography, and repeat photography focused on climate change and its impacts on traditional livelihoods, we aim to shed light on some of the socio-cultural implications of climate related change in Manang, a remote village in the Annapurna Conservation Area of Western Nepal…. Continued development of relevant, place-based adaptations to rapid Himalayan climate change depends on local peoples’ ability to understand the potential impacts of climate change and to adjust within complex, traditional socio-ecological systems.”

To learn more about the study and its findings, click here.



As Glaciers Melt, Mt. Shasta Could See More Mudslides

Mt. Shasta, at 14,179 feet, the second highest peak in the Cascades mountains and the fifth highest in California. (©Joe)
Mt. Shasta, at 14,179 feet, the second highest peak in the Cascades mountains and the fifth highest in California. (©Joe)

A giant mudslide sent mud and debris hurtling down the southeastern flank of California’s Mt. Shasta in late September. Experts believe glacial melting, hastened by a three-year California drought, loosened giant ice blocks at the small Konwakiton Glacier midway up the peak, dislodging earth and rocks dammed up under the ice.

U.S. Forest Service climbing ranger Jonathan Dove of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest was on a ridge above the mudslide when it happened. “It sounded like a freight train barreling down the canyon,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Mt. Shasta’s September mudslide was the worst the area had seen in 20 years, according to U.S. Forest Service Hydrologist Steve Bachmann, who spoke with Bachman warned that another chunk of glacier could easily dislocate, shunting a new torrent of mud and boulders down the mountain.

Scientists attribute the accelerated melting on the Mt. Shasta glacier, in part, to a lack of insulating snow pack. And that’s bad news. Due to climate change, snowpack is expected to decline 25 percent to 40 percent statewide by 2050. Mt. Shasta, which is a dormant volcano in the Cascades mountain range, has the most glaciers of any mountain in California.

No one was hurt, and no homes were damaged from flooding, but the mudslide buried two roads in the tiny town of McCloud, in northern California’s Siskiyou County, under mud, large boulders and fallen trees. Authorities were forced to close the roads to traffic, and one of them will not likely be reopened until next year. The mudflows, which came down the appropriately named Mud Creek, also cascaded into McCloud River, popular with fishermen, and fed into Shasta Lake, which is only a quarter full due to drought.

McCloud River in summer. (©Carlos Wolters)
McCloud River in summer. (©Carlos Wolters)

Forest Service officials told the Sacramento Bee that the drought, combined with hot summer temperatures, may have created a small lake atop or within the glacier, causing a chunk of it to collapse, which then released the dammed up water in a small outburst flood. These glacial outburst floods have a name in Iceland: “jökulhlaup.” (Read more about them on glacierhub, here.)

Mt. Shasta’s Mud Creek has seen its share of mudslides in the past 100 years. The biggest occurred in 1924, when mud and debris spread over an area 8 miles by a half a mile, blocking the railroad tracks and severing water lines to the town of McCloud for two days. The mudslide made the front page of the local Redding Courier-Free Press six times in the weeks following the incident.

McCloud railroad. (©Drew Jacksich)
McCloud railroad. (©Drew Jacksich)