Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chilean glaciers melting at unprecedented rates

Santiago Times via El Mercurio (Chile): A preliminary analysis by a team of scientists from NASA and Chile’s Valdivia-based Center of Scientific Studies (CECS), which commenced an expedition to the Ice Field in October 2008, sheds light on the alarming speed at which the glaciers are depleting. The scientists discovered that the masses of ice in the Patagonia are melting in larger proportions and in much higher alpine zones than in any other part of the world, including Alaska and the Himalayas. Glacier ice accounts for around 75 percent of the world’s fresh water.

“The loss of ice mass in the higher zones is the really new phenomenon,” said Gino Casassa, a CECS glaciologist. “At least this is what we are seeing with the preliminary results which we have just received.” Until recently, it was believed that glacial loss occurred from lower areas, and that snowfall on the higher sections of glaciers would compensate for loss of ice at lower altitudes.

…The new findings are also curious because they contradict some former studies. For example, a previous study found that the Chilean glaciers Trinidad and Pio XI (the biggest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica) had advanced instead of receded, while the Perito Moreno glacier in the Los Glaciares National Park in southern Argentina had maintained a volume balance.

….Most of Chile’s 3,500 identified glaciers can be found in the Patagonia Region. And most have experienced significant losses in volume and surface area due to climate change and are in danger of disappearing altogether. “This loss contributes significantly to sea levels,” noted Casassa. “Between 1995 and 2000, Patagonian glaciers made up nine percent of the total glacier contribution to sea levels.”…

Laguna San Rafael, Chile, shot by Vincent Huang, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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