Satellite-Derived Equilibrium Lines in Northern Patagonia Icefield, Chile, and Their Implications to Glacier Variations

Abstract

The Northern Patagonia Icefield (NPI), covering 3953 km2, is the second largest temperate ice body in South America. Despite its importance as a climate change indicator because of its location and size, data on ground-based mass balance and meteorological records for the analysis of glacier (snout) variations are still lacking. The use of multitemporal satellite images to estimate equilibrium line altitude variations could be a surrogate for such analyses. Since late-summer snowlines of temperate glaciers coincide with the equilibrium line, we analyzed five Landsat images spanning 1979–2003 and an ASTER-derived digital elevation model to reveal oscillations in the equilibrium line altitude (DZELA). The average ELAs range between 870 m and 1529 (6 29 m), with lower altitudes on the west side. Winter snow cover accumulation indicates higher elevations (relative to the glacier snout) of the transient snowlines in the west. Thus, one of the reasons for the higher retreating rates observed on the west side is that the lower part of the ablation area is likely exposed to year-round ablation. Glacier sensitivity to DZELA oscillations would depend upon the topographic condition of the accumulation area (gentle or steep). In outlet glaciers with gentle accumulation areas such as San Rafael and San Quintin, DZELA of up to 65 and 70 m at the central flow part and bare ice area variations . 5 km2 and . 13 (6 0.6 km2) were observed, respectively.

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