Course on glacier science uses Chile as case study

Universidad Central de Chile will host professionals from across the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds October 25-29 to discuss water-supply issues related to global climate change.


From the wilderness of northern Patagonia to the tip of the Americas in Cape Horn, ice fields and glaciers, including the largest glacier in the southern hemisphere, cover an enormous portion of the southern Chilean landscape. A course on glacier sciences to be held at Universidad Central de Chile in Santiago from Oct. 25 to 29 will help participants understand and confront the local and global implications of changes in these glaciers.

Co-sponsored by the Latin American and Caribbean regional office of the United Nations Environmental Program (PNUMA) and the Conference of Ibero-American Directors General of Water (CODIA), the course will be open to representatives from public organizations throughout the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds and university professors in related disciplines.

Ice ecosystems in the world’s most extreme reaches are amongst the most fragile. Scientists and researchers have spent the last 30 years recording annual changes in Patagonia’s ice fields, and while some of the largest glaciers in the region continue to grow, the vast majority of them retreat at an average rate of roughly two meters annually.

Water from melting glaciers running into the sea contributes to rising sea levels. Melt-off from glaciers within Chile and Argentina’s borders is said to be responsible for some 60% of the global sea-level rise.

Given the vital importance of glaciers as sources of water for the Andean populations of South America, the continued melting of the ice fields is a local as well as a global concern.

Drawing participants from across different technical and cultural backgrounds, the course aims to take a multidimensional approach to evaluating, monitoring and protecting glaciers in their current state. Before arriving in Santiago, participants will be organized into groups representing different countries, with each offering a ten-minute presentation of a case study from that country. These case studies will then be open to group debate.

From specific and international examples, the program will turn toward the development of diverse strategies for the future study and preservation of glaciers, focusing on Chile’s own glaciers as the central case study. In bringing together professionals from related fields, the program aims to evaluate, and ultimately bolster, the stability of Latin America’s glacial environments in the face of climate change.