Guest post by David Middleton
George Orwell on steroids…
Argentinian geoscientist faces criminal charges over glacier survey
Government researcher Ricardo Villalba stands accused of shaping a study to benefit mining interests.
Jeff Tollefson &
Emiliano Rodríguez Mega
A prominent geoscientist in Argentina is facing criminal charges over accusations that he manipulated a government survey of glaciers at the behest of mining interests.
On 27 November, a federal judge in Buenos Aires charged Ricardo Villalba, the former director of the Argentinian Institute of Snow, Ice and Environmental Research (IANIGLA) in Mendoza, with abusing his authority and violating his duty as a civil servant. Villalba appealed against his indictment on 4 December — but if he loses, the case will go to trial. In the meantime, the court has ordered Villalba to stay in the country, and has authorized the seizure of his assets up to 5 million pesos (US$289,000).
The case hinges on the definition of a glacier as viewed from space. When Villalba began the government survey in 2011, he determined that it would include glaciers of 1 hectare or larger — following international norms for satellite analyses. But environmental activists in Argentina’s San Juan province argue that he excluded some smaller glaciers to prevent tougher regulation of adjacent mines operated by the Barrick Gold Corporation of Toronto, Canada. Villalba’s scientific colleagues in Argentina and abroad say the charges against him are baseless and political.
“It’s surreal and kind of ridiculous,” says Bruce Raup, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who co-authored a letter of support for Villalba.
WHAT IS A GLACIER? A glacier is a body of snow and ice of sufficient size and mass to move under its own weight. Glacier movement may be detected by the presence of crevasses, cracks that form in the ice as the glacier moves. In Glacier National Park (GNP), USGS scientists define glaciers according to the commonly accepted guideline in which a body of ice has an area of at least 0 .1 km2 (100,000 m2), or about 25 acres. Below this size, the ice is generally stagnant and does not move, unless it is on a steep slope. Glaciers are dynamic , changing in response to temperature and precipitation. A glacier forms when winter snowfall exceeds summer melting. Glaciers retreat when melting outpaces accumulation of new snow.
25 acres ~ 10 hectares