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Hasty retreat of glaciers in northern Patagonia from 1985 to 2011

  • Frank Paul (a1) and Nico Mölg (a1)


Mapping changes in glacier extent from repeat optical satellite data has revealed widespread glacier decline in nearly all regions of the world over the past few decades. While numerous studies have documented the changes of the outlet glaciers of the Northern and Southern Patagonia Icefields (NPI/SPI), information about glacier changes in the Patagonian Andes (to the north of the NPI) is much scarcer. Here we present an assessment of area changes for glaciers mainly located in the Palena district of Chile based on glacier inventories for 1985, 2000 and 2011 that were derived from two consecutive Landsat scenes and a digital elevation model. The analysis revealed a dramatic area decline for the largest glaciers and total area loss of 25% from 1985 to 2011. The lower parts of several larger glaciers (>10 km2) melted completely. Area loss below 1000 m elevation was 50–100% in both periods, and 374 glaciers out of 1664 disappeared. The number of proglacial lakes increased from 223 to 327 and their area expanded by 11.6 km2 (59%) between 1985 and 2011. Seasonal snow persisting at high elevations in the 2011 scene was a major obstacle to glacier delineation, so the obtained area change rate of ~1% a–1 over the entire period is a lower-bound estimate. The observed climate trends (e.g. cooling in Puerto Montt) are in contrast to the observed shrinkage.

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