Peru’s Quelccaya Ice Cap •

Peru’s Quelccaya Ice Cap


The Quelccaya Ice Cap in the heart of the Peruvian Andres, is the largest tropical body of ice in the world. The ice cap is at an average altitude of 5,470 meters (18,600 ft) and spans an area of 44 square kilometers (17 miles).

Resting high up in the Cordillera Oriental of the Peruvian Andes, the Quelccaya Ice Cap has been shrinking due to rising temperatures in the region, losing over 20% of its area since the 1970s.

Downstream communities rely on this water source for drinking and electricity in this dry region, but some estimates show that the ice cap will vanish in a matter of decades, draining the water supply for millions of people.

In the far upper-left corner of the image, we can see the Qori Kalis Glacier, the ice cap’s main outlet. This glacier is retreating – and this retreat has accelerated in recent years – losing about 50% of its total length since the 1960s.

As a result of the glacier’s melting, a lake began to form in late 1980s and has grown over the years.

Other smaller lakes have also formed around the ice cap. Meltwater lakes are generally lighter in color through the presence of fine particles produced by the grinding of the ice over bedrock – called ‘rock flour’. When this ‘flour’ turns the water white or cloudy, it is referred to as ‘glacial milk’.

The false-color of this image makes vegetation appear bright red, and we can clearly see how vegetation grows mainly in the valleys and along the paths of water runoff.

European Space Agency

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