The SPI extends north-south for 350 km, between 48°20 S and 51°30 S, at an average longitude of 73°30 W. Its mean width is 35 km, and the minimum width is 8 km (Casassa and others, 1998). The first detailed glacier inventory was compiled by Aniya and others, (1996), who divided the SPI into 48 major outlet glaciers and over 100 small cirque and valley glaciers. These glaciers flow from the Patagonia Andes to the east and west, generally terminating with calving fronts in freshwater lakes (east) and Pacific Ocean fjords (west). In the accumulation area, the outlet glaciers share a vast and relatively flat plateau with an average altitude of about 1400-1600 m.
According to the latest border agreement between Argentina and Chile, about 81 to 92% of the SPI belongs to Chile and 8 to19% to Argentina (Rivera and others, 2000).
The SPI is located within the area affected by the southern westerlies (Lawford, 1993). In consequence, due to an orographic effect, the western margin of the SPI receives a high amount of precipitation, with an estimated annual average of 10-m water equivalent (w.eq.) on the icefield plateau (DGA 1987). On the other hand, the eastern margin of the SPI receives little precipitation, amounting to a few hundreds of mm in the Argentine pampa (Ibarzabal and others, 1996).
The mean annual temperature of the marginal areas of the SPI is approximately 6 °C ( Peña & Gutiérrez, 1992; Carrasco and others, 1998), which allows the existence of a unique ecosystem of beech forests at the glacier fronts. Due to the temperature regime, the ice in the SPI is temperate, at least in all of the ablation area and part of the accumulation area.
As the great majority of the lower tongues of the SPI are calving into lakes or fjords, their frontal variations, time of response and dynamics, are partially controlled by local characteristics, which in many cases do are not directly related to climate change (Warren & Rivera, 1994).
Glacier inventory (Return to the top of the page)
The first person to describe the glaciological characteristics of the SPI was Lliboutry (1956). He studied TRIMETROGON aerial photographs of 1944/45 and carried out field observations at glaciar de Los Tres, near Monte Fitz Roy, determining a total area of the SPI of 13500 km2. Bertone (1960) compiled the first partial and preliminary inventory for the SPI, covering the glaciers that drain to Lago Argentino. A few years later the U.S. Army published a preliminary inventory for the whole SPI (Mercer, 1967).
Based on Landsat satellite imagery of 14 January 1986, together with 1:250000 preliminary topographic maps of the Instituto Geográfico Militar of Chile (IGM) and stereoscopic analyses of aerial photographs, Aniya and others, (1996) compiled a complete inventory for the SPI (Table 1), identifying 48 major outlet glaciers. Accumulation and ablation areas were estimated based on the snowline position on the Landsat imagery, which was assumed to coincide with the Equilibrium Line Altitude (ELA). Using these ELA values, a mean Accumulation-Area ratio (AAR) of 0.75 was estimated for the SPI as a whole (Aniya and other, 1996).
Of the 48 glaciers, 46 calve into freshwater lakes and fjords, while 2 terminate on land. The largest calving glacier of the SPI is Pío XI, followed by Viedma, Upsala and OHiggins.
The area covered by ice and snow within the 48 glaciers of the SPI is 11259 km2, with an additional 228 km2 of exposed rocks in the accumulation area, giving a total area of 11487 km2. Added to this value is an area of 1513 km2 of small valley, cirque and mountain glaciers resulting in a total area of 13000 km2 for the SPI.
* Glacier 23 is call Asia according Lliboutry, 1956 but named Brujo in the 1:100000 map of the IGM Chile.
** Glaciar 44 is called Bravo by the IGM Chile, but is locally known as Rivera. Lliboutry (1956) also names it Rivera.
Glacier variations (Return to the top of the page)
Before 1997, information on glacier variations of the SPI existed for only half of the major glaciers (Warren & Sugden 1993). Aniya and others, (1997) determined the areal and frontal variations of the 48 major glaciers of the SPI, based on 1:250000 preliminary maps, aerial photographs and satellite imagery. Other authors have extended the time series using historical data or recent aerial photographs of individual glaciers (Mercer, 1964, Warren and others, 1997, Rivera and others, 2000, Rivera and others, 1997a, Rivera and others, 1997b, Agostini, 1945, Rivera, 1992, Aniya and others, 1999, Casassa and others, 1997a).
A general trend of retreat is observed in 42 glaciers, while 4 glaciers were in equilibrium during the period 1944-1986 (HPS 13, HPS 15, Calvo and Spegazzini) and 2 advanced during the same period (Pío XI and Moreno). The largest retreat rate was estimated for glaciar OHiggins, which during the period 1896-1995 retreated 14.6 km (Casassa and others, 1997a). The maximum advance was detected at glaciar Pío XI which advanced continuously since 1945, with an average frontal advance of 288 m a-1 (Rivera and others, 1997b). Glaciar Perito Moreno is presently in equilibrium, but underwent frequent oscillations in the period 1947-1986, with a net gain of 4.1 km2 (Skvarca & Naruse, 1997)
Ice thickness (Return to the top of the page)
Casassa (1992) was the first to publish ice thickness data for the SPI, detecting a maximum of 650-m of ice in the ablation area of glaciar Tyndall in 1990, using 2.5 MHz analogue radio-echo sounding equipment. In 1993, Casassa & Rivera (1998) measured slightly smaller ice thickness values in the same area of glaciar Tyndall, this time with a digital radio-echo sounding system, concluding that the glacier had thinned in the period 1990-1993.
In 1995 and 1996, Casassa and others, (1997b) performed ice thickness measurements with a digital radar system near the front of glaciar Grey. In 1997 Rivera & Casassa (2000) performed ice thickness measurements at Paso de los Cuatro Glaciares by means of a profiling radar system pulled by a snowmobile, measuring ice thickness in excess of 750-m, the maximum range of the radar. They also detected a couple of volcanic ash layer in the radar data (Rivera and Casassa, 2002). Rott and others, (1998) measured ice thickness on glaciar Perito Moreno using seismic reflection and explosive charges along a profile in the ablation area, where they also detected layers of subglacial sediments. In 1999 and 2000, a group from the University of Washington, U.S.A., performed ice thickness measurements in the ablation area of glaciar Tyndall by means of a digital radar system, detecting a maximum of 650-m of ice (Raymond and others, 2000).
Ice thickness changes (Return to the top of the page)
Several glaciers have been analysed in terms of the ice thickness changes. The methods applied were:
1.- Cartographic: Analysis and comparison of contour lines from regular cartography of different dates. This method includes the generation of contour lines from aerial photographs for restricted areas.
2.- Historic: Analysis and comparison of historical data (maps or photographs), with regular cartography or field observations.
3.- Field survey: Glacier surface measurements with theodolite (T) or Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. This method includes field observations, consisting of estimations of ice thickness changes by analysing moraines or photographs in the field.
Among the analysed glaciers, glaciar Perito Moreno is the only one which presents no changes (Table 2) during the study period of three years since 1991 (Skavarca & Naruse, 1997).
Long records of ice thickness changes measured with the field survey method have been obtained for glaciar Tyndall (Table 1). Since 1985 almost the same topographic profile located at approximately 700 m.a.s.l. in the ablation area of the glacier has been measured. The last surface elevation of this glacier was measured with GPS (Raymond and others, 2000). Comparison with earlier measurements made in 1993 (Nishida and others, 1995) indicates a mean thinning rate of 4.9 m a-1 over the interval 1993 to 1999. This rate is higher than the mean rate estimated for 1985 to 1993 (3.7 m a-1) and the longer term thinning rate from 1945 to 1993 (2 m a-1), which suggest that thinning is accelerating.
The longest record of ice thickness changes measured with a combination of the cartographic and historical methods has been obtained for glaciar OHiggins. The maximum values during the last analysed period (1975-1995) suggest an acceleration of the thinning rates (Casassa and others, 1997a)
Glaciar Pío XI is the unique exception to this high thinning rate measured in the majority of the glaciers of the SPI. With the cartographic method, Rivera & Casassa (1999) compared the surface topography of the ablation area of the glacier between 1975 and 1995, obtaining an average surface thickening of 2.2 m a-1. This anomalous behaviour is well correlated with the unique state of advance of its southern tidewater front since 1945 (Rivera and others, 1997a) and its northern freshwater front since 1976 (Warren and others, 1997).
Table 2. Ice thickness changes in the SPI
Notes: T- Theodolite GPS- Global positioning system receivers
Of the above methods, the most accurate and reliable one is the field survey, especially if the measurements are carried out with geodetic quality GPS receivers, as used for glaciar Tyndall by Raymond and others. (2000).
Ice velocities (Return to the top of the page)
Most of the ice velocity measurements in the SPI have been carried out in the ablation area of the glaciers with traditional surveying methods. Satellite imagery techniques have been applied more recently for determining ice velocity, including both radar interferometry and phase correlation of radar data (Rott and others, 1998; Michel & Rignot 1999; Forster and others, 1999).
The largest velocity values have been measured in late spring (1995) at the calving front of glaciar Pío XI, with a maximum value of 50 m d-1 and a mean value of 20 m d-1 for a 3-day period (Rivera and others, 1997b). Velocity data are presented in Table 3.
Table 3. Ice velocity measurements at SPI.
Mass balance (Return to the top of the page)
Very limited ablation and accumulation data exists for the SPI. Based on meteorological and hydrological data available for stations located around the SPI, isolines of precipitation have been estimated (DGA, 1987), and general characteristics of the glacial hydrology of the SPI have been published (Peña & Escobar 1987).
Imagery acquired from space can provide information on the surface pattern of snow and ice (Forster and others, 1996), but for the SPI it has not yet been possible to obtain ablation and accumulation data, from such imagery. Physical models based exclusively on climatic conditions can provide an estimate of mass balance, both during present and past conditions (Hulton & Sugden 1995), but the results can be of poor accuracy if no calibration with field data is undertaken.
Ablation data have been obtained by the traditional stake method for periods ranging from a few days to a few months for the following glaciers:
- Glaciar Tyndall: Takeuchi and others, 1995; Koizumi & Naruse,
The only annual ablation-stake measurement has been done at glaciar Perito Moreno, yielding a magnitude of 10 m a-1 (Skvarca & Naruse 1997), a value considered to be representative of the lower ablation area of the SPI. A similar value was calculated based on ablation data for a period of a few months and extrapolated using the degree-day method (Takeuchi and others, 1995).
With respect to accumulation, only one field measurement dataset using the stake method is available for annual periods, corresponding to a site at 1460 m.a.s.l. at glaciar Chico measured with a 12-m high tower over the period 1996-2001. A few accumulation-data based on snow pit studies and short-period snow stake heights are available for specific sites across the SPI.
Based on the scarce ablation and accumulation data available, Casassa & Rivera (1999) developed a digital topographic model at a resolution of 1 km for the whole of the SPI. Their results show an annual ablation of 23.8 km3 a-1 over an ablation area of 4097 km2 and an annual precipitation of 58.4 km3 a-1 over an accumulation area of 8698 km2. The resulting residual value of 34.6 km3 a-1 assumes a steady state volume of icebergs calving into lakes and fjords.
Two studies have used the hydrometeorological method to compute mass balances for the SPI. In the basin of río Serrano, Marangunic (personal communication) calculated a mass balance by applying algorithms for estimating ablation and accumulation rates at different elevations. Escobar and others, (1992) calculated a hydrologic balance for SPI based on the climatic and hydrologic data published by DGA (1987).
Ice-firn cores (Return to the top of the page)
Only a few shallow firn cores have been retrieved from the SPI, prior to 2002.
The first core was obtained from the accumulation area of glaciar Perito Moreno. The drilling site was located at 2926 m.a.s.l. in a place close to the ice divide with glaciar Calvo. The total length of the core was 13.2-m, which was estimated to cover 5 years of snow accumulation, between the summer of 1980/81 and 1985/86. A mean annual accumulation of 1.2 m a-1 w. eq. was estimated for this period of time (Aristarain & Delmas 1993).
The second core was obtained from the accumulation area of glaciar Tyndall. The drilling site was located close to the ice divide with glacier Amalia at 1756 m.a.s.l. The total length of the core was 45.97 m, which was estimated to cover only 3 years of snow accumulation, between 1997/98 and 1999/2000. A mean annual accumulation of 13.5 m a-1 w. eq. was estimated for this period of time (Godoi and others, 2002).
The third core (5-m) was obtained from a plateau of ice close to the summit of Cerro Gorra Blanca (49°09'22.6''S, 73°08'40.3'' W, 1543 masl) during the 2001 expedition "Icefields Science Initiative" organised by CECS. The drilling site was reached by helicopter. The preliminary analyses of the core showed no significant signs of melting (Schwikowski et al. 2002).
The fourth core (10-m) was obtained from Paso Marconi, at the accumulation area of glaciar Chico (1750 masl) during the same CECS operation of September 2001. This core has been analysed in Copenhagen, Denmark, showing a clear signal of Delta O18 until a depth of 110 cm w.eq. (Gundestrup personal communication). Further densities analyses were carried out by G. Casassa and A. Rivera in June 2002 at the laboratory of the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with Anders Svensson.
Other three shallow firn cores were colleted during the CECS campaign of September 2001. No further analyses have been carried out on them.
Climatic changes (Return to the top of the page)
Historical records of air temperature around the SPI have been analysed by Rosenblüth and others, (1995) and Rosenblüth and others, (1997), detecting a secular warming rate of 1.3 to 2.0 °C -100 years in the period 1933-1992. This warming has practically doubled at some stations in the last three decades (Rosenblüth and others, 1997). Climate studies of the eastern margin of the SPI indicate that this warming also prevails in Argentine Patagonia (Ibarzabal and others, 1996).
A few Chilean and Argentine stations around the SPI show a significant decrease in precipitation, of approximately 25% during last century (Rosenblüth and others, 1997; Ibarzabal and others, 1996). Other stations show no change (Santana, 1984), and some of them show increase in precipitation during the 1990s (Carrasco and others 2002).
The climatic data suggest that the generalised glacier retreat in the SPI is due to a regional warming, together with a probable precipitation decrease in the area (Casassa and others, 2002).
Sea level rise (Return to the top of the page)
Sea level rise observed during most of the 20th century is related to several causes, including thermal expansion due to global warming of the oceans, melting of glaciers and small ice caps, and the contribution of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, among others. Observational and modelling studies estimate a contribution to the eustatic sea level rise during the 20th century from glaciers and small ice caps, of 0.2 to 0.4 mm a-1 (Church and others, 2001).
Only a few studies of global sea level rise, have included the contribution from the glaciers of Patagonia. Meier (1984) calculated the world-wide contribution of small glaciers and ice caps (excluding Greenland and Antarctica) to sea level between 1900 and 1961 to be 0.46 +-0.26 mm a-1. Of that value, Meier estimated that the Andes south of 30º S accounted for about 12%, that is 0.06 mm a-1. He used a general value for the Andes, without any specific analysis of Patagonia. Dyurgerov & Meier (1997b) estimated a world-wide sea-level rise of 0.25 +- 0.10 mm a-1 due to small glaciers, but excluded data from the Patagonian icefields.
Based upon the available inventory and frontal variations of glaciers in the SPI, the contribution of this ice field to the eustatic sea level rise between 1944/45 to 1996, was estimated to be 505 +- 203 km3 w. eq. Dividing this value by the total ocean area of the world, results in a contribution of 1.39 +- 0.54 mm in the 51 year-period from 1945 to 1996, that is 0.027 +- 0.011 mm a-1 (Aniya, 1999). This means that the SPI contributed about 6% of the total sea level rise of small glaciers and ice caps as estimated by Meier (1984).
Rivera and others, (2002) analyse the contribution of the Chilean glaciers to the sea-level rise, including the previous work of Aniya (1999) with a few modifications. With respect to the SPI, the contribution to sea level rise of the Chilean portion of the SPI was estimated to be 401 +- 174 km3 w. eq.
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