Disappearing Andean glaciers, devastating Amazon floods signal hemispheric climate shift

Lake Cachet II in southern Chile’s AysĂ©n region vanished in less than 24 hours last week, leaving behind just some large puddles and chunks of ice. Lake Cachet II’s 200 million cubic liters of water gushed out into the RĂ­o Baker, tripling its volume and emptying the five-square-kilometer lake bed. (See map.) The lake is usually held behind a natural glacier dam, but rising temperatures weakened the ice. This was actually the 11th time that the lake has drained since 2008, leaving downstream residents terrified of sudden deluges. Lago TĂ©mpanos in Magallanes region of far southern Chile drained in a similar fashion in May 2007. “Climate models predict that as temperatures rise, this phenomenon, known as GLOFs [glacial lake outburst floods], will become more frequent,” said glaciologist Gino Casassa from Chile’s Center for Scientific Studies (CES). The GLOF phenomenon has also been reported in recent years in the Himalayas, and in Iceland due to volcanic activities, Casassa said. (The Watchers, May 23; AFP, May 22; El Mundo, Spain, May 7, 2007)

As Andean glaciers disappear, devastating floods are predictably hitting the Amazon. In Peru‘s Amazon port city of Iquitos, Loreto region, whole neighborhoods have been inundated as the river has burst its bank in the worst flooding there in three decades. Peru’s government declared a state of emergency in Loreto in early April, and aid groups are rushing in water purification systems as disease spreads. The Red Cross estimates that more than 200,000 people have been displaced. (Charleston City Paper, April 30)

The Rio Negro in Brazil‘s Amazonas state is suffering the worst flood ever registered in the region. The flooding has prompted 53 out of the 62 municipalities in Amazonas state, including state capital Manaus, to declare a state of emergency, and has affected about 75,000 families. The Brazilian government has deployed 500 troops, a field hospital and three navy ships to help the stricken populace. Ironically, northeast Brazil is simultaneously being gripped by a severe drought. (Xinhua, May 17; BBC News, May 10)

See our last posts on the climate crisis in the Andes and the struggle for the Amazon.

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