Venezuela Thought to Be First Country To Lose All of Its Glaciers

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Scientists have reclassified what was the last remaining glacier in Venezuela to an ice field, following significant shrinkage. The reclassification means that Venezuela is believed to be the first Andean country, and the first country globally, to lose all of its glaciers.

The Humboldt glacier, or La Corona, had been the only remaining glacier in Venezuela since 2011. By that year, five other glaciers in Venezuela had been lost, The Guardian reported.

As of 1910, Venezuela was home to six glaciers, which spanned about 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles), IFL Science reported. But over time, amid global warming, the glaciers have shrunk until they no longer met the criteria to be classified as a glacier. Typically, a glacier is considered to be at least 10 hectares.

In the case of the Humboldt glacier, it shrank from an initial 450 hectares to only 2 hectares, as Phys.org reported.

“In Venezuela there are no more glaciers,” Julio Cesar Centeno, professor at the University of the Andes (ULA), told AFP in March 2024. “What we have is a piece of ice that is 0.4 percent of its original size.”

By the end of 2023, the government announced plans to slow thawing of the Humboldt glacier by covering it in sheets of polypropylene plastic. However, scientists are planning to ask Venezuela’s highest court to overturn the project due to concerns over microplastics and their impacts on what remains of the ice and the surrounding environment.

“These microplastics are practically invisible, they end up in the soil and from there they go to crops, lagoons, into the air, so people will end up eating and breathing that,” Centeno told AFP.

Scientists originally believed the glacier would last at least another 10 years before being reclassified, but political turmoil and the glacier’s remote location put observations on hold in recent years, The Guardian reported.

From the previous observations in 2019 to the following observations at the end of 2023, scientists discovered the glacier had lost about 2 hectares.

“Other countries lost their glaciers several decades ago after the end of the little ice age but Venezuela is arguably the first one to lose them in modern times,” said Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist and weather historian, as reported by The Guardian.

Now, experts believe what remains of what was the Humboldt glacier will disappear entirely in five years at best, or two years at worse.

In addition to impacting local ecosystems, the disappearing ice is also expected to affect tourism in Venezuela. The ice cover of the country’s second highest mountain, Pico Humboldt, was a big draw for visitors.

“Now everything is rock, and what remains is so deteriorated that it is risky to step on it,” Susana Rodriguez, a forestry engineer, told AFP. “There are cracks.”

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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