According to a study published in the journal Cryosphere, glaciers in the tropical Andes have shrunk by a whopping 30 to 50 percent since the 1970s.The researchers report that the glaciers are retreating at their fastest rate in the last 300 years as a consequence of global warming, and that at the current rate ice sheets at lower altitudes may completely disappear — which could cause water shortages in communities across South America.

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Researchers found that lower-lying South American glaciers—those below 5,400 meters—have seen an annual decrease in ice thickness of 1.35m since the late 1970s. The loss of ice mass may be the result of an average temperature rise of 0.7 degree Celsius over the past 70 years.

“Because the maximum thickness of these small, low-altitude glaciers rarely exceeds 40 metres, with such an annual loss they will probably completely disappear within the coming decades,” said lead author Antoine Rabatel, from the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France.

Andean glaciers are an important source of fresh water for nearby populations. The alarming rate of glacier melting could put the continent’s fresh water supply at serious risk, researchers warned.

“Glaciers provide about 15% of the La Paz water supply throughout the year, increasing to about 27% during the dry season,” said co-author Alvaro Soruco from the Institute of Geological and Environmental Investigations in Bolivia.

The Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia which was once a ski resort, has almost completely disappeared, according to scientists.

Via BBC News