Patagonian Glaciers Rapidly Melting, Greenpeace Photos Show

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, February 12, 2004 (ENS) - Billions of words have been written about global warming in attempts to prove or disprove its existence, its extent, its consequences. But a picture is worth many words, and today Greenpeace released photographs of a Patagonian glacier that is wordless evidence of a warming planet.

The Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise and her crew are in the Argentine Patagonia at the tip of South America to document the impacts of climate change on the glaciers, which the organization warns are melting more quickly than any other glaciers on Earth.

Human demand for the combustion of oil, gas and coal for power and transportation is responsible for global warming, as heat trapping greenhouses gases are emitted when these fossil fuels are burned.


Original photograph taken in 1928 of the Upsala Glacier, Argentina. (Photo ©Archivo Museo Salesiano)
"Rising temperatures are causing glaciers to melt all over the world," said Greenpeace campaigner Joris Thijssen on board the Arctic Sunrise. "Here in Patagonia, they are disappearing at a rate of 42 cubic kilometres every year - faster than anywhere else on Earth. There are many reasons for the speed of the retreat and climate change is the trigger of this process."

Greenpeace has been touring Patagonia and Chile for four weeks, investigating the extent to which the glaciers and ice-fields there are disappearing. The research team's findings show that a number of large glaciers, such as the San Quintin and Upsala glaciers, part of the Northern and Southern Patagonian ice-fields, have thinned and have retreated several kilometers in recent years.

From 1995 through 2000 the rate of ice loss from the ice fields more than doubled, Greenpeace has learned.

Today we visited the San Rafael glacier, one of the highest glaciers of the Northern Patagonian Icefield," wrote an Arctic Sunrise crew member on February 1. "The San Rafael retreats about 70 meters every year. A local company that brings tourists to the glacier have started painting numbers on the mountain wall by the front. These numbers mark the years, and show how much the ice have retreated. They started doing this in the seventies. The glacier is now very far from where it was in 1976."

The volume of melt water from glaciers is causing the sea levels to rise increasing the risk of flooding in many of the world's coastal areas. It is also starting to cause problems for people who depend on the glaciers for their fresh water supply.

"Climate change is a global problem - not only do we risk losing the world's glaciers but we are already witnessing an increased frequency and severity of floods, droughts and storms, loss of coral reefs, rises in sea levels and a rapid spread of diseases such as malaria," said Thijssen.


January 2004, Composite image of the Upsala Glacier showing the same location as in the 1928 photograph. (Photo ©Greenpeace/Daniel Beltra)
On January 20, Arctic Sunrise crew member Irene wrote, "It has been a busy couple of weeks in Patagonia. Yesterday feels like a week ago: so many new impressions! Two days ago we stayed at the Estancia Christina (estancia is a farm or a ranch), close to the Upsala glacier in Argentina. The only way to get there is by boat or horse."

"Tourists arrive every day to see the glacier, but at large the estancia has not changed much since the first people came here in 1914. Pablo, one of the guides, said, “the estancia has not changed, but the glacier did.” Pablo has only worked here for two years, but he has already noticed how glacial retreat, how the distance from the ranch to the glacier increased."

With this evidence of glacial melt before them, Arctic Sunrise crew members are urging world leaders to give their political support to renewable energy technologies and industries.

For the first time world leaders are being invited to attend an international renewable energy conference, to be held in Bonn, Germany from June 1 to 4. Greenpeace calls upon all world leaders to attend this conference and to adopt firm commitments to use clean energy sources to fill 20 percent of power needs by 2020.