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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

A Tale of Two Glaciers

A Tale of Two Glaciers

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, June 13, 2017/Categories: natural history, photography, sustainability, art and design, environment, climate change

  Cloud-free image, North Patagonian Icefield, 4-16-2017 (credit: NASA Landsat-8 )

Two glaciers in Patagonia, San Rafael and San Quintin, tell a dramatic story of climate change. The icefields—north and south—are all that remains of what once was a massive ice sheet that covered Patagonia at the end of the late Pleistocene, 18,000 years ago. The modern icefields are a fraction of that size but remain the southern hemisphere’s largest expanse of ice besides Antarctica.

  San Quintin Glacier, Patagonia 4-16-2017   (credit: Landsat-8, JPL)    San Rafael Glacier, Patagonia 4-16-2017)

According to researchers at the Jet Propulsion Lab who have been studying the glaciers from Landsat-8 science imagery:

“The rapid thinning of the icefield’s glaciers illustrates the global impact of climate warming. We have shown that Patagonia glaciers experience some of the world’s most dramatic thinning per unit area, more than Alaska or Iceland or Svalbard or Greenland.”

The researchers suggests the reason why the San Rafael glacier sheds so many icebergs is because of its speed, flowing up 5 miles/year. Again the JPL noted:

"San Rafael is the fastest-moving glacier in Patagonia and among the fastest in the world. It is also the icefield’s only glacier to come into contact with ocean water. Seawater from the Pacific enters the lagoon through the Golfo Elefantes, which connects to the lagoon via the Rio Tempanos (Iceberg River). At 46.7 degrees south latitude, it is the closest glacier to the equator in the world that connects to the sea."

San Quintín glacier has also been receding dramatically. Using ice cores, early exploration photography, and satellite images research, research has shown that between 1870-2011, the glacier lost nearly 15 percent of its surface area. San Rafael lost nearly 12 percent during the same time period.

Glaciers are barometers of climate change and he poles are the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. They provide the historical, physical, and chemical data of changing climate. More data is bound to be added to global databases in the next few years.



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