Researchers in Peru have discovered some of the earliest evidence of air pollution, and their report reveals new information about the extent that carbon emissions accelerate the melting of glaciers.

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The report, released by the National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM) in Peru, also indicates that black carbon emissions in particular have a direct impact on the rate at which glaciers melt.

Related: Global warming will melt over 1/3 of the Himalayan ice cap by 2100

According to Jesús Gómez López, the Director of Glaciers Research at INAIGEM, “There are different sources of black carbon that can deposit on glaciers, some are wildfires, burning of agricultural waste and the emissions from vehicle fleets. Studies show that the concentration of black carbon is greater in glaciers close to large cities.”

The 1,200-year-old Quelccaya Ice Cap contained small traces of lead and mercury believed to be pollution from silver mines during the early Spanish invasion. Climate change and air pollution can often be tied to colonialism and the exploitation of indigenous populations and lands.

Metal working and mining by the Incas had “most likely only a local impact on the environment surrounding their mining operations. In contrast, the mining … activities performed by the Spanish had an impact on the atmosphere of the entire South America continent,” said Paolo Gabrielli, a researcher from Ohio State who contributed to the first paper on the discovery.

Although the age of the pollution is impressive, researchers are quick to point out that all glaciers contain human-caused pollution at this point.

“Today, there are no glaciers on Earth where atmospheric deposition of anthropogenic origin cannot be detected,” said a report from Ohio State University.

Researchers also suggest that emissions from fires, transportation and industry should be curtailed in order to reduce glacial melt and trap carbon in place. They also note that while air pollution is hundreds of years old, today’s level of air pollution is unprecedented.

Via UN Environment

Images via Cassie Matias