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Chile’s distant paradise where scientists study climate change

Photo: Alberto Peña / AFP

AFP | Alberto Peña

Hidden inside pristine forests in Chile’s deep south, known as the end of the world, lie potential early warning signs of climate change. Puerto Williams on Navarino island, which is separated from the South American mainland by the Beagle Channel, is the world’s southern-most town.

Far from the pollution that blights major urban and industrial centers, it is a paradise that provides unique conditions to study global warming.

“There is nowhere else like it,” Ricardo Rozzi, director of the Cape Horn International Center for global change studies and bio-cultural conservation in Puerto Williams, told AFP.

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It is “a place that is especially sensitive to climate change” as average temperatures do not rise above five degrees Celsius. This cold and windy area is the last inhabited southern frontier before reaching the Antarctic.

The ethnobotanical Omora park is home to an immense variety of lichens, mosses and fungi that scientists study by crouching down onto their knees with magnifying glasses.

In the crystal clear Robalo river, minuscule organisms act as sentinels of the changes produced by global warming. In both the park and river, the alarm bells are ringing.

Moss and lichen on the move

At this latitude — 55 degrees south — climate change has an exponential effect on flora that react by seeking out low temperatures, said Rozzi, 61. “The most obvious aspect of climate change is the rising temperatures,” he said. “These lichens cannot survive” if a certain threshold is passed. To escape the higher temperatures, they move.

“In the case of (mosses) we’ve noticed that they have moved. Before they were between 50 and 350 (meters above sea level) and now they are between 100 and 400,” said Rozzi. He says Omora has more diversity per square meter of lichens and mosses than anywhere else in the world. They also help to absorb carbon dioxide.

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Another aspect is the elevational diversity gradient, an ecological pattern in which biodiversity changes with elevation.

The 700-meter high Bandera hill’s biodiversity changes every 200 meters and there is a mammoth 1.5 degrees Celsius difference in temperature between top and bottom.

“We can see what changes happen in the high mountains and in the area close to the sea in a very short distance, and we can see how the temperature affects the biodiversity that lives in this river,” Tamara Contador, 38, a biologist at the Cape Horn International Center, told AFP.

She studies the gradients themselves. If the height difference between gradients rises or falls on the mountain, scientists can determine whether there has been a global change in temperature. They say there has been.

Avoiding ‘extermination’

“On a global level, the polar and subpolar ecosystems are the most affected by climate change, so we are in a place where climate change has a much bigger effect on biodiversity than other places,” said Contador.

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River organisms also form part of the alert system.

“The organisms that live here are also indicators of water quality and global environmental change,” added Contador.

River organisms move about and have already increased their reproductive cycle, says Rozzi. This confirms there has been a small change to the climate in the area that could have been much greater elsewhere on the planet.

“Some insects that have an annual eggs to larvae to adulthood cycle are now having two cycles because the temperature has risen,” said Rozzi.

By studying these organisms and learning from them “we can avoid crossing the threshold that brings us to the extermination of humanity and other life forms,” he added.

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  • A glacier over Darwin's mountain range is seen during a journey through the Beagle Channel in the Magallanes region, the southernmost of Chile, on September 23, 2022. - There is a place at the end of the world, in the southernmost point of Chile, where pristine forests hide tiny systems in their depths that already give early warning of the global climate change that the planet is suffering. Beyond the place where the American continent ends, on Navarino Island, crossing the Beagle Channel, Puerto Williams stands as the southernmost city in the world, a place far from pollution and human mistreatment, with unique conditions for the study of climate change. (Photo by Alberto PEÑA / AFP)

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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