Geomorphological evidence for variations of the North Patagonian Icefield during the Holocene

ABSTRACT

Elucidating the timing and extent of former glacier fluctuations is important because of the palaeoclimatic inferences that can be drawn from such studies. Here we present new geomorphological evidence of the patterns of glacier behaviour around the North Patagonian Icefield during the Holocene. Mapping is based on visual interpretation of Landsat 7 ETM+ and Terra ASTER satellite images, including the contemporary glaciers, areas of ice-scoured bedrock, trimlines, glacial lineations, terminal moraines, sandur and fluvial sediments, deltas and ice-contact deposits and alluvial fans. Recession of the icefield is marked by three distinct moraine sets. These moraine sets are interpreted as marking terminal positions related to the bLittle Ice Age» and two preceding, but as yet undated, phases of Holocene glacier expansion. Large arcuate terminal moraines in front of three of the western glaciers are interpreted as composite features, reflecting topographic limits to glacier expansion, indicating that caution is required in the interpretation of previous 14C dates obtained from these moraines. There are strong contrasts in the patterns of glacier behaviour between the east and west sides of the North Patagonian Icefield, which cannot be attributed simply to an east/west differential in the rates of change of atmospheric temperature and precipitation. We argue here that glacier response to first-order climate forcing is tempered by second-order controls introduced by regional-scale topographic effects, notably glacier drainage basin extent and area, topographic controls on glacier snout morphology and differences in terminal environment (calving/non-calving) during glacier recession.

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