Argentina’s National Glacier Inventory Makes Progress

Identifying glaciers in the Atuel drainage, central Andes (source:Facundo Rojas/IANIGLA)
Identifying glaciers in the Atuel drainage, central Andes (source: Facundo Rojas/IANIGLA)

Argentina’s national glacier inventory, which began in 2011, has recently advanced significantly. A group of researchers from the Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (IANIGLA) wrote recently to GlacierHub They prepared a document, included below, to describe the progress to date. The authors of this document are Laura Zalazar, Lidia Ferri, Mariano Castro, Melisa Giménez, Hernán Gargantini, Pierre Pitte, Lucas Ruiz, and Mariano Masiokas.

Training new researchers for the glacier inventory (source: IANIGLA)
Training new researchers for the glacier inventory (source: IANIGLA)

Glaciers play an important role in Argentina as water reserves, and serve as crucial components of hydrological systems, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas. Their rapid shrinkage in the context of global warming creates serious issues for the country. Despite the importance of the glaciers, Argentina lacks precise information on the number, location and size of these glaciers. This gap is one of the reasons that a law, known as Law 26636, was passed in 2010, titled “Minimum Standards for Preservation of Glaciers and periglacial environment.”

The principal objective of this law, laid out in its first article, is “to protect glaciers, considering them as strategic reserves of water resources.” The third article establishes the National Inventory of Glaciers, to document all of the glaciers and periglacial landforms, recording the information that is necessary for their proper protection, management and monitoring as water reserves.

Carrying equipment to Mount Mercedario, central Andes (source: IANIGLA)
Carrying equipment to Mount Mercedario, central Andes (source: IANIGLA)

The inventory and monitoring of glaciers and periglacial environments is carried out by the Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (IANIGLA), in coordination with the agency charged with enforcing the law, the Ministry for Environment and Sustainable Development.

The work is carried out through three distinct components. The first of these is the mapping and characterization of all the ice bodies in the country. The second is the study of recent fluctuations of selected glaciers, and the final ones consists of studies  of benchmark glaciers which are analyzed in detail to establish the effects of climate change.

Collecting data for mass balance research, Los Tres Glacier, southern Patagonia (source:IANGILA)
Collecting data for mass balance research, Los Tres Glacier, southern Patagonia (source: IANIGLA)

The study of fluctuations of glacier length and area of glaciers is currently scheduled to begin when the full inventory of the country’s glaciers is complete. This timing will allow IANIGLA to identify representative glaciers for all of the drainages.

Progress has been made with research on benchmark glaciers. Three have already been selected, each in a different region, and IANIGLA is monitoring their thickness, mass balance and velocity. These are Agua Negra Glacier in the arid north, Alerce Glacier in northern Patagonia and Los Tres Glacier in southern Patagonia. The process for selecting a fourth benchmark, located in the central Andes, is currently under way.

The mapping and inventory is carried out on a regional basis, recognizing the great climatic variation across the country. The regions, ranging from 21° S to 55° S, are the arid northern Andes, the central Andes, northern Patagonia, southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. In turn, these regions are subdivided into drainages and sub-drainages.

Calingasta Glacier, an example of a debris-covered glacier, northern Argentina (source: IANIGLA)
Calingasta Glacier, an example of a debris-covered glacier, northern Argentina (source: IANIGLA)

Within each of these sub-drainages, glaciers are mapped by remote sensing, along with field observations for validation. The mapping distinguishes rock and debris-covered glaciers, snow patches and ice fields from other glaciers. At present, IANIGLA has worked in 60 of the 70 sub-drainages in the country, and has napped 14,648 glaciers, with a total area of 5557 km2.

Base camp at Lake Tannhauser, southern Patagonia (source: IANIGLA)
Base camp at Lake Tannhauser, southern Patagonia (source: IANIGLA)

The research to date has shown significant regional variation across the country. Southern Patagonia accounts for 60% of the glacier area in the country, but only 14% of the individual glaciers in the inventory, while the central Andes represents 32% of the area and 55% of the total number of glaciers. The area in southern Patagonia is concentrated in a few large glaciers (including the Southern Patagonian Ice Field), while the central Andean glaciers are smaller. The types of glaciers also differ, with many debris-covered glaciers in the arid northern Andes.

IANIGLA looks forward to completing the inventory and the studies of glacier fluctuations. This work will support the effective implementation of the2010 glacier law in policy-making.

Readers can locate reports and maps from the inventory at http://www.glaciaresargentinos.gob.ar/

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