Patagonia's Jorge Montt glacier is melting faster than any other glacier in Chile, having shrunk by more than half a mile in just 12 months, researchers announced Wednesday. And they have 1,445 photos to prove it.
The glacier is located 1,000 miles south of Santiago in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which covers 4.1 million acres in the Andes between Chile and Argentina. According to the Center for Scientific Studies in Valdivia, which has made a time-lapse video of the retreating glacier, Jorge Montt's snout shrunk by 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from January 2010 to February 2011.
"Patagonia has experienced climate change at rates much more moderate than those observed in the rest of the world," glaciologist Andres Rivera says in a press release about the findings. "However, almost all the glaciers of the region have lost area. And Jorge Montt is the one that has the record retreat."
Global warming is a factor, Rivera says, although Jorge Montt is especially prone to melting since it partly rests in a growing fjord. And while it has shrunk in the past, its current retreat is unusually rapid, he adds. "Since 1898, the glacier had an initial stage of sustained but slow backward movement, and another fast one during the '90s, when it collapsed and fell seven miles in less than seven years," Rivera says. "Today, it has turned to accelerate its withdrawal, producing a large number of icebergs."
That retreat has already altered the surrounding landscape, including the emergence of the 12-mile-long, 1,300-foot-deep fjord, which wasn't previously listed on local maps. It also highlights the plight of glaciers across Patagonia — according to a study published in April, Patagonia's glacial melting has "increased markedly" in recent decades, contributing about 10 percent of global sea-level rise related to mountain glaciers in the past 50 years. And as glaciologist Michel Barer tells the Associated Press, the problem of retreating glaciers "is really hot in South America" overall.
Jorge Montt isn't thought to be in immediate danger of disappearing — like other mountain glaciers in Patagonia, its large size and snowfall rate help buffer it against climatic shifts. But other glaciers, including many low-elevation ones from Alaska to Peru to Nepal, are retreating so quickly that scientists say they could vanish within a century. And as U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Bruce Molnia told MNN last year, all glaciers ultimately act as canaries in the coal mine for their local climates: "Glaciers are made up of frozen water, so if temperatures go up, glaciers shrink. Glaciers are almost exclusively a commodity that responds to a changing climate."
Check out the time-lapse video below to see Jorge Montt's recent retreat. The images were produced by two automated cameras programmed to take four photos every day from January 2010 to February 2011:
Update: Here's another version of the video without time lines:
Also on MNN:
- Melting Himalayan glacier caught on film
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- Glacial profiling: Are glaciers on thin ice?
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