Chilean scientists record unique footage of rapid glacial retreat

The geographic conditions in the South American nation make it one of the best places on earth for studying the impacts of climate change.


Chilean scientists have released a series of photos revealing that the Jorge Montt Glacier in Patagonia has retreated more than half a mile (almost one kilometer) in just under a year, making it one of the fastest-shrinking glaciers in the southern hemisphere.

The researchers from the Scientific Studies Center (CECs) in Valdivia have produced a dramatic video (above) that combines the 1,445 photos in a chronological sequence. The images were captured by two cameras programed to take four pictures a day from February 2010 to January 2011.

The rapid retreat of the of the 175-square-mile glacier is having a major impact on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, with scientists discovering a 1,300ft fjord that had not been listed in previous geographical records.

“Beginning in 1898, the glacier had its first phase of sustained but slow retreat and then it went through another, faster retreat during the 1990s, when it collapsed and retreated seven kilometers in less than seven years,” said CECs glaciologist Andrés Rivera.

“Now the retreat has begun to speed up again, producing a large number of icebergs.”

The scientists stated that the manner in which the Jorge Montt Glacier is shrinking is not unique, but that it has been exacerbated by the ocean-like conditions in the fjord.

With its wide range of climate zones, ranging from the desert plateaus of the north to the ice fields of southern Patagonia, Chile is an excellent natural laboratory for studying the effects of climate change.

“The rate of climate change has been much more moderate in Patagonia than in the rest of the world, but almost all the glaciers in the region have experienced loss in area. And the Jorge Montt [Glacier] has the record for the fastest retreat,” Rivera said.

The CECs glaciology team will now work with government organizations and foreign scientists to develop a monitoring system for Chile’s most important glaciers.