Climate change has shrunk glaciers in the South American Andes between 30 and 50 percent since the 1970s and could melt many of them away altogether in coming years, according to a study published recently in the journal The Cryosphere, reports Mitra Taj at World Environment News. A vital source of fresh water for tens of millions of South Americans, the glaciers are retreating at their fastest rates in more than 300 years, according to the most comprehensive review of Andean ice loss so far, covering about half of all Andean glaciers. The study blamed the loss on an average temperature spike of about 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 70 years. Researchers also warned that future warming could totally wipe out the smaller glaciers found at lower altitudes that store and release fresh water for downstream communities. “This is a serious concern because a large proportion of the population lives in arid regions to the west of the Andes,” said the lead study scientist. Indeed, according to some scientists, the Chacaltaya glacier in the Bolivian Andes, once a ski resort, has already disappeared completely.
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