Peru is home to 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. In its heyday, the Pastoruri glacier in central Peru, drew daily throngs of tourists packed into dozens of double-decker buses 16,000-feet high into the Andes to ski, build snowmen and scale its dizzying peaks.
But in less than 20 years, including at least 10 of the hottest on record, Pastoruri has shrunk in half, and now spans just a third of a square mile.
The number of visitors to Pastoruri dwindled significantly — 34,000 last year compared to an estimated 100,000 per year in the 1990s. In turn, it has eroded tourism revenue — the livelihood of thousands in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru’s most popular cluster of snowy peaks, depends on it. Now locals are making a bid to lure tourists back to Pastoruri before it is gone completely — likely in a decade.
Melting ice has given way to slabs of black rock, two small lakes gathering the glacial runoff have swollen together, and officials have banned climbing on the unstable formation. Peruvians have insulated ice with sawdust to stave off melting and painted exposed rock white to reflect sunlight. Those experiments curb glacial retreat on a small scale, but cannot bring ice blocks like Pastoruri back from the brink.
Pastoruri is still a striking chunk of ice, but it’s no longer technically a glacier because it does not build up ice in the winter to release in the summer.
As ice melts off, mountain rocks that covered the rocks are shedding minerals — high levels of heavy metals like cadmium and iron — thus rendering water undrinkable. Newly exposed rocks have also revealed fossilized marine species that likely last saw the light of day before the start of the last ice age – more than 100,000 years ago.
The “climate change route,” to officially launch in March, is the latest offbeat answer to rising temperatures that have eaten up 30 to 50 percent of Andean glaciers in recent decades. It is unclear, however, if tourists, even the more science-minded of them, will come to watch Pastoruri glacier’s demise.
Pastoruri glacier is not the only popular spot affected by climate change. As warmer temperatures tweak ecosystems, boost the frequency of extreme weather and degrade coastlines, the global map of favorite tourist destinations is slowly being redrawn.
Warming waters are intensifying coral bleaching at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Increasingly regular flooding in Venice could limit future visits, and list of soon-to-become-climate-change routes is truly impressive… and very, very worrisome…