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Text: Heïdi Sevestre

Images: Antoine Kremer

In November 2019 we got the chance to spend 2 weeks exploring the tropical glaciers of Colombia. It was a bit first for us, the first time travelling to this beautiful country. We got invited to join the amazing citizen-run project "Cumbres Blancas Colombia" to join them on their second expedition to the glaciers. An expedition that opened our eyes to the harsh reality of the scientists who work on glaciers that will disappear in a matter of years.
South America is the largest cluster of Tropical Glaciers in the world. More than 99% of all the glaciers in the world are spread between 8 countries; Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela. While the glaciers of Peru could still make it through the 21st century, especially those at very high elevation, glaciers of Colombia, are forecast to disappear between 2025 and 2030. 

The tropical glaciers of Colombia are found in 3 different mountain ranges/national parks: The "Los Nevados" National Park, the Sierra Nevada de El Cocuy o Guican, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, listed here in their order of accessibility. These glaciers are all monitored by one man, the Colombian glaciologist and all-round amazing person Dr. Jorge Ceballos who works for IDEAM, the institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies. 




1. Research

The plan for our expedition was to assist Dr. Jorge Ceballos in his work. We would team up with him on his monthly visits to the glaciers of Santa Isabel and El Cocuy. We also planned to install two time lapse cameras from french tech company ENLAPS to allow constant and passive monitoring of the glaciers even when the scientists cannot go and visit them.

2. Education and distant learning

One of the pillars of The Last Tropical Glaciers is education on climate change and extreme environments. Our goal was to make the science more accessible, more exciting and interactive, this is why we are using state of the art technology such as 360 video, 360 drone to give the most immersive experience possible. 

3. Photography

We're always looking at the best way to use all the tools available to share our message on climate change and on the importance of the human stories around it, and photography plays a huge importance in helping this disperse this message.

4. Work with local charities and organisations

In Colombia we got the chance to spend two weeks with a local organisation called Cumbres Blancas Colombia. They are working towards making a book and a documentary on the tropical glaciers of their country, and are therefore bringing together all the people and institutions involved in the study and conservation of these glaciers.



Conferences and festivals

Cumbres Blancas really pulled all the stops. As soon as we arrived in the country we were invited to speak at several different events, to journalists, scientists, the general public, and universities. This is precisely how science should be communicated, made accessible to everyone.


Los Nevados National Park

After a couple of days in Bogota it was time to visit our first Colombian glaciers. We got three full days at high altitude, and luckily some great weather at the end of the wet season. This was just enough for us to get acclimatized, qssist with the mass balance measurements, install our first time lapse camera and film our first 360 distant learning lectures.


Sierra Nevada De El Cocuy O Guican

After a short break in Manizales, and talks at the one of the universities of the city it was time for a second trip up the mountains. But this time, we only got one full day close to the glaciers due to their remoteness. That's what makes studying these tropical glaciers so difficult. But we were ready for a very full day, with a lot of distance and elevation, and many many missions to complete. And luckily, the weather was on our side.


Special moments of the expedition

This journey to the glaciers of Colombia has been unforgettable. To witness such motivation and dedication in the country for their glaciers are been so inspiring, something we truly will never forget. But they were two moments that were extra special and led us to a successful expedition. The first one was a surprise, organised once again by Cumbres Blancas. We got to meet the Mamos, elders from the indigenous communities, and exchange on their knowledge and understanding of climate change. We asked for their blessings to go and visit the sacred mountains, and their wishes carried us for two weeks.

The second special event was between our two trips to the mountains, we took part in a large scale tree planting operation close to the volcano Nevado Del Ruiz. We joined the Army, the Scouts, and one of the largest football teams of the country, the atmosphere was absolutely amazing and it felt wonderful to be able to re-wild a beautiful paramo in altitude.

Thank you to:

Thank you to Cumbres Blancas Colombia, especially to Marcela Fernandez and Estefania Angel for organising everything from climbing mountains to festivals and talks in various places.

Dr. Jorge Luis Ceballos from Ideam Instituto for sharing his passion, knowledge and for being an amazing human being, the guardian of these glaciers. His team! Cristian, Alejandro x 2, for all their help with the time lapse cameras.

Enlaps for providing two crucial instruments for monitoring the retreat of the glaciers of Nevado Santa Isabel and Sierra Nevada del Cocuy o Guican! The cameras are in place clicking away!

Everyone involved in #CumbresBlancas ! You are absolutely extraordinary. Cesar, Lili, Vero x2, Anita x2, Juan José, Nico, Dany, Juan, Cristian, Caro, German, Felipe, and many others, we love you guys :)

The indigenous communities we have had the chance to meet, thank you for your guidance and blessings!

All the organisations that have helped immensely for this adventure and with whom we will keep collaborating in the future! Selina Ideam Instituto Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia BIBO El Espectador

Articles and publications:

El Tiempo:

Ohio University:

Outside Magazine


Altas Obscura

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