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During Sunday April 19, after noon, it was easy to see from different parts of Santiago, a notorious cloud that apparently emanated behind Cerro La Paloma and Altar, where the Yerba Loca Sanctuary Valley closes in the Andes mountain range. This coincides with the location of Los Bronces and Andina, Angloamerican and Codelco mining sites, respectively, which are less than 4 kilometers from the already mentioned summits.

Dust cloud emanating from the north of Cerros La Paloma and Altar. April 2020. By Marc Turrel.

This cloud could be suspended particulate matter (SPM) released by the effect of blasting and mining activities that take place there, which threatens “the vitality” of the nearby glaciers, where this cloud gets deposited.

The prevailing winds in this area, according to historical meteorological records, indicate that they have a southeast direction, coinciding with the location of the Olivares Alfa glacier, an ice mass in which past studies have revealed layers with deposits of particulate matter. These can be harmful to the glacier, since their accumulation increases the rate of melting of the ice due to greater absorption of solar radiation.

Satellite photo showing how wind direction push SPM towards the Olivares Alfa Glacier. Source: Fundación Plantae Facebook post.

Below is a short story by Boris Valdebenito, who was at Cerro La Paloma on April 19, 2020.

“We entered Parque Yerba Loca around 18:00. We camped the first night at km 16. The next day we advance through the valley to 4,200 masl, passing through the route parallel to the viewpoint of the La Paloma Glacier where we installed our high camp site. Early in the morning, we began our summit push. When we reached the summit ridge, already with a view of what appeared to be the mining operations, we were able to witness a very sad image. A mountain landscape devoured by open pit, greenish-colored pools, a lot of air pollution, vehicle traffic and the explosive sounds of blastings. Then we reached the summit, celebrated the hard climb, rested and enjoyed the panoramic view of the La Paloma Glacier. After 30 minutes we observed a tremendous cloud and said “clouds are coming.” Fifteen minutes later we began our return. When we stopped and looked back at the mining area, we realized that the supposed cloudiness was not such, but rather a tremendous cloud of particulate matter from the blasting we heard minutes ago. We took a few more photographs and returned to our camp, starting our way back to Santiago.

View from the ridge of Cerro La Paloma towards the mining works of Los Bronces and Andina. Boris Valdebenito. April 19, 2020.

Mining activity poses a great threat to our water reserves throughout the country, especially in the Metropolitan Region. The #QueremosParque project seeks the creation of the first national park in the Metropolitan Region, which would protect this area in question, thus avoiding mining expansion and restricting activities that could damage our important water sources.

Sources:
– Glaciares y cuencas andinas Olivares-Maipo-Mapocho. Hielos en Peligro. Marc Turrel. 2019. Link
– Cover photo: Olivares River Valley, seen northeast from the vicinity of Cerro La Paloma. Boris Valdebenito, April 19, 2020.
– Body photos: Boris Valdebenito, Marc Turrel (Link) and Fundación Plantae – 20/04/2020 Publication (Link), Facebook.

Location: Link