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Glaciers, Climate Change & Tourism… Oh My!

1st July 2014

Tourists view the massive ice walls of the Pastoriri Glacier.

Last week, I went on a day excursion with a van full of other tourists (mostly from Lima) to the Pastoruri Glacier. The Pastoruri Glacier is south of the Cordillera Blanca at the head of the Pachacoto Basin, which is a tributary of Peru’s Santa River. Before the 1980s, this glacier attracted tourists primarily for its many national and international ski competitions. Today, the glacier still attracts tourists but now groups visit it out of fear that it will be gone in the not too distant future. People want to see it before it disappears! There is also a large lake in front of the glacier, which some scientists attribute to the glacier’s accelerated melting rate. There are current talks about draining the lake to slow the glacier’s melting rate. For more information about the Pastoruri Glacier, click here for an article from a local newspaper, The Huaraz Telegraph

Glaciers are an important part of the Peruvian landscape. A couple days ago I shadowed one of the youth guide training classes at the community center started by Andean Alliance. As we walked around a potential trail for the future guides, Wayne Lamphier (co-founder of Andean Alliance), told the youth about the importance of glaciers and the local, regional, national, and international implications of their melting. Because glaciers are disappearing, there is less water available for hydroelectric power, which is a primary source of power for Peru. The demand for water, especially in urban centers like Lima is growing, so Peru is exploring alternative methods such as desalination of the Pacific Ocean and natural gas extraction (i.e.-fracking) in the Cusco area to meet its growing energy demand.

The disappearance of glaciers affects many aspects of Peruvian life. It means the reduction or perhaps the displacement of previous winter sports-related tourism in the Ancash region as well as the overall reduction of water available for individual consumption, agriculture, and energy production. Preserving what is left of the 5 glaciers will be important not only for the long-term viability of Peru’s tourism sector but also for the sustainable development and livelihood of local Peruvians. 

By Erin Harris, 1 July 2014

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