The World Glacier Thermometer
The Quelccaya glacier is the world’s largest thermometer on our planet
The quelccaya is most extensive tropical glacier in the world, is located in the Peruvian Andes; between the departments of Cusco and Puno. It is considered by glaciologists, as the biggest tropical, world glacier thermometer. Unfortunately, it is prone to disappearing in a short time.
This ice giant, is considered a world thermometer to measure global warming and the melting of glaciers and snow-capped mountains. The Quelccaya, is part of the proposed “ Ausangate Regional Conservation Area“; which desperately seeks to preserve its accelerating agony.
This glacier is an extension of the Eastern Andes mountain range. It has a length that exceeds 17 km, a surface area of 44 km², and an ice layer over 200 meters thick. It is the largest glacier in the entire tropical zone of the world, the highest part of the glacier is 5650 meters above sea level; and the lowest parts fluctuate between 4900 and 5100 meters in altitude.
How to get there?
It is not very crowded, regularly people, who like to ski and hike head to the glacier. There are also hiking excursions, which take you very close to the glacier, like: “the Ausangate trek and Sibinacocha lake tour“.
At the moment there are no bus tours, organized by travel agencies. However, if you want to go on your own, the one-way trip from Cusco will take you around 5.5 hours. The most comfortable and fastest route is: Cusco – Pitumarca – Phinaya – Quelccaya.
The Quelccaya ice cap is an important source of water for the “Vilcanota or sacred river of the Incas“, the sibinacocha lake and the majestic river Inambari.
Scientific studies in the world glacier thermometer
The Quelccaya ice cap, has been intensively studied by the Ohio State University, in cooperation with Peruvian institutions, in order to determine paleoclimatic investigations. Lonnie Thompson and his research team have drilled ice cores in the Quelccaya of 164 meters and 154 meters in length respectively; which date back almost 2000 years and have been used to study changes in atmospheric conditions, during this period. .
In these ice samples, the proportion of oxygen isotopes has increased sharply in the last 50 years; an indicator of regional warming. As the ice cap is receding, it reveals almost perfectly preserved, fossilized plant specimens, that have been dated to 5,200 BC. Which indicates that more than 50 centuries have passed, since the ice cap was smaller than it is today. Currently the Quelccaya has lost 31% of its ice mass; and according to glaciologists, at the current rate of global warming, this ice cap will disappear by 2075.
The ice cores obtained from the Fremont Glacier in the state of Wyoming (United States); show an oxygen isotope profile similar to that of the Quelccaya ice cores. At the end of the Little Ice Age, a period of very cold temperatures between the 1550s and 1850s. Sudden alterations in the ratio of oxygen isotopes in the ice core samples, from these two ice caps; which are at great distance from each other, demonstrate evidence of sudden global climate change in the mid-latitude regions of the planet today.
Thanks to the studies carried out on the samples of the Quelccaya ice core; It was possible to know, that Cusco about 5000 years ago, was 5 degrees colder than today. At the time, when the first nomads populated the region, they had to have access to another type of vegetable and animal food.
These same analyzes, show that between the years 1100 and 1150 after Christ, a severe drought occurred; which was one of the main causes, of the collapse of the “Chimu” and “Tiahuanaco” civilizations.
Consequences of accelerated ice melting
Meltwater lakes and proglacial lakes have formed in front of the Qori Kalis and Quelccaya glaciers; and they have increased exponentially in size. These lakes could be sources of future glacial lake flash floods, as a result, one of these floods, has already occurred in March 2006 and has drowned some alpacas.
The level of freezing, rises regularly above the top of Quelccaya, and in recent ice cores; meltwater infiltration has become evident. Consequently, oxygen isotope ratios, are no longer conserved in ice; while this infiltration has smoothed the record only to a certain depth, it illustrates the threat, that climate change is creating for the existence of climate archives in ice cores. Plant life is advancing rapidly into the land left by the ice, and the retreat has exposed plant debris, that had been covered during the glacier expansion that occurred about 5,000 years ago.
Mining concessions inside the world glacier thermometer
For years the peasant communities of Phinaya, have been fighting against illegal mining; installed very close to the world’s glacial thermometer. However, the main concern occurred in 2018, when large deposits of lithium were discovered in an area, which was about to be the “Ausangate regional conservation area“..
Strange cause, that the “Ministry of Energy and Mines” has ceded mining concessions to a sector; that they knew would be a regional protected and preserved area.
There are eight concessions that have obtained the approval of Ingemmet – dependent on the Ministry of Energy and Mines; which are in the name of the company Lithium Energy Peru S.A., whose legal representative is Luis Eduardo Guerra Arriarán.
Of nine other applications, five also appear under the name Lithium Energy Peru S.A. and the others are from Compañía Minera Bossi SAC., whose legal representative is Segundo Clemente Chávez Díaz.
It is a pity to know, that the Sorani district, together with the rural community of Quelccaya, have signed a deed of conformity for mining exploitation; while many other peasant communities are fighting against these concessions, that seriously affect, the largest tropical glacier in the world.
The native populations, that we have grown up admiring the Quelccaya, which is the world glacier thermometer and “apus” or snow-capped mountains; we look with great sadness and grief at their accelerated death. We have an obligation to fight fiercely to protect what has been our home for hundreds of years.