Variations in sediment yield over the advance and retreat of a calving glacier, Laguna San Rafael, North Patagonian Icefield


Bathymetric and sub-bottom acoustic data were collected in Laguna San Rafael, Chile, to determine sediment yields during the Little Ice Age advance and subsequent retreat of San Rafael Glacier. The sediment volumes and subaqueous landforms imaged are used to interpret the proglacial dynamics and estimate erosion rates from a temperate tidewater glacier over a complete advance–retreat cycle. Sediment yields from San Rafael Glacier averaged 2.7×107 m3/a since the end of the Little Ice Age, circa AD 1898, corresponding to average basin-wide erosion rates of 23±9 mm/a; the highest erosion rates, 68±23 mm/a, occurred at the start of the retreat phase, and have since been steadily decreasing. Erosion rates were much lower during glacial advance, averaging at most 7 mm/a, than during retreat. Such large glacial sediment yields over two centuries of advance and retreat suggest that the contribution of sediments stored subglacially cannot account for much of the sediment being delivered to the terminus today. The detailed sub-bottom information of a proglacial lagoon yields important clues as to the timing of erosion, deposition and transfer of glacigenic sediments from orogens to the continental shelves, and the influence of glacier dynamics on this process.

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