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Wed Jan 23, 2013, 08:05 AM

Melting Glaciers in Andes Could Spell Continental Water Crisis in South America


Part of the Pastoruri glacier is seen atop Peru's Cordillera Blanca, or "White Mountain Range." The largest glacier chain in the tropics, the range is melting fast. Climate change could melt the Andean glaciers away altogether in coming years, says the new study. (Photo: AP File)

The great glaciers of South America are disappearing at rates never seen in modern times and the continents fresh water supply is at serious risk if the trend continues, says a new study.

Driven by global climate change, the report—published in the online academic journal Crysophere—shows that the Andean glaciers have shrunk anywhere from 30% to 50% since the 1970s.

"Glacier retreat in the tropical Andes over the last three decades is unprecedented," said Antoine Rabatel, the lead author of the study and a scientist with the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France.

"Because the maximum thickness of these small, low-altitude glaciers rarely exceeds 40 meters, with such an annual loss they will probably completely disappear within the coming decades," Rabatel added.

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