Fading Ice Areas of Northern South America

  • Released Thursday, December 9, 2021
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Although snow and ice are not commonly thought of being associated with Colombia and Venezuela, their highest mountains at the northern extension of the Andes mountain range are generally far colder than the rest of the adjacent tropical landscapes. With elevations up to 5410 m (~17,749 ft), Colombia’s Sierra Nevada del Cocuy retains the most glacial ice cover followed by Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s slightly higher terrain, up to 5698 m (~18,665 ft), followed by the lower, and now nearly ice-free peaks of Sierra Nevada de Mérida, rising up to 4978 m (~16,332 ft) in Venezuela.

Landsat imagery from 1975 to 2020 allows the ice losses from these two Colombian mountain ranges to be detailed through time as do other repeated Landsat images from 1975 to 2021 for the highest mountains in Venezuela. Successive images show the Cocuy area in east central Colombia decreasing in ice area from about 36.5 km2 (~14 sq mi) to about 14.5 km2 (~5.6 sq mi) over the past several decades. The higher, but closer to the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Santa Marta peaks shows a decline in ice area from about 16 km2 (~6.2 sq mi) to about 5.7 km2 (~2.2 sq mi) over the same time frame. And the last of Venezuela’s Mérida ice cover is now nearly gone, decreasing from more than 1.2 km2 (~0.48 sq mi) in 1975 to about 0.025 km2 (less than 0.01 sq mi) in 2021, shaded to some degree by the adjacent heights of 4942 m (16,214 ft) Pico Humboldt.

The image areas for each Cocuy Landsat scene is ~13.9 x 24.8 km (~8.6 x 15.4 mi). The image areas for each Santa Marta scene is ~26.5 x 14.8 km (~16.5 x 9.2 mi). And the image area for each Mérida scene is ~8.5 x 4.3 km (~5.3 x 2.7 mi).


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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Thursday, December 9, 2021.
This page was last updated on Monday, July 15, 2024 at 12:24 AM EDT.