Monday, November 13, 2006


Global Warming in Patagonia
A region that expects arrival of millions of "climatic refugees"

Recently it has become common during weather reports in Chilean television, newspapers and other media to inform about the levels of Ultra Violet (UV) Radiation. The degree of danger faced by humans when exposed to the harmful UV rays is measured from 1 to 12, or from low (white color) to very high (dark red color). For example at the time this article was written, the levels in Santiago, the Chilean capital were reported at level 8 or high. The Chilean Cancer Institute ( has recommended that people should take care between 11:00 a.m and 3 p.m, when UV radiation is at its highest levels and the risk of contracting skin cancer or vision problems are greater. Men and women have been discouraged from "sunbathing" in beaches or swimming pools, as even if the aesthetic effect may be attractive, experts agree that the probabilities of contracting cancer are high. According to statistics given by Conac, the rate of skin cancer cases in Chile increases by 3% each year. Conac has also begun a campaign where a bracelet known as "Sun Alert" is sold to children for US$2 dollars, to help youngsters become aware of the dangers of overexposure to sunlight. According to measurements carried out by Conac, the levels of solar radiation for January 2006 were higher than in January 2005, and the color used for this period was violet (extremely dangerous). Conac estimates that due to the reduction in the ozone layer, by the age of 18, a Chilean individual has already been exposed to radiation that normally would have been received in 50 years. Since 2004, Conac has set up several UV ray sensor equipment in beach resorts all over Chile.
Recently the local Dermatologist Society has warned against the exposure to UV rays in solariums, ( another popular practice) since "the skin is directly exposed to UV rays".
In the central region of Chile, where most of its population is concentrated, the global warming phenomenon has caused abnormally high temperatures during winter, from May to September, and at present some lower temperatures and cloudier days have been experienced since October, when the temperatures are normally higher.
Also the higher temperatures have caused an increase in rat population in rural areas. This has provoked the appearance of an until now unknown virus, "Hanta" that is contracted when humans come into contact with areas infested by rats. This year, several people have died from Hanta and the authorities have launched public information campaigns to on how citizens can prevent the transmission of this disease.

In the Patagonia, in the far south of the continent and only two hours by plane from the Antarctic, the levels of UV radiation area are much higher, since the gap in the Ozone layer is directly over this territory that is shared by Argentina and Chile. Citizens on both sides of the border are exposed to the same levels of radiation and so people of all ages have become used to wearing sunglasses all year round. This situation became more apparent after sheep farmers noticed that high levels of exposure of UV rays were blinding many of their animals, as the sheep remain grazing all day in the fields. During winter, the Antarctic region is isolated from the continental winds due to the "Polar Jet", a phenomenon where a circular mass of intense winds causes the lowest temperatures in the planet and also the highest losses of Ozone. Polar clouds containing high contents of chlorine are formed that prevent the UV radiation from being filtered by the Ozone layer, since one molecule of chlorine can destroy thousands of molecules of Ozone. Along with many other countries, Chile and Argentina have set up scientific bases in the Antarctic and are constantly monitoring the situation in the ozone layer.

Global warming has also caused geopolitical tension between Argentina and Chile such as occurred in 2006 over the "Southern Ice Fields". These glaciers are located in the Andes Mountains approximately 1000 kms from Santiago, the Chilean capital and are one of the largest water reserves in the planet, but since they are exactly on the border between the two countries, the border has not yet been officially established. Argentina caused a diplomatic incident after its Ministry of Tourism published a map in its website where all the "Southern Ice Fields" appeared as Argentine territory. Chile complained to the Argentine government and the map was taken off the website. These glaciers are constantly melting at an alarmingly fast rate, creating large blocks of ice that increase the level of the seas.
It is estimated that during the next 50 years, the temperatures in the planet will increase by 2 degrees Celsius, causing a negative impact on the planet's agricultural production and obviously a shortage of food. Argentina, Chile and Brazil will be faced with the arrival of millions of "climatic refugees" from all over the world as land mass, water supplies and food production decrease.

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