Chile is home to four-fifths of South America’s glaciers and has some of the largest ice fields in the world outside the polar regions, but they are coming under threat from mining industry dust.
Climatologist Fabrice Lambert from Chile’s Catholic University believes that the country’s 24,114 glaciers are in danger from mining activity, although the direct cause and effect are hard to establish.
“The dust generated by mining can settle on the glaciers, covering the white surface so the particles absorb solar energy that results in rapid glacial melting,” Lambert told AFP. It’s a problem because “some glaciers in Chile are close to mines,” he says.
Sara Larrain, director at the Sustainable Chile environmental NGO, says the country needs legislation like its neighbor Argentina to protect its glaciers, but says such proposals keep getting stonewalled by the powerful mining sector.
“Since 2005, there have been six or seven glacial protection projects presented to senators or deputies but every time they’ve been blocked by the mining sector,” she said. Joaquin Villarino, president of Chile’s Mining Council, says such laws aren’t necessary. “More than 70 percent of mining activity takes place in areas where there are no glaciers,” he said.
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