Criminal gangs are becoming a threat to the world's glaciers, the United Nations said Friday, citing a case in Chile where police are investigating the theft of some 5-1/2 tons of millennia-old ice from the Jorge Montt glacier.
Illegal mining for ice could pose a major additional threat to the 175-square-mile glacier that is part of the 5,000-square-mile Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third-largest frozen land mass in the world after Antarctica and Greenland, the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction said in a release Friday.
The Jorge Montt glacier is melting at a rate of one kilometer per year, making it one of the world's most iconic symbols of global warming, the release said.
"The authorities in Chile are to be congratulated on clamping down on this illegal activity," said Margareta Wahlstrom, head of UNISDR.
"The Jorge Montt glacier and other major ice-fields are a precious part of our common world heritage and important yardsticks by which we can measure how man-made global warming is threatening the world´s water supply and damaging the environment.
"They deserve all the protection we can give them, including safeguarding from this type of vandalism," she said.