Venezuela Becomes First Country to Lose All Glaciers

In a desperate attempt to save the last glacier, the Venezuelan government tried to cover it with a blanket.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.

A Farewell to Ice

Venezuela has just made a grim entry into the record books as the first country to lose all its glaciers in modern times.

Once upon a time, around 1910, Venezuela boasted six magnificent glaciers covering a whopping 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles).

Fast forward to today, and the story is very different. Those majestic ice giants have melted away, leaving behind only tiny patches of ice that don’t even qualify as glaciers anymore.

The Last Glacier Standing

By 2011, five of Venezuela’s glaciers had already disappeared, leaving just one – the Humboldt glacier, also known as La Corona – hanging on in Sierra Nevada National Park.

But now, even La Corona has dwindled to a shadow of its former self, so much so that scientists have had to downgrade it to an ice field.

Professor Julio Cesar Centeno from the University of the Andes broke the news in March, saying, “In Venezuela, there are no more glaciers. What we have is a piece of ice that is 0.4 percent of its original size.”

Back in its glory days, La Corona spanned 4.5 square kilometers (1.7 square miles). Today, it barely covers 0.02 square kilometers (2 hectares). To be classified as a glacier, a piece of ice needs to extend over at least 0.1 square kilometers (10 hectares). Sadly, La Corona just doesn’t make the cut anymore.

Melting Fast and Furious

Research over the last few decades shows a dramatic decline in Venezuela’s glaciers, with a 98 percent drop in coverage from 1953 to 2019. The melting sped up after 1998, with ice loss peaking at around 17 percent per year from 2016 onwards.

In 1998, La Corona still covered about 0.6 square kilometers (0.2 square miles), but by 2015, it was on the brink of losing its glacier status.

Luis Daniel Llambi, a researcher from ULA, noted that during their last expedition in December 2023, they saw the glacier shrink from four hectares in 2019 to less than two hectares.

Blanket Solution Gone Wrong

In a last-ditch effort to save Humboldt glacier, the Venezuelan government covered it with a special geotextile blanket in December.

The idea was to insulate and protect it from further melting. Unfortunately, not only did the plan fail, but it also sparked backlash from conservationists.

They warned that as the fabric breaks down, it could release microplastics into the environment, contaminating soil, crops, water, and even the air we breathe.

Centeno explained, “These microplastics are practically invisible. They end up in the soil and from there go to crops, lagoons, into the air, so people will end up eating and breathing that.”

A Sad Ending

It’s a heartbreaking end for a country that once hosted cross-country skiing events in the 1950s.

The disappearance of Venezuela’s glaciers is a stark reminder of the ongoing battle against climate change and the urgent need for effective action.