Postcard from Patagonia

And your postcard to send back

Feature story - 28 January, 2004
Across the planet glaciers are retreating as temperatures rise and weather patterns change. Our ship, the Arctic Sunrise and her crew, is currently in Patagonia to highlight the impacts of climate change on the glaciers at the tip of South America. These glaciers are the fastest retreating glaciers on the globe as our demand for oil, gas and coal changes the climate of the Earth.

View of the front of the Grey Glacier where it 'calves' or falls into the glacial lake. The glaciers of Patagonia are some of the fastest retreating glaciers on Earth.

Glaciers are huge reserves of frozen water found in Polar Regions andin mountainous areas. They provide water for millions of people,animals and plants. Glaciers are dynamic, meaning they swap betweenstages of growth and retreat but what is worrying now is that themajority of glaciers across the globe are retreating.

Animation of the retreat of the Upsala glacier, 1928-2004

Not only does this melting reduce the water supplies of many people,it causes sea levels to rise, which threatens millions with devastatingcoastal flooding. The Patagonia glaciers and ice fields have lost 42cubic kms of ice every year for the last seven years. That is theequivalent to the volume of ten thousand large football stadiums. Themelting has accelerated in recent years. Currently the Patagonian icefields contribute to nine percent of the global sea level rise frommountain glaciers.

Our web editor Iréne has swapped the cold and ice of Stockholm inthe winter for the, err, cold and wind of Patagonia in summer to bringthe dramatic and worrying melting occurring in this remote corner ofChile to the wider public.

The first visitwas to the stunning Grey Glacier in the National Park of Torres delPaine. Beautiful views of blue icebergs, condors and lamas contrastwith the tales of the glaciers retreat from the local guide andclimbers. Listen to Susan, guide and climber in the area.

Irene in PatagoniaEven after only one week in the area the impacts of climate change start to hit home for Iréne:"We've now spent a little more than a week here in both the Chilean andArgentinean part of Patagonia. Most days we've been up early and comeback late in the evening. We've visited glaciers and talked to peopleliving and working in the area. This is one of the most beautifulplaces I've ever seen, but it has also made me very sad: climate changeis no longer something abstract - the impacts of climate change arevery real. The glaciers are melting at an accelerating speed andchanges can bee seen from year to year."

Not many of us will get the chance to visit a glacier but climatechange means more storms, floods, droughts and rising sea levels thatwill affect us all. Iréne sums up the situation: "I remembered how ateacher in school illustrated the history of our planet by unfurling aroll of toilet paper and attach it on the classroom walls. He thenmarked the different eras on it. At the very end, hardly visible, therewas a very small field, more like a thin line: that was how longmankind has been around. Changes on our planet normally happen veryslowly. During the last hundred years however, changes have all of asudden happened very fast: temperatures and sea levels rising,droughts, floods and melting icefields - we are actually changing theclimate! Just think about it for a little while."

Do something!

Some governments are slowly realising that they must tackle climatechange and are holding a conference on renewable energy in June. Sendthem a "Postcard from Patagonia" to show them you want them to tackle the problem. We will deliver your card, frozen in a huge block of ice to the conference.

Don't buy products from the world's #1 climate criminal, Exxon/Esso.

More info:

Read Irene's online diary from Patagonia in full.

More about the expedition and glaciers.

Image of Upsala glacier original photograph taken in 1928.

©Archivo Museo Salesiano


Image of Lake Guillermo © Greenpeace/Beltra.