From the Andes to the mountains of southern Germany, the snow-capped and glaciated peaks of the great mountain ranges have always been tourist attractions, enabling scientists to study climate and figure prominently in indigenous beliefs.
The rapid melting of this ice as a result of climate change, however, represents a severe blow to countries and communities that depend on them for electricity generation, the arrival of tourists and to maintain old spiritual traditions.
Masses of ice created over millennia from compacted snow have been melting since the time of the Industrial Revolution, and that process has accelerated in recent years.
This disappearance of icy masses is seen in places like the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Africa, where the peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains touch the sky above a verdant jungle. On those peaks there were once 40 glaciers, but in 2005 less than half survived and the melting continues. Some experts believe that within 20 years there will be no more glaciers on those mountains.
Their disappearance poses a serious problem to a landlocked country like Uganda. Half of its energy is hydroelectric, largely the product of plants fed by water flowing from mountain glaciers.
“Hydroelectric plants work much better when there is a constant flow of water, without ups and downs,” said Richard Taylor, professor of hydrogeology at University College London.