Mega-drought in the Andes

The Andes mountain range, which attracts skiers to South America, faced historically low snowfall this year during a decade-long drought.

As a result of scant rain and snowfall, many of the majestic mountains between Ecuador and Argentina are covered in sparse or no snow.

According to Ricardo Villalba, chief researcher at Argentina’s Institute of Snow, Glaciers and Environmental Research (IANIGLA), as rainfall decreases and glaciers retreat across the region, communities that depend on mountains for their water supply will face water shortages.

“What we’re seeing here is a process of long-term precipitation decline, a mega-drought,” Villalba said.

“If you look at the precipitation levels throughout the Cordillera (Andes Range), you’ll see that there was either no or very little snow,” he said.

It’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, when snowfall should be at its peak.

Ski resorts have reopened after long closures during the pandemic and are attracting skiers on the border of Argentina and Chile. But meager snowfalls are forcing many resorts to transport snow to cover popular runs or make artificial snow.

Satellite images taken in July 2020 and this year show a marked decrease in snow cover. This is reflected in measurements of water levels in rivers.

Andean glaciers, which remained the same size or even grew between 2000 and 2010, are now retreating, Villalba said.

“The glaciers are in a very dramatic process of retreat that is much more accelerated than we’ve seen before,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this is happening to all the glaciers in the Cordilleras.”

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