Chilean Patagonia’s pristine glaciers are disappearing

Aysén, Chile, Feb 22 (EFE).- Rising global temperatures caused by the climate crisis are having a major impact on the pristine but rapidly melting glaciers in Chile’s Patagonia.

Mount San Valentin’s Exploradores glacier has shrunk to the point that the ice that used to welcome visitors half an hour into Laguna San Rafael National Park is now only visible after two and a half hours.

“It’s been a slow but steady rollback,” Manuel Berrocal, who has been guiding tourists for 15 years to Patagonia’s highest summit in Aysén, tells Efe.

“You do not realize until one day you see that the tongue of the glacier is much further away”.

The height of the glacier has decreased by 80 meters since 1944, according to the General Directorate of Waters of Chile’s Glaciology and Snow Unit.

Patagonia, which accounts for 63 percent of Chile’s glaciers, is considered the third largest glacial mass in the world after Antarctica and Greenland.

The health of the Patagonian glaciers, however, is declining and “most have displayed an accelerated retreat in size,” Jorge O’Kuinghttons, a Glaciology and Snow Unit glaciologist, tells Efe.

The global increase in temperatures is the only cause of the retreat in the glaciers of southern Chile, unlike other areas of the world where black carbon or industrial dust contribute to glacial melting, according to experts.

Patagonia, where industry is non-existent and urban centers are very small, is one of the most pristine areas in the world.

“From a chemical point of view, these glaciers represent the purest effect of climate change because they only reflect global warming and not other sources of pollution,” O’Kuinghttons says.

Currently, the average temperature in the coldest months hovers around 0.5 degrees, compared to -15 in the past.

The Patagonian glaciers are extremely prone to causing abrupt discharges of water accumulated inside them, which puts nearby communities at risk.

In the surroundings of the Steffen glacier, north of Campos de Hielo, several residents have moved away over fears of new discharges, making them “the first climate migrants” from Chilean Patagonia, O’Kuinghttons says.

Experts warn that the melting will also aggravate the drought that Chile has been experiencing for more than 13 years.

“Glaciers also play a fundamental role in curbing warming because they return a lot of radiation to the atmosphere,” Alexis Segovia, a glaciologist and professor at the University of Chile tells Efe.

If these surfaces continue to shrink, he warned, “Earth is going to heat up faster.” EFE


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