The Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru’s Canchis province is the world’s largest tropical glacier, but it has been melting steadily — a harbinger of climate change.The ice cap is part of the proposed 810-square kilometer (310-square-mile) Regional Conservation Area of Ausangate, which is intended to preserve water sources, wetlands, and vulnerable species like the vicuña.After a decade in development, in part due to a prolonged consultation process with the area’s indigenous Quechua communities, the conservation area will be presented for government approval in August. The Quelccaya Ice Cap is perched 5,600 meters (18,400 feet) above sea level in the Peruvian Andes. With a surface area of 44 square kilometers (17 square miles), it was named the world’s largest tropical glacier by U.S. geologist Lonnie Thompson, who has been studying the process of deglaciation on the mountain since 1974. Donato Bermúdez, the president of the indigenous Quechua farming town of Phinaya at the foot of Quelccaya, has known Thompson for as long as he can remember. When he was born, the scientist had already started working on the ice cap. Back then, it was almost intact. In the past, it took Bermúdez an hour from his doorstep to reach the snow. By his account, he has spent many days sitting and looking at the white mountain, feeling its power. He learned to respect it when he was a child. “It’s the apu. It’s our protector,” his mother would repeat. As he grew up, he understood that there was no life without Quelccaya. The water from the ice cap feeds the Vilcanota River and Lake Sibinacocha, the site of a dam that provides energy to a large part of Peru’s Cusco region, including Machu Picchu. Phinaya hasn’t changed much since the 1970s. But its inhabitants have noticed an important difference in the apu: now Bermúdez has to walk up to two hours to reach the glacier. And the rivers now flow with a stronger current. That might appear to be positive, but it serves as a warning. “It means the ice is melting faster,” Bermúdez said. According to Thompson, Quelccaya is retreating by 60 meters (200 feet) per year, experiencing an accelerated deglaciation process.