Venezuela’s last glacier, the Humboldt, has melted

Satellite image of Venezuela’s Humboldt Glacier captured by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 on April 28, 2015.

Venezuela Humboldt Glacier 2024 Annotation

Satellite image of Venezuela’s Humboldt Glacier captured by Operational Land Imager-2 on Landsat 9 on May 14, 2024.

Venezuela is the first glaciated country in the Andes, as its last substantial ice sheet is now considered too small to flow under its own weight.

Venezuela’s Humboldt Glacier has completely disappeared, marking a significant environmental change, making it the last glacier in a country historically covered by such ice systems. Satellite images documenting this decline from 2015 to 2024 show that the glacier has shrunk from about 0.1 square kilometers to almost nothing. This loss reflects a broader pattern of global tropical glacier retreat, exacerbated by rising global temperatures.

Destruction of the glacier

The Humboldt Glacier in Venezuela has met its demise. The loss is the latest blow to our planet’s dwindling tropical glaciers Shrinks and disappears As the temperature warms up.

This pair of images shows the glacier’s ice volume change between 2015 (top) and 2024 (bottom). The images were acquired by OLI (Operational Land Imager) on Landsat 8 and OLI-2 on Landsat 9 respectively. Both images show the region at the end of its dry season to minimize the influence of seasonal snow cover on the appearance of snow remnants.

The Humboldt Glacier has long been located in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida, the northernmost part of the Andes Mountains in South America. In 2015, scientists estimated the glacier to be about 0.1 square kilometers (25 acres). By 2024, the ice sheet will have shrunk to cover about one-tenth. Although not universally accepted size scale Defining a glacier, scientists generally agree that a field of ice of this size is stagnant, meaning it is too small to flow down a slope under the pressure of its own weight. By that definition, Venezuela is now a country without glaciers.

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Life and Decline of Humboldt

Humboldt has been around since 2009, when Venezuela lost its last glacier Other glaciers on nearby peaks. Despite its proximity to the equator, the glacier lasted longer in part because of its altitude. Glaciers in the tropics—the region of Earth that straddles the equator between about 30°N and 30°S latitude—are due to the cold, snowy climate found at high altitudes.

The Humboldt Glacier clings to a slope and saddle at the base of Pico Humboldt, just shy of the country’s highest peak, Pico Bolivar. Terrain may also have played a role in its longevity. Surrounded by very steep slopes, Humboldt’s ice sits on a slightly gentler slope, compacted as glacial ice by the accumulation of snow during past winters.

Broad impact on tropical glaciers

But the altitude and terrain are not high enough to sustain the glacier indefinitely. Evidence Satellite and aerial images, ground observations, and historical evidence indicate that Humboldt Glacier has been in retreat for a long time. From an area of ​​3 square kilometers in 1910, it now covers an area of ​​0.01 square kilometers, making Venezuela the first glaciated country in the Andes.

Glaciers elsewhere in the tropics are showing a similar response to warming. For example, glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Puncak Jaya in Indonesia have turned into stagnant ice fields. Satellites continue to be an important tool for scientists to map these changes and study how landscapes and ecosystems respond.

NASA Earth observation images by Michala Garrison using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey. Image interpretation and science review by Christopher Shuman, NASA/UMPC.

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