Glaciers in the tropical Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world, have shrunk on average 30%-50% since the 1970s, according to a study published in the journal Cryosphere.
The Andes stretches from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
These glaciers, which provide fresh water for tens of millions in South America, are withdrawing at their fastest rate in the past 300 years.
“Glacier retreat in the tropical Andes over the last three decades is unprecedented,” said Antoine Rabatel, the leading author of the study and a scientist with the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France.
“This is a serious concern because a large proportion of the population lives in arid regions to the west of the Andes,” he adds.
The researchers of this study also warn that future warming can totally destroy glaciers at lower altitudes that store and release fresh water for downstream communities.
The Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia has already disappeared completely, according to some scientists.
If the current trend of global warming continues, more glaciers will disappear.
||The serious impact of melting glaciers
Global warming has increased average temperatures worldwide, causing more glacier ice to melt than in previous years.
When temperatures rise and ice melts, more water flows to the seas from glaciers and ice caps, ocean water tends to get warmer and as a consequence expand in volume. This combination of effects has had a huge effect on raising average global sea level between 10 and 20 centimetres in the past 100 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Entire communities living in low areas near the shore will be in danger due to the increasing sea water levels. Fresh underground water in these areas will become polluted with salty sea water and therefore it will be unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.
Many glaciers in the world have already disappeared. The melting glaciers increase global temperatures. Ice reflects most of the heat from the sun back into space but when the land below gets exposed it inevitably absorbs most of the heat.