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Global warming: A dark future for South America's glaciers

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Photos by Martin Katz/Greenpeace ArgentinaBy Teresa Bo

Even though its summer time in Argentina, the temperatures in El Calafate, in Patagonia, are still very low.

It's still cold in this part of the country where we decided to come to report on the impact that global warming is having on glaciers in South America.

Our objective: To get as close as we could from the Upsala Glacier located within the National Park Los Glaciares and the one that scientists say has been affected the most by global warming.

We took a boat to take us towards the glacier but we were not able to reach the full front. Icebergs from the glacier have been falling down and are blocking the channel that would allow us to make it to our destiny.

This, Greenpeace says, has been caused by the increasing temperatures in the area that have provoked the fall of huge chunks of ice from the Upsala.

The scenery is breathtaking ... but it's not the beauty of this place that NGOs want to preserve, but the fact that this place also holds the world's third-largest reserve of fresh water.

Glaciers, let's not forget, are the water reserves that preserve ecosystems and in developing countries, that are dependent on agriculture, play a crucial role.

Some say that it's the Upsala's characteristics what turn it into an easy target for global warming.

Parts of it are located over water, instead of land, like other glaciers in this area, that so far have managed to preserve its total mass.

But here are some facts:

  • In the last 30 years 63 of the main glaciers in the Southern Patagonian Icefields have been affected and that has contributed to the 0,042mm increase in sea level.
  • Nine of this glaciers are in Argentina.
  • The Upsala Glacier has retreated about 13.4km between 1997 and 2003

A recent study shows that glaciers in southern Chile and Argentina, followed by ones in Alaska, have been losing mass "faster and for longer than glaciers in other parts of the world".

When visiting the area these changes are evident.

As the Cancun summit comes to an end, people here are wondering why the discussion is centred on how to adapt to climate change but not enough on how to prevent the world's temperatures from increasing.

Temperatures that would eventually cause serious damage to places like this one.

Teresa Bo, an award-winning correspondent, reports from across Latin America.


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