Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Massive Population Migration Coming?

A recent flurry of news confirms a phenomenon noted nearly two years ago... and it seems that the previous estimation of melting rate of Andean glaciers was either off by an order of magnitude, or that the rate of melting has itself increased by an order of magnitude:
The Quelccaya ice-cap, covering 17 square miles (44 sq km) in the Cordillera Oriental region of the Peruvian Andes, is the world’s largest tropical ice mass. Qori Kalis, its biggest glacier, has receded by at least 0.6 miles (1.1km) since 1963, when the first formal measurements were made from aerial photographs. The rate of retreat has increased: between 1963 and 1978, it shrank by 6.5 yards (6m) a year, a rate that has now risen tenfold to 65 yards annually.

A variety of scientists estimate that the vast majority of Andean glaciers may be entirely gone by 2012 ("Great Andean glacier 'will melt to nothing by 2012'", Staff, February 16, 2007, Times (London) downloaded 2009 December 15 ).

Imagine if you will, what would be the effect on the Western US of the disappearance of all of the snowpack that feeds into the Colorado River. All of the lakes that provide so much hydroelectric power to the Western States would dry up, and along with the electricity would go the vast majority of all water for agriculture in California's great Central Valley, which is the source of about half of all produce grown in the US.

Imagine Los Angeles and all of its suburbs deserted, along with all of Las Vegas... and imagine all of their suburbs deserted as well. Los Angeles alone has over 5-millions of persons, and the natural rainfall in the best years is enough to support perhaps 5,000 persons.

Now, imagine the country of Bolivia, in Andean South America. Imagine that 70 percent of all water for all uses comes from glacial melt. Imagine that this is all true; it is in fact true. Imagine that 70 percent of the country's population of above 9,775,000 persons will have no water for drinking, for hydropower generation, or agriculture.

6,840,000 people will have to leave or die of thirst and suffer crop failures. If more people leave, more people may be able to not merely drink water, but water their fields.

That's roughly the population of Los Angeles California and Las Vegas Nevada combined that will have to leave Bolivia, or perish.

We've only been discussing Bolivia.

Other nations that will be affected instantly come to mind, at least to the mind of anyone who knows a little Geography.

Nearby Ecuador, home to one of the most dry deserts on this planet, has nearly 15,000,000 people, and also has a glacial-meltwater dependency rate of about 70-percent.

Nearby Chile may not suffer so badly from glacial melting, as it is temperate and not tropical... but even the non-tropical glaciers in the Himalayas and even the European Alps are retreating.

Peru has some 29,500,000 people, and you might think that they're immune to such problems, after all, they are the source of the mighty river Amazon.

The mighty river, Amazon, itself originates in the Andean Glaciers, and it and related rivers -- many of them also of glacial origin -- provide the water to the majority of the entire South American continent.

Peru anticipates significant climate change impacts on irrigated agriculture:
Peru contains roughly 71% of the world's tropical glaciers. Some of Peru's perennial rivers are fed by glaciers that are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. Since 1980 Peruvian glaciers have lost 22% of their surface area (500 km2), equivalent to 7,000 million cubic meters of water (about ten years of water supply for Lima). Glacier retreat in the Andes has important repercussions on Peru's water resources, including irrigation production and hydropower generation.(Lajaunie) This trend will continue, and it is believed that the increased runoff will cause Peru to suffer from severe water stress over the next 20 years. Peru's water supply is predicted to then decrease dramatically between 2030 and 2050 ("When Ice Turns to Water", July 12, 2007, Staff, the Economist, downloaded 2009 December 15)

This, of course, speaks only of Peru's national concerns for their own water supply.

What will happen to everyone downstream by 2050, when to all intents and purposes, the Amazon will no longer flow from Peru?

2005 was a bad year in the Amazon Rainforest:
In 2005, parts of the Amazon basin experienced the worst drought in 100 years[1], and there were indications that 2006 could have been a second successive year of drought.[2] A 23 July 2006 article in the UK newspaper The Independent reported Woods Hole Research Center results showing that the forest in its present form could survive only three years of drought.[3][4] Scientists at the Brazilian National Institute of Amazonian Research argue in the article that this drought response, coupled with the effects of deforestation on regional climate, are pushing the rainforest towards a "tipping point" where it would irreversibly start to die. It concludes that the forest is on the brink of being turned into savanna or desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate.


  1. Environmental News Service - Amazon Drought Worst in 100 Years
  2. Drought Threatens Amazon Basin - Extreme conditions felt for second year running, Brown, Paul, Guardian (UK), July 17, 2006
  3. Amazon rainforest 'could become a desert' , The Independent (UK), July 23, 2006. Retrieved September 28, 2006.
  4. Dying Forest: One year to save the Amazon, The Independent (UK), July 23, 2006. Retrieved September 28, 2006.)

CNA Corporation -- a significant "think tank" -- has issued an exceptionally thoughtful and detailed report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. You should read it.
The greatest concern will be movement of asylum seekers and refugees who due to ecological devastation will become settlers..."

More to come?