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El condor pasa - and Andean glaciers aren't sticking around either

Posting in Energy

What, no glaciers? There doesn't appear to be any ice in site for this Andean condor.

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Add this to the list of vanishing ice: The glaciers are melting at an astonishing rate in the soaring Andes Mountains, the world's longest continental range and its second highest.

"In terms of changes in surface area and length, we show that the glacier retreat in the tropical Andes over the last three decades is unprecedented since the maximum extension of the Little Ice Age (mid-17th, early-18th century)," a research team writes in The Cryosphere.

The section of the Andes in the study included a significant five country stretch taking in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, accounting for about half all glaciers in the 4,300-mile chain that's home to the majestic condor - popularized in the Simon & Garfunkel version of El Condor Pasa (the condor goes by).

The scientists led by Antoine Rabatel from the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France, found that glacial mass has shrunk by 30-to-50 percent since the 1970s, The Guardian reports. The team blamed an average temperature rise of 0.7 degrees celsius over the last 70 years.

The shrinking was most pronounced on small glaciers at low altitudes. Those glaciers "could disappear in the coming years/decades," the report says.

"This is a serious concern because a large proportion of the population lives in arid regions to the west of the Andes (especially in Peru and Boliva, where the percentage of glaciers is the highest)," Rabatel and his co-authors write. "As a consequence, the supply of water from high altitude glacierized mountain chains is important for agricultural and domestic consumption as well as for hydropower."

Andean glaciers provide drinking water for tens of millions of people, The Guardian notes.

Photo: Martin Garcia via Flickr

More stories on ice, from SmartPlanet:

— By on January 23, 2013, 6:28 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure