Mega-drought in the Andes

Mega-drought in the Andes
Mega-drought in the Andes

The Andes mountain range, which attracts skiers to South America, faced historically low amounts of snow this year during a decade of drought.

As a result of sparse rain and snowfall, many of the majestic mountains between Ecuador and Argentina are covered with sparse snow cover or no snow at all.

As precipitation decreases and glaciers recede across the region, communities that depend on mountains for water will experience water shortages, said Ricardo Villalba, principal investigator at the Argentine Institute of Snow, Glaciers and Environmental Research (IANIGLA).

“Here we are seeing a process of long-term decrease in precipitation, mega-drought,” Villalba said.

"If you look at the rainfall throughout the Cordillera (Andes ridge), you will see that there was either no snow at all or very little," he said.

It is winter in the Southern Hemisphere when snowfall is expected to reach its peak.

Ski resorts have reopened after a lengthy closure during the pandemic and are attracting skiers on the Argentina-Chile border. However, poor snowfall is forcing many resorts to transport snow to cover popular trails or to make artificial snow.

Satellite images taken in July 2020 and this year show a marked decrease in snow cover. This is reflected in the measurements of the water level in the rivers.

The Andean glaciers, which remained the same size or even grew between 2000 and 2010, are now receding, Villalba said.

"The glaciers are in a very dramatic process of retreat, which is much more accelerated than we have seen before," he said.

"Unfortunately, this happens to all the Cordilleras glaciers."