[RIO DE JANEIRO] Climate change will make temperatures to rise faster in high-altitude regions, causing mountain glaciers to melt and affecting communities that rely on glacier-fed water supplies, say researchers.
In an article published in Science last week (23 June), they examine some of ways in which climate is related to terrain in high regions. The researchers focus on the tropical Andes but say the situation is similar elsewhere in the tropics.
Scientists do not fully understand why temperatures are more sensitive to climate change at high altitudes. But the impacts of warming in the Andes are already clear: small glaciers are shrinking fast. In 1940 the volume of the Bolivian Chacaltaya Glacier was five million cubic kilometres; it is currently 0.3 million cubic kilometres.
The shrinkage will eventually result in water shortages, with agriculture and urban areas that rely on glacier-fed runoff and hydropower production most affected.
"Realistic plans must be developed to address different scenarios of water shortage," says Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at University of Massachusetts and one of the article's authors.
"This involves both engineering solutions, like ways of reducing water losses and improving delivery systems, as well as encouraging more efficient water use."
Bradley and his colleagues say the complex geography of the Andes means that detailed regional climate models are urgently needed.
Bradley is working in collaboration with the climate change programme at the Peruvian National Environmental Council. In July, the programme will start a second national initiative on climate change, which will include an assessment of water availability.