Only five glaciers remain in the country, spread over two mountains: Iztaccíhuatl and Pico de Orizaba. In total, they occupy less than a square kilometer of ice. Experts say that in 2050 there will be none left. Global warming is to blame for the accelerated disappearance of this vital water source in Mexico.
Nothing remains of the Ayoloco glacier, its tongues, and its funnel. Only a wall of old ice and scratches on the rocks remind us that the glacier was here, at 4,700 meters, near the top of the Iztaccíhuatl volcano, in central Mexico. The streaks left by this fierce 200-meter-thick ice mass are still palpable. As if it were a bulldozer, it dragged the stone as it passed, down the slope, to leave it piled up, mixed with the mud. To the rocky, brown, and huge masses, that the Ayoloco glacier could not move, just covered and scratched them with the force of thousands of years in motion.
In one of those ancient furrows, two researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) are now toiling, in the middle of a snowstorm, to place a metal plate. They cover it with glue and secure it with screws. They don’t want it to fall in the next storm.
“The plaque reminds us that the Ayoloco was here,” explains glaciologist Hugo Delgado, “and that it receded until it disappeared in 2018 due to climatological reasons forced by human activity.” This geologist, who has devoted his career to studying Mexican glaciers, insists that measures should have been taken long ago. Now the disappearance of this water source is irremediable. Ice-free slopes and scattered bone-like stones are the only things left by the glaciers that occupied the high mountains of Mexico.
The outlook is critical for the last five Mexican glaciers. The geologist predicts that in the next five years the three from Iztaccíhuatl will have disappeared and grants a margin of two decades for those from Pico de Orizaba. In any case, he concludes: “In 2050 there will be no glaciers in Mexico.”
But the countdown has not started only here. Delgado, who represents the country in the international glacier research group, says that during all these years he has endured the affectionate jokes of his Latin American colleagues, proud of the magnificent glaciers of Ecuador or Peru. “You won’t even have to come at all,” they told me laughing, “he says. “They have gone from making fun of the size of my glaciers to now worrying about their own by watching the ice melt between their hands.”
This dramatic and accelerated extinction is repeated in the ice masses around the planet. Funerals range from the Ok in Iceland to the Pizol in Austria, from the requiem announced for Spanish glaciers to the formation of lakes in the Himalayas. None escape global warming. Glaciers have become one of the most obvious sensors of climate change: the more the temperature rises on the planet, the faster they recede. The glaciers’ continued disappearance is a mirror of the world to which we are headed. Hotter, drier, more exhausted.
There is no hope for these frozen masses that agonize on the mountain tops, nor can global warming be reversed, warns the glaciologist, but it is possible to try to stop this trend. Reducing greenhouse gases, saving water, avoiding deforestation, investing in environmental education are some of the actions necessary. Delgado, who sees hope in the next generations, concludes: “This is not to protect the planet, but to protect the environment that allows us to survive as a species. We are risking permanence ”.