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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Going, Going, Gone

Going, Going, Gone

Mount Humboldt and mountaintop glacier, April 2008 (credit: Wiki-commons)


Humboldt's glacier is gone. Named for the 19th Century German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, the last glacier in Venezuela has expired from the warming atmosphere above Pico Humboldt in the Sierra Nevada de Merida mountains. It melted from its mountaintop eyrie into a stagnant snow field which will soon disappear as well. The demise of this once large ice mass was recorded by the Landsat 8 environmental monitoring satellite co-operated by NASA and the US Geological Survey. The loss showcases the accelerating deterioration of tropical glaciers as the Earth's climate warms.

According to NASA, re-photography of the Pico Humboldt summit shows the extent of change between 2015 and 2024, less than ten years. The pair of images, captured during the dry season after yearly snowfall would have melted, revealed the last remnant patch of ice. In 2015, investigators estimated the glacier spanned 25 acres or about 11,000 square feet. By 2024, the ice area had shrunk to approximately one-tenth that size. By comparison, in 1910 the Humboldt glacier covered more than a square mile of the mountain's top. Venezuela now has the dubious distinction of being named the first 'postglacial' nation in South America.


                                Humboldt Glacier 2015 to 2024 (credit: Landsat 8/NASA-USGS)

Glaciers elsewhere from Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro and the Rwenzori Mountains to the Himalayas crossing Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Tibet similarly show declines from global heating. While not receiving as much attention in northern countries, news channels in India paid close attention to the situation affecting Venezuela's glacial climax.

Remote sensing satellites are essential tools for environmental monitoring that provide 'early warning' data observing how landscapes and ecological systems respond to changing climatic regimes. However, controlling the forces driving these environmental changes, much less, reversing them is a different matter. WHB

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