In the southernmost regions of the national territory there are two areas widely known for being two of the biggest ice sheets in the world; outside of the polar territories; the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and the Northern Patagonian Ice Field.
These huge ice fields are remains of what once was the Patagonian Ice Sheet, that covered great part of the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia during the last ice age, also known as the Llanquihue glaciation. Due to different climate changes, this big sheet started to break and transformed into the two ice fields that we currently have.
Located in the Aysén Region, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field it’s the third biggest ice layer in the world, comprising a total of 4.200 square kilometers. This area has a total of 28 different glaciers, the most popular ones are the San Quintín and the San Rafael, located near the Pacific Ocean. It also includes other small glaciers, such as the Nef and the San Valentín, whose job is to feed the rivers and lakes that are found in the region.
For tourists, the biggest attractions that this ice field has to offer is the Laguna San Rafael National Park, which offers several tours across the lake and the chance to appreciate first hand the magnificent beauty of the San Rafael Glacier. Within the park, adventurers have the chance to walk on an through the ice of a glacier, the Exploradores. For those who have more experience and resistance to cold weather, they can climb to the top of the San Valentín Hill, the highest mountain in the Chilean Patagonia.
In the Magallanes Region it’s located the second biggest extrapolar ice field of the whole world, exceeded only by Greenland; the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. This sheet covers a total of 12.363 square kilometers, with a 85% of it located within Chilean territory, while the rest is in Argentina. This field has a total of 49 glaciers.
Among the different attractions of this field, it’s the fourth biggest glacier in the world, and the biggest in the southern hemisphere, the Pío XI or Brüggen Glacier, which currently has a total of 1265 square kilometers. Its size constantly changes, since it continues to grow, opposite to most glaciers.
Great part of this field covers both the Torres del Paine and the Bernardo O’Higgins National Parks, turning into a protected land. Within the most popular glaciers of this area is the Grey, located in the Torres del Paine National Park, and from where it is possible to admire the great magnitude of these millenary ice.
Another place of great interest is the Monte Fitz Roy or Cerro Chaitén, in the border between both Patagonian countries. Its height surpasses the 3.400 meters above sea level, and it is considered one of the most defying climbs by hikers from different parts of the world; it owes its fame to its changing and unstable weather, along with its unique geography.
Currently, both ice fields are considered of great scientific relevance; providing information of the effects and consequences of global warming. Scientifics from all over the world have dedicated their careers to the study of the land, geography and behavior of these ice fields, in order to stop the retreat of these glaciers.
This post is also available in Spanish