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Bolivian Glacier Melts, Dangerously Fast

The world's glaciers and ice caps are in terminal decline because of global warming, scientists have said time and again. //

A survey late last year revealed that the rate of melting across the world had sharply accelerated in recent years, placing even previously stable glaciers in jeopardy.

The loss of glaciers in South America and Asia would threaten the water supplies of millions of people within a few decades, experts warned.

And now comes more concrete proof of the highly disturbing trend.

Latin America analyst James Painter has found the Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia is melting fast.

Chacaltaya could be as much as 18,000 years old, but it has lost 80% of its area in the last 20 years.

Even 15 years ago Chacaltaya was famous for being the world's highest ski run at 5,300 metres (17,400 feet). Not anymore.

What was once a 500-metre long glacier are just two separate areas of ice, latest photographs show. Chacaltaya has indeed become an icon of the effects of global warming, and a laboratory for predicting what is to befall other Andean glaciers.

In the wet season, one could still see snow-capped peaks in the region. But the snow melts quickly and runs off the glacier.

'We keep having to revise downwards our projections of when Chacaltaya is going to disappear completely,' said Ramirez, who has been monitoring the glacier since 1995.

'Not long ago we thought it was going to be 2015, now we think it could be this year or next.'

The Bolivian government too is taking such warnings seriously. Oscar Paz, the head of the national climate change programme, said: 'These glaciers are our water stores. One of our great concerns is the future of our drinking water supplies.'

A reservoir under the Tuni Condoriri range of mountains, for instance, provides about 80% of the drinking water to the region around the capital La Paz.
< br> Various measurements show the area of the 15 original glaciers in the range has reduced by more than a third from 1983 to 2006. Five glaciers may have already disappeared completely, it is feared. Most worrying is when the glaciers completely disappear, say in the very next quarter of this century itself.

Even now Bolivia has a pressing need for more water several thousand migrants from rural areas keep coming in.

One option is to build more dams in order to capture more of the precipitations during the wet season.

Observers note that it is unjust to make desperately poor countries like Bolivia to pay the cost of adapting to global warming when they are not to blame.

And not just in Latin America alone, elsewhere too it is the same tragic story. Studies show snow and ice cover in the eastern Himalayas has shrunk by about 30% since the 1970s. Melting glaciers have created lakes in the mountains, which could burst and cause widespread flooding. Of 150 glaciers that once stood in Glacier National Park in the northern US, only 27 remain. The US Environmental Protection Agency says the biggest are a third the size they were in 1850. Continued warming could melt them completely by 2030.
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