Even developing countries are richer than ever. But melting icecaps in the Andes and dried-up rivers in China show a world whose pulse is slowing, according to data gathered by environmental researchers.

"The world today is economically richer and environmentally poorer than ever," said Lester R. Brown, president of Worldwatch Institute, which released its "Vital Signs 1998" report on environmental trends on Saturday.For the third year in a row, the world's economy grew at 4 percent or more. Income per person worldwide should surpass $5,000 annually this year, the report says, noting that some of the biggest economic growth is in the Indian subcontinent and in some African and Latin American countries.

The 8th annual report, using the most recent statistics available in a variety of categories, cites several positives: New electrical generation from wind exceeded new nuclear power generation; India produced more wheat than the United States, and two major European-based oil companies - British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell - are investing in wind and solar energy, Brown notes.

"These leading oil companies are, in effect, becoming energy companies, and they will not be the last to go in this direction," he said in an interview.

The most striking data may be communications, where environmentalists are only beginning to assess the impact of rapid advances: The Internet more than doubling in size each year for the past decade, telephone lines increasing 7 percent a year to more than 749 million in 1996, and cellular phones making spectacular gains, particularly in less developed countries.

Brown says the most worrisome developments in 1997 were irreversible fire damage to Indonesia's rain forests, the fact that China's Yellow River failed to reach the sea for 226 days, and global warming.

The report shows carbon emissions, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and the Earth's average temperature all rising to record highs in 1997.

It also cites studies of "melting icecaps in the Andes, shrinking glaciers in the Alps and the breakup of the sea ice around Antarctica."

Other data in the report include:

- Worldwide cigarette production reached an all-time high at 5.74 trillion smokes in 1997, but because population continues to expand so rapidly, per capita production is down about 4 percent from a decade ago.

- Education of females is rising worldwide, with enrollment rising from 226 million to 254 million in 1995. The biggest gains for females in developing countries are at the grade-school level and for industrialized countries at the postgraduate level. U.S. and Canadian medical schools now enroll about 40 percent women and veterinary schools 70 percent women.

- Military expenditures, dropping since the end of the Cold War, are now 39 percent below 1984 peak. The United States led the decline but still accounted for a third of the world total of $701 billion in 1996.