An expedition to Peru captures climate history trapped in ice – before it is gone.
From the summit of Huascarán, the highest mountain in Earth’s tropics, the valleys of the western Andes look placid and peaceful – calming, even. The signs of climate change – of the melting glaciers throughout the Andes, of the changes to the local villages’ water supplies – are not immediately evident.
But the scientific crew on top of the mountain knows those changes are there.
It’s part of why they’ve traveled so far, from the United States, Mexico, Italy, Peru, France and Russia, and tackled this harrowing climb to more than 22,000 feet: to visit the glaciers at the top and to drill columns of glacier ice to send back to The Ohio State University for analysis. The ice holds many clues to what has happened in Earth’s atmosphere and in the climate of the region over the last 20,000 years. And, if Earth keeps warming, the glacier might not be there for much longer.
“I’ve worked in Peru for 44 years, and have visited some of the ice fields 25 times,” said Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor in the School of Earth Sciences and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. “And I've been able to document the increase in temperature and the melting that is taking place on the summits of many of these glaciers.”
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Image via Ohio State University