Quelccaya Ice Cap

Quelccaya has the shape of a three-arm candelabrum tilted northeastwards, with a bit of its southwestern foot "bitten out"
Outline of Quelccaya in 2010
Map showing the location of Quelccaya
Map showing the location of Quelccaya
TypeIce cap
Coordinates13°55′S 70°49′W / 13°55′S 70°49′W / -13.917; -70.817[1]

The Quelccaya (also known as Quenamari) Ice Cap is the second largest glaciated area in the tropics, after Coropuna. Located in the Cordillera Oriental section of the Andes mountains of Peru, the ice cap covers an area of 42.8 square kilometres (16.5 sq mi) with ice up to 200 metres (660 ft) thick. It is surrounded by tall ice cliffs and a number of outlet glaciers, the largest of which is known as Qori Kalis Glacier; the terrain surrounding the ice cap features lakes, moraines, peat bogs and wetlands and features a rich flora and fauna, including birds which have been observed to nest on the ice cap. Water from Quelccaya eventually nourishes the Inambari River and the Vilcanota River and is an important source of water.

A number of ice cores have been obtained from Quelccaya, including two ice cores in 1983 which are the first ice cores obtained outside of the polar regions. Past climate states, including evidence of the Little Ice Age, regional droughts and wet periods with historical significance and past and recent El Niño events, have been reconstructed from data in these ice cores. The ice cap is also regularly monitored and a weather station operates on it.

Quelccaya was much larger in the past, merging with neighbouring glaciers during the Pleistocene. A secondary expansion occurred during either the Antarctic Cold Reversal or the Younger Dryas; then with the beginning of the Holocene the ice cap shrank to a size smaller than today until about 6,000 - 5,000 years ago, when a Neoglacial expansion began. A number of moraines especially in the Huancané valley testify to past expansions and changes of Quelccaya, although the chronology of individual moraines is often unclear.

After reaching a secondary highstand during the Little Ice Age, Quelccaya has been shrinking concomitant with human-caused global warming; in particular the Qori Kalis Glacier has been retreating significantly. Life and lakes have been occupying the terrain left by retreating ice; these lakes can be dangerous as they can cause floods when they breach. Climate models predict that without aggressive climate change mitigation measures, Quelccaya is likely to disappear during the 21st-22nd century.


Quelccaya lies in the tropical highlands of southern Peru,[2] within the eastern Andes[3] in the Cordillera Oriental.[4] ten kilometres (6.2 mi)[5] northwest of Quelccaya lies the Cordillera Vilcanota mountain range,[3] which it is sometimes considered to be part of;[6] occasionally Quelccaya is also linked to the Cordillera Carabaya range.[7] East of Quelccaya, the Andes drop off steeply to the Amazon basin[8] and the Amazon rainforest is only 40 kilometres (25 mi) away; supposedly it can almost be seen from the summit of Quelccaya.[9] 120 kilometres (75 mi) south of Quelccaya lies Lake Titicaca.[10] Politically, Quelccaya is part of the Cuzco Department.[11]

The Andes in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia are subdivided into several separate mountain ranges, many of which are glaciated above 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) elevation.[12] Peru contains about 70% of all tropical glaciers,[13] and Quelccaya together with ice bodies in New Guinea and the Rwenzori Mountains in Africa is one of the few tropical ice caps in the world,[14][15] or even the only one;[16] during glacial times there were more ice caps which may have resembled Quelccaya.[17] In 1968, the existence of two smaller ice caps south of Quelccaya was reported.[18]

Human geography

The ice cap, which is also known as Quenamari[19] and is sometimes also spelled Quelcaya,[20] lies in a remote area.[10] A road gets within 40 kilometres (25 mi) from the ice cap, which can be reached within three days with pack animals.[21] There are several camps at Quelccaya,[22] including one close to the northwestern ice margin.[23] A 1974 map shows a homestead on the Huancané River southwest from Quelccaya,[24] about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from the ice margin.[25] Quelccaya is part of the Quelccaya National Sanctuary, a protected area,[26] and the local population considers Quelccaya an important apu, a holy spirit.[27] The cities of Cuzco and Sicuani lie 130 kilometres (81 mi) northwest and 60 kilometres (37 mi) southwest of Quelccaya, respectively,[28][29] but the region around the ice cap is only thinly populated.[30]

Other Languages
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Ledena kapa Quelccaya