Nevado de Santa Isabel

years until
glacier vanishes

There is something of romance about Nevado de Santa Isabel, the smallest of the glaciated mountains of Colombia. Known in the local language as Poleka Kasue, meaning “Maiden of the Mountain”, the indigenous peoples used to climbed the mountain to worship her. Yet Santa Isabel is losing her ice at the fastest rate of all the Colombian mountains: her highest peak, at 4,964m, is not far above the permanent snowline, and studies by IDEAM, the Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, predict that this “Princess of the snows” will be the first of the remaining Colombian peaks to lose her ice entirely. In just 15 years, Santa Isabel has lost 50% of her glacier cover; put another way, she melts an inch a day. Temperature rise and decreased precipitation, both the result of climate change, play a part in the glacier’s decline, affecting in turn two of the country’s most important hydrographic arteries which are fed with water from the mountain’s rivers and glacier. Yet due to her fragility Santa Isabel is arguably the most important of all the Colombian peaks, playing host to the highest climatological station in the country, and is one of 17 peaks worldwide studied by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Switzerland.