The relatively recent changes to Venezuela's Humboldt Glacier are evident in this image pair, acquired on 20 January 1988, with the Thematic Mapper on Landsat 5 (left) and on 6 January 2015 with OLI (right). The images are false-color to better differentiate between areas of snow and ice (blue), land (brown), and vegetation (green). According to Braun, the glacier in 1988 spanned about 0.6 square kilometers. By 2015 its area dropped to less than 0.1 square kilometers. Photo: Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory

By Kathryn Hansen
27 September 2018

(NASA) – The retreat of Humboldt Glacier—Venezuela’s last patch of perennial ice—means that the country could soon be glacier-free. We featured the glacier in August 2018 as an Image of the Day showing how it changed between 1988 and 2015.

Satellite images can tell you a lot about a glacier, but direct measurements by people on the ground provide a unique, important perspective, especially for glaciers as small as Humboldt. Carsten Braun, a scientist at Westfield State University, last surveyed the glacier in 2015. He talked about what it was like to stand on Venezuela’s last glacier. […]

Do you remember what you were thinking while hiking on the country’s last glacier?

I was definitely considering the impacts of losing this glacier. It has little “practical use” today, as it is so small and pretty much irrelevant for water supply. Its disappearance would not impact water resources much, if at all. That’s much in contrast with countries like Peru and Bolivia, where glacier recession already creates huge problems for water resources, hydro-power, etc.

The impact in Venezuela is more at a spiritual level. The mountain chain is was named Sierra Nevada de Mérida (snowy mountain range of Mérida) because of its glacier cover. Now it will be gone soon and may never come back again. (Well, that’s up to us humans to decide.) And with that, the reality of these mountains will change. The lack of glaciers will be the “new normal”. It’s a little bit like losing a species: once it’s gone, you never realize that it is missing. [more]

Walking on Venezuela’s Last Glacier

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