Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Going glacier gone: How Venezuela lost its last glacier, why this matters?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Glaciers;

Mains level: Climate change; Issue of rise in Temperatures;

Why in the News?

Venezuela has likely become the first country to lose all its glaciers, with its last Humboldt glacier melting faster than anticipated. While scientists projected it to last another decade, its rapid melting exceeded expectations.


  • Venezuela was home to six glaciers about 5,000 meters above sea level in the Andes mountains.
  • By 2011, five of them had vanished. Scientists expected the Humboldt glacier to last another decade.

What are glaciers?

  • Glaciers are large masses of ice that form on land over long periods through the accumulation and compaction of snow. They flow like slow rivers and typically develop in regions with near-freezing temperatures, significant snowfall, and minimal summer melting.
  • According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), they usually exist and form in areas where mean annual temperatures reach near the freezing point; winter precipitation leads to significant snow accumulations; and temperatures throughout the remaining year do not cause the complete loss of the previous winter’s snow accumulation.

Why are Glaciers disappearing?

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution have released large amounts of GHGs like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
  • Heat Trapping: The greenhouse gases act as a blanket, trapping heat in the atmosphere. While they allow sunlight to pass through, they prevent the heat from escaping back into space, leading to a rise in global temperatures.
    • The global average temperature has increased by at least 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1880 due to the skyrocketing emissions of GHGs in recent decades.
  • Consequences of Temperature Rise: The temperature rise has resulted in devastating consequences such as more frequent and intense heatwaves, floods, droughts, and a rise in sea levels.
  • Accelerated Melting: Glaciers, like ice cubes exposed to heat, are melting at accelerated rates due to the warmer temperatures caused by global warming.
  • Natural Climate Phenomena: Natural climate phenomena like El Nino can exacerbate glacier melting by causing abnormal warming of surface waters, as observed in the case of the Humboldt glacier in Venezuela.

What are the impacts of Glacier Loss?

  • Freshwater Source: Glaciers are crucial sources of freshwater, especially during hot and dry periods, providing water for local communities, plants, and animals. Their disappearance would increase dependence on sporadic rainfall for freshwater supply.
  • Temperature Regulation: Glacial runoff helps regulate downstream water temperatures, particularly keeping them cooler. This is essential for many aquatic species that require cold water temperatures to survive, impacting the entire ecosystem.
  • Ecosystem Impact: Glacier loss directly affects aquatic species, disrupting the food web and potentially leading to declines in biodiversity.
  • Contribution to Sea Level Rise: Melting glaciers contribute to rising sea levels, although smaller glaciers like Venezuela’s Humboldt glacier may not substantially impact sea levels.
  • Cultural Impact: The loss of glaciers has significant cultural implications, particularly for communities where glaciers are part of their cultural identity. Activities such as mountaineering and tourism, which rely on glaciers, would be affected.
  • Tourism and Recreation: Glaciers are often major tourist attractions, drawing visitors for activities like mountaineering and sightseeing. The disappearance of glaciers would impact tourism and recreational activities in affected regions.

Way Forward: 

  • International Cooperation: Foster collaboration among countries to tackle climate change on a global scale. Support international agreements such as the Paris Agreement, aimed at limiting global warming and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Protect and Preserve Glacier Areas: Establish and enforce conservation measures to protect glacier regions from further degradation. This can involve creating protected areas, implementing zoning regulations, and promoting sustainable tourism practices.

Mains PYQ:

Q Bring out the relationship between the shrinking Himalayan glaciers and the symptoms of climate change in the Indian sub-continent. (UPSC IAS/2014)

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