Venezuela Just Said Goodbye to Its Last Glacier

Humboldt Peak, which melted more quickly than anticipated, has been reclassified as an ice field
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2024 1:33 PM CDT
Venezuela Just Said Goodbye to Its Last Glacier
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Wirestock)

At one point, Venezuela claimed six glaciers, all located in the Sierra Nevada de Merida mountain range. By 2011, five of those glaciers had vanished, leaving just the Humboldt glacier, aka La Corona. Now, Venezuela has exactly zero glaciers, after Humboldt was reclassified as an ice field due to a much faster melt than scientists had expected, reports the Guardian.

  • Discovery: Initially, researchers had predicted that the glacier was good to go for at least another 10 years, but due to political strife in Venezuela, they hadn't been able to monitor the giant ice block as closely as they would've liked. When they were finally able to take some recent measurements, however, they were shocked to find the glacier had shriveled down to just 2 hectares, or a little less than 5 acres—meaning that it's no longer technically a glacier but an ice field.

  • Metrics: One expert tells AFP that the structure is now just 0.4% of its original size. AccuWeather notes that although there's no universally accepted metric globally for how big a chunk of ice needs to be to earn "glacier" status, the US Geological Survey considers that minimum to be 10 hectares, or about 25 acres.
  • Attempts at a save: The Venezuelan government had announced efforts late last year to try to slow the ice melt at Humboldt by using a thermal mesh to cover and protect the ice, but that plan faced pushback from scientists who said the environment would be polluted by microplastics as the cover deteriorated over time, per El Pais.
  • Ripple effects: The loss of the glacier isn't just a symbolic defeat. "It also marks the loss of the many ecosystem services that glaciers provide, from unique microbial habitats to environments of significant cultural value," Durham University glaciologist Caroline Clason tells the Guardian. Ecologist Luis Daniel Llambi of Adaptation at Altitude says he feels a different kind of loss. "Glaciers were a part of the region's cultural identity, and for the mountaineering and touristic activities," he says.
  • Other countries: Meanwhile, Venezuela may not be the only nation to soon lose all its glaciers. The Guardian notes that Slovenia, Indonesia, and Mexico are also at risk, due to recent record-high temps.
(More Venezuela stories.)

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