Ice elevation and areal changes of glaciers from the Northern Patagonia Icefield, Chile

ABSTRACT

High thinning rates (up to −4.0±0.97 m a−1) have been measured at Campo de Hielo Patagónico Norte (CHN) or Northern Patagonia Icefield, Chile between 1975 and 2001. Results have been obtained by comparing a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) derived from regular cartography compiled by Instituto Geográfico Militar of Chile (IGM) based upon 1974/1975 aerial photographs and a DEM generated from Advanced Space-borne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) satellite images acquired in September 2001. A complete cloud-free Landsat ETM+ satellite image mosaic acquired in March 2001 was used to update the available glacier inventory of the CHN, including all glaciers larger than 0.5 km2 (48 new glaciers). A new delineation of ice divides was also performed over the accumulation areas of glaciers sharing the high plateau where the existing regular cartography exhibits poor coverage of topographic information. This updated glacier inventory produced a total ice area for 2001 of 3953 km2, which represents a decrease of 3.4±1.5% (140±61 km2 of ice) with respect to the total ice area of the CHN in 1979 calculated from a Landsat MSS satellite image. Almost 62% of the total area change between 1979 and 2001 took place in glaciers located at the western margin of the CHN, where the maximum area loss was experienced by Glaciar San Quintín with 22 33 km . At the southern margin, Glaciar Steffen underwent the largest ice-area loss (12 km or 2.6% of the 1979 area), whilst at the eastern margin the greatest area loss took place in Glaciares Nef (7.9 km2, 5.7% of the 1979 area) and Colonia (9.1 km2, 2.7% of the 1979 area). At the northern margin of the CHN the lower debris-covered ablation area of Glaciar Grosse collapsed into a new freshwater lake formed during the late 1990s. The areal changes measured at the CHN are much larger than previously estimated due to the inclusion of changes experienced in the accumulation areas. The CHN as a whole is contributing melt water to global sea level rise at rates ∼25% higher than previous estimates.

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