Ice breaks off glacier, causes Andes tsunami

A glacier in Peru has broken off, fallen into a lake, created a 23-meter high wave and destroyed a nearby town.

I got the word about this event this morning from Daene McKinney in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas. He and his team frequently work on Andes mountaintops in Peru. He said, “Some people don’t believe global warming will happen in this century. And now we have this incident, which seems like a sign that global warming is already happening … ”

He also said there’s concern that another chunk of this glacier will break off in the coming few days.

The Hualcan glacier, as it’s called, was about the size of four soccer fields. It tumbled into a lake in the Andes near Carhuaz, around 200 miles north of Lima. At first, six people were reported missing, and authorities feared they were dead under the debris, but then five of those were found alive.

Meanwhile, the tsunami destroyed at least 50 homes, according to online reports (try googling “Peru glacier lake tsunami”). A water processing plant serving 60,000 local residents was also devastated when the wave struck on Sunday.

Residents in this part of Peru rely on water from glaciers for their water supply, by the way.  Now apparently there is melting and breakage – causing unexpected disasters – among the Andes glaciers in Peru. In the future, the larger concern might be for the water supply for human residents in that part of the world, as the Andes glaciers continue to weaken, break and melt.

April 13, 2010

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