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Accelerating shrinkage of Patagonian glaciers from the Little Ice Age (~AD 1870) to 2011

  • B.J. Davies (a1) and N.F. Glasser (a1)


We used Little Ice Age (LIA) trimlines and moraines to assess changes in South American glaciers over the last ~140 years. We determined the extent and length of 640 glaciers during the LIA (~AD1870) and 626 glaciers (the remainder having entirely disappeared) in 1986, 2001 and 2011. The calculated reduction in glacierized area between the LIA and 2011 is 4131 km2 (15.4%), with 660 km2 (14.2%) being lost from the Northern Patagonia Icefield (NPI), 1643km2 (11.4%) from the Southern Patagonia Icefield (SPI) and 306 km2 (14.4%) from Cordillera Darwin. Latitude, size and terminal environment (calving or land-terminating) exert the greatest control on rates of shrinkage. Small, northerly, land-terminating glaciers shrank fastest. Annual rates of area loss increased dramatically after 2001 for mountain glaciers north of 52° S and the large icefields, with the NPI and SPI now shrinking at 9.4km2a-1 (0.23% a-1) and 20.5 km2a-1 (0.15% a-1) respectively. The shrinkage of glaciers between 52° S and 54° S accelerated after 1986, and rates of shrinkage from 1986 to 2011 remained steady. Icefield outlet glaciers, isolated glaciers and ice caps south of 54° S shrank faster from 1986 to 2001 than they did from 2001 to 2011.

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