Venezuela’s last remaining glacier will be completely gone within the next 10 to 20 years. Until as recently as 1991, five glaciers were found in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida mountain range in Venezuela. As climate change has accelerated, so too has the meltdown. Named for the nearby Pico Humboldt, Venezuela’s second highest peak at over 16,000 feet, the Humboldt Glacier is one-tenth of the size it was three decades ago. Scientists hope to study the glacial disappearing act so as to learn more about what other communities might expect in a warming world. “This is a tragedy that should be highlighted as one more consequence of irresponsible behavior in energy-intense economies,” said Walter Vergara, a forest and climate specialist at Global Restoration Initiative in Latin America, according to GlacierHub.
Unfortunately, Venezuela’s current political and economic crises make an international scientific study very difficult. The Humboldt glacier was last studied by an international team in 2015. Even then, the data was limited; a research team from Westfield State University in Massachusetts was only able to conduct a GPS survey and gather basic observations. While some data, such as measurements of ice coverage and reflection of solar radiation, can be studied using satellites, they would be more accurate if more researchers were able to spend time at Humboldt.
It is often difficult for Venezuelan scientists to find success at home due to the economic and political crises that has gripped their country in recent years. Despite the challenges, Venezuela is not without its environmental heroes. “Venezuela’s Minister for Environment, Ramón Velásquez-Araguayán, is a smart and capable climate scientist who is very sensitive to climate change issues and environmental conservation,” Ángel G. Muñoz, a postdoctoral research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, and Princeton University, told GlaicerHub. Still, it is likely that Venezuela will soon become the first country to lose all of its glaciers. Sadly, it is not likely to be the last.