(Bloomberg) — High, high up in the Andes mountains above Chile’s capital, at the foot of the glaciers that date from the last ice age, the temperatures were almost balmy this summer. That threatens long-term water supplies to the city of seven million spread out on the plain below.
At the Olivares Alfa glacier, 4,420 meters above sea level, temperatures rose above 10 Celsius on several days in January and rarely fell below zero, said Andres Rivera, a glaciologist at the Center of Scientific Studies in Valdivia. “It is not rare to have above-zero temperatures during summer, but high temperatures day and night, for several days in a row, that was unprecedented,” Rivera said.
The glaciers that supply much of Santiago’s water over the hot, dry summer months shrunk by a quarter to 380 square kilometers in the 30 years to 2013/14, according to a study by the Universidad de Chile.
The melt will accelerate if the South American nation sees more record breaking heatwaves as global warming increases. Eventually, the shrinking glaciers may force the citizens of Santiago to follow their counterparts in southern California and give up their green lawns and swimming pools.
“Glaciers are really vulnerable and yet they have managed to survive all sorts of climate events for 10,000 years,” said Francisco Ferrando, a geography professor at Universidad de Chile in Santiago. “Global warming is accelerating and the change is being felt strongly up in the mountain, so right now glaciers are in survival mode.”
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