Sad Record: They Confirm the First Country in America to Lose All its Glaciers

It is the first American country to lose all its glaciers, a process that has accelerated as global temperatures rise.

Glaciar La Corona.
The La Corona glacier on Humboldt Peak has been reduced to a patch of snow and no longer meets the conditions to be established as a glacier.

Venezuela, in the north of South America, has achieved a strange record. It is the first American country to have lost all its glaciers. The La Corona glacier, on Humboldt Peak, is now just a small white spot between barren rocks. It is the only thing that remains of the "five white eagles" of Mérida. The disappearance of the last glacier in Venezuela marks a milestone in the fight against climate change, according to indications by IFL Science.

Caroline Clason, glaciologist and associate professor at Durham University, points out that "the fact that Venezuela has lost all its glaciers really symbolises the changes that can be expected throughout the global cryosphere if climate change continues."

By 1910, Venezuela had six glaciers covering a total area of 1,000 square kilometres, but these have been reduced to mere patches of ice that no longer meet the requirements to be classified as glaciers. Five of the country's glaciers had already disappeared in 2011.

Only the Humboldt Glacier, also known as La Corona, remained in the Sierra Nevada National Park. However, the glacier has shrunk so much that it has been reclassified as an ice field. Speaking to AFP, Professor Julio César Centeno, from the University of the Andes (ULA), pointed out that "in Venezuela there are no longer glaciers. What we have is a piece of ice that is 0.4% of its original size".

At its peak, La Corona covered about 4.5 square kilometres, but now it covers less than 0.02 square kilometres, or about 2 hectares. Typically, a patch of ice must extend at least 0.1 square kilometres (10 hectares) to be considered a glacier.

98% decrease since 1953

As IFL Science notes, research over the past half-decade has indicated that glacier coverage in Venezuela decreased by 98% between 1953 and 2019. The rate of ice loss accelerated rapidly after 1998, reaching a peak of around 17 percent annually from 2016. According to details by Phys Org, the government hopes to restore it to its former glory using a geothermal blanket. But everything indicates that this help is insufficient since the deterioration is very shocking.

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According to experts, this plan would be too little, too late. In the last century, Venezuela has lost a total of five glaciers, totaling about 1,000 hectares of ice. Centeno and other experts are convinced that the loss of the La Corona glacier, on Humboldt Peak, about 4,900 metres above sea level, is irreversible.

The cover the government plans to use was delivered in December to Humboldt Peak by helicopter in 35 separate pieces, each measuring 2.75 metres by 80 metres, but the government has not said whether it has yet been unrolled. In European countries, this type of cover is used, especially to protect ski slopes when it is warmer.

"It allows us to maintain the temperature of the area and prevent the entire glacier from melting," Jehyson Guzmán, governor of the western state of Mérida, told Phys Org. Beyond what American statistics indicate, according to The Guardian, Venezuela is believed to be the first country to have lost all of its glaciers in the modern era.

For many, the government's plan is an illusion.

Scientists specialised in glaciers believe that "the Venezuelan government's plan is an illusory thing, a hallucination, it is completely absurd," as Centeno himself stated. Another team of scientists will ask the Supreme Court of Venezuela to scrap the project, because reportedly, they believe, it could have other negative effects as the plastic blanket degrades over time.

Glaciar Venezuela 2019.
Images of the La Corona glacier on Humboldt Peak taken in 2019. In the background of the image you can see Bolívar Peak. Both belong to the Sierra Nevada National Park.

"These microplastics are practically invisible, they end up in the soil and from there they go to the crops, to the lagoons, to the air, so people will end up eating and breathing that," they indicated. Enrique La Marca, zoologist and ecologist, fears that the cover could harm rare species of mosses and lichens, even the hummingbirds that inhabit the rocky environment.

"That life will die because it will not have the necessary oxygen," he says. Specifically, the remedy could end up being worse than the disease. The most optimistic forecasts give the remaining ice sheet four to five years before disappearing completely. Others do not believe that it exceeded two years. These glaciers were also a tourist resource for the country.

Now everything is rock, and what remains is so deteriorated that it is risky to step on it. There are very unsafe cracks. In short, this is a rather tragic disappearance for a country that already hosted cross-country skiing events in the 1950s. The decline has been very drastic.