Climate risks: Peru glaciers disappearing at rapid rate

In the latest worrying indication of the fast pace of climate change, a new report from the Peruvian government released this week suggests that the country has lost 56% of its tropical glaciers in the last six decades due to global warming.

Peru is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with rich marine coastal, Andean highlands and Amazonian ecosystems, but this diversity is at risk due to changes in temperature and precipitation, according to portal Climate Links, which adds that the country is susceptible to natural disasters including floods, droughts, and landslides, whose frequency, severity, and impacts are compounded by the El Niño Southern Oscillation and will be amplified by increased climate change and variability.

In the latest assessment, Peru holds 68% of the world’s tropical glaciers and warming temperatures have led to melting and the creation of new mountain lagoons that risk overflowing and flooding, the National Institute of Research of Mountain Glaciers and Ecosystems said.

The report uses satellite imagery until 2020 and shows that 2,084 glaciers are covering 1,050 square kilometres (405 square miles) in Peru, compared to the 2,399 square kilometres of ice and snow in 1962.

“In four years, from 2016 to 2020 we have lost almost 6% of these high mountain glaciers,” Beatriz Fuentealba, the institute’s director, said from the Ancash region where many glaciers have disappeared.

According to the inventory, 164 lagoons have been formed or are in the process of formation in the last four years, bringing the number of glacial lagoons up to 8,466, covering about 1,081 square kilometres.

“The new lagoons could be, in the future, water reserves, but being at high altitudes they cause a danger of overflowing and flooding,” said Jesus Gomez, director of research on glaciers at the Ministry of the Environment.

Nearly all of Peru’s tropical glaciers are above 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) above sea level while the new lagoons are at an altitude of between 4,000 and 5,000 meters, the report said.