Turbio Glacier is at the headwaters of Argentina’s Turbio River and flows into Lago Puelo. The glacier descends east from the Chile-Argentina border at 1,500 meters, descending into a low-slope valley at 1,300-1,000 m.
In 1986 the glacier terminated at the southeast end of a buttress at the junction with another valley (red arrow in the image above). The glacier was 4.3 kilometers long and was connected to a headwall segment that extends to 1,500 m. There is no evidence of a lake at the terminus of Turbio Glacier.
Across the divide in Chile, the glacier, seen with a pink arrow in the above image, has a length of 3 km. In 1998 the retreat from 1986 has been modest and no lake has formed at Turbio. Across the border in Chile the glacier has divided into two sections.
By 2017 Turbio Glacier has retreated exposing a new lake. The glacier is essentially devoid of retained snowpack, illustrating the lack of a significant accumulation zone that can sustain it. Across the border in Chile the glacier has nearly disappeared with the lower section revealing a new lake and little retained snowpack indicating it cannot survive.
By 2018 Turbio Glacier has retreated 1.3 km, which is over 30 percent of its total length in 32 years. The glacier is separated from the headwall glacier, which can still shed avalanches onto the lower glacier. It is possible that with additional retreat another lake will be revealed in this valley. The substantial retreat here is comparable with that of nearby Argentina glaciers such as Pico Alto Glacier and Lago Cholila . The retreat is greater than on Tic Toc Glacier to the southwest in Chile.
We’ve all heard of glacial retreat. But have you heard of this glacier in Argentina that keeps collapsing?
Take a look at this BBC video of the Perito Moreno glacier in the country’s Patagonia region, where a part of the glacier recently collapsed. This event is, thankfully, not due to climate change. Rather, its part of an unusual cycle of an advancing glacier, slowly damming a section of the Argentino Lake, creating an ice bridge, which then ruptures and collapses when the water pressure becomes too great. This collapsing spectacle is part of a natural cycle that can occur once a year or sometimes less frequently, around once a decade.
Even though this collapse may not be due to climate change, scientists do say that overall the amount of glacial ice in the Patagonia region is decreasing.
Fabiana Li, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, brings new insight to a long-standing conflict over a South American mining project in her recently published article “Moving Glaciers: Remaking Nature and Mineral Extraction” on Sage Journals. Li’s article investigates the controversial Pascua-Lama mining project, located on the border between Chile and Argentina, run by Barrick Gold, a prominent mining company from Canada. The project gained recognition because of its plan to move three glaciers located at the mining site, disturbing the integrity of the glaciers in the region. Ongoing debate over the site’s future and expenses led Barrick to abandon the project in 2013, but controversy over the future of the site continues.
“The Pascua-Lama project is still in limbo,” Li said in an interview with GlacierHub. “Like other mining companies recovering from the downturn in the metals market, Barrick is now looking for partners for a joint venture in order to mitigate the risks involved in the project. The company has already spent $8.5 billion on Pascua Lama, so it is not likely to abandon it entirely, but it will not be able to continue operating as before, without a new approach to community relations and environmental issues.”
The Pascua-Lama project first ran into trouble when dealing with the glaciers that surrounded the ore deposit, notes Li. In the company’s initial environmental impact assessment, they disregarded the glaciers’ existence. In 2001, the company decided to include the glaciers in the environmental impact assessment by creating a section called the “glacier management plan.” The plan stated that Barrick would move 10 hectares of glaciers with bulldozers, front loaders, or even “controlled explosives,” if necessary, to an adjacent area outside of the development. This plan was approved by the Chilean authorities in 2001.
However, the company’s proposal to move the glaciers was met with animosity from environmental organizations, local residents of the Huasco Valley (a region in Chile located below the mine), representatives of the Catholic Church, Diaguita indigenous communities (who claimed the land as their own), and local and foreign activists. Li told GlacierHub that she tried to show in her article how glaciers, mountains and rivers are more than just resources. “They make up people’s sense of place, their identities, and ways of life,” she said. “They form part of important relationships that people forge with their surroundings and that sustain life.” Communities in the Huasco Valley, for example, protested the glaciers’ removal, arguing that they are dependent on the water supply for agriculture and drinking, with the glaciers storing water for the dry season.
During the 1990s, there was a boom in companies investing in exploration and extraction from countries in South America like Peru. As of 2013, Pascua-Lama was thought to own one of the world’s largest gold and silver resources. Barrick first began exploring the Chile/Argentina border in 1994, searching for possible mining opportunities. It was not until 1997 that both the Chilean and Argentinian presidents signed the Mining Integration Treaty that allowed mining development along the mountain ranges. The treaty granted access to economic activity, foreign property ownership, and water and resources. The Pascua-Lama project also became the world’s first binational mine, creating an example for other projects and developments to follow.
In 2004, the company released an environmental impact assessment, which diminished the importance of the glaciers once again, calling them “ice reservoirs,” “ice fields,” or “glacierets.” One of Barrick’s top executives even denied that there were any glaciers at all. Scientists and researchers hired by the company, such as those at the Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas (Center for Advanced Studies in Arid Zones) and the Centro de Estudios Científicos (Center for Scientific Studies), stated that snow and ice features identified “are of very small surface area and it is not clear from the images whether they would be classified as névés, glacierets or glaciers.” They defined the term glacieret as an ice body “formed primarily by blowing or avalanching snow, which usually shows no surface signs of flow.”
In 2006, the assessment was approved under the condition that the company “only access the ore in a manner that does not remove, relocate, destroy, or physically interfere with the Toro 1, Toro 2, and Esperanza glaciers.” Barrick modified the size of the mining pit and claimed that the three “ice fields” were outside of the mining pit limits and wouldn’t be touched.
Mining construction resumed in 2009, but inspectors soon found that the company neglected their water management plan, which affected the Estrecho glacier and environmental mitigation strategies to protect the glaciers, such as plans to reduce the amount of dust from the site over the glaciers. Chilean government inspections confirmed the company’s negative impact on the glaciers, rivers and wetland systems, resulting in the project’s closure.
According to a local paper, Diario Financiero, the judgement authorized the “temporary closure of Pascua-Lama mining operations, without having the necessary measures in place to ensure the physical and chemical stability of the water sources affected by the project.” Barrick’s continued disregard for environmental regulations resulted in a $16 million fine, the highest possible fine under Chilean law, according to Li. Originally, the company estimated the mining project would cost $3 billion, but this estimate increased after additional costs were added, including from legal battles and additional fees for not abiding with environmental regulations. The project was officially halted in 2013 after the Supreme Court of Chile suspended the project due to the company’s environmental wrongdoings.
Due to complications with the Pascua-Lama project, Argentina created a law in 2010 that prohibited mining and oil drilling in glacier and peri-glacier areas to preserve its water resources. Additionally, Argentina started a national glacier inventory, so that the government and companies are able to identify where mining projects can and cannot take place. Barrick also signed a memorandum of understanding with 15 indigenous communities in Chile to open a dialogue, although there have been no updates on whether or not the project will resume. In the end, the Pascua- Lama project provides an important example to all sides. “This conflict helped to raise awareness about the consequences of resource extraction and inspired people to speak out against mining in a country where this industry has long been considered the backbone of the economy,” Li said. “Pascua Lama also helped make glaciers more visible, and brought to light new issues that had not been addressed.”
Angeles Peña grew up in the mountains of Argentine Patagonia, immersed in a landscape that she considers wild, hostile, and infinite– and changing. “The winters flee with speed and are gradually disappearing. The glaciers recede. Summers are hotter. The seasons seem to be less and less defined,” she reflected.
Peña has spent the last three years traveling through what she calls the “beautiful, stunning, and wildly desolate territory” of Andean Patagonia, photographing glaciers. In her pictures, she seeks to present her subjects without a sense of scale, and capture the essential qualities of ice, cold, and water. Browse through the below slideshow of work from her series, “Aguas de montaña.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
A new study has shed light on the environmental history of Nahuel Huapi, the oldest national park in Argentina. The mountainous glacial region in northern Patagonia is vast, spanning two million acres, yet it has remained relatively unstudied, and little of its ecological history is understood. A study published on August 10 in ScienceDirect has revealed a window into the complex history of glacial Lake Perito Moreno Oeste in Nahuel Huapi, using lake sediments to look back through time.
The research team, led by the Argentinian scientist Natalia Williams, investigated the glacial lake’s history by digging deep into the lake’s sediment. Williams and her team hoped to better understand the environmental factors like temperature and human activities influencing the lake’s ecology over the past 700 years, and had the help of a small aquatic species known as Chironomidae. Also known as midges, Chironomidae are a type of insect found on every continent including Antarctica.
Across the globe, Chironomidae are abundant and can be used to understand the health and condition of water ecosystems. Unlike other species of their size, Chironomidae leave well-defined remains in lake sediments that allow researchers to study them like fossils. There are over 4,000 distinct Chironomidae species, which thrive in different environment conditions–some prefer warmer water while others prefer cold. By examining the number and species of past Chironomidae, the researchers can understand the health, composition, and temperature of the ecosystem through time.
The team collected the proxy data by dropping a 43 cm-long hollow pipe, known as an LL, into the bottom of the lake at Llao-Llao Bay—the deepest point of the lake at 20 meters. When the core was dropped, it filled with sediment and trapped preserved organisms. When the pipe was pulled to shore, it contained the layers of sediment which had built up over time, providing a chronological history of the lake. The researchers were then able to analyze the sediment through photographs, chemical tests, and observations of the sediment and individual midges once they cut the pipe in half.
Within the 43 cm-long core, a total of 1594 Chironomidae head remains were identified, and their depth within the core informed the researchers about the time of the deposition, with earlier organisms found deeper in the core.
There were higher numbers of warm water species found at the surface layers of the core, representing the more recent history around 1900. Their high abundance within the core corresponded to a period of time with higher temperatures and increasing human presence in Patagonia. The first buildings within the national park near Lake Perito Moreno were constructed in 1937, and the isolated glacier lake quickly became influenced by pollution, rising temperatures, the introduction of fish species, and the construction of roads.
Though the lake was free of human influence until the beginning of the 1900s, the ecology of the lake quickly changed in response to human presence in the park. As roads were built and new species were introduced, the lake’s oxygen levels increased beyond healthy levels and allowed the explosion of the Chironomidae population. When the sediment core showed high levels of the species’ remains, the researchers determined that the lake was less healthy than the period prior to human influence, experiencing an ecological imbalance that prevented other aquatic species from thriving.
In order to understand the full extent of human impacts on glacial environments, the history of a region must be taken into account. While it is not possible to go back in time to observe the past, species like those within the Chrionomidae give scientists the chance understand history more deeply.
A recent article “Defending Glaciers in Argentina” in the journal Peace Review, written by Asmaa N. Khadim, explores the history of one of the world’s largest mining companies, Barrick Gold Corporation, and its conflict with Argentina’s environmental protectors. Many of its mining projects are in proximity to glaciers, which are a crucial water source for local residents.
In recent years, to bolster its economy, the Argentine government created incentives to attract foreign capital to invest in mining, which includes lower royalties, favorable foreign investment laws, and a competitive tax regime. But it has not always paid attention to environmental issues.
Many multinational companies want a share of Argentina’s natural resources, like Barrick Gold, Strata, and Meridian Gold, all which have invested heavily in the country’s mining industry. Many of their gold mining operations lie in theAndes, and this region is considered to be one of the most important gold and silver districts across the world. However, many ore deposits lie near glaciers. This location creates risks of water pollution and of mismanagement of water resources, including groundwater. Mining operations could also create soil and air pollution in these settings.
Two particular projects, Veladero and Pascua Lama, in this region have caused many of the disputes, because of their proximity to numerous glaciers high in the Andes. These two projects are run by Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian company. The Andes are environmentally sensitive, not only because it is home to massive glaciers, but also because of the significance of glaciers as a source that contributes to Argentina’s water supply.
In 1987, the Brundtland Commission released the paper Our Common Future defining sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This paper reframed the vision of environmental rights, which led many countries, including Argentina, to add environmental protection to their constitutional frameworks.
In late 1990s, local environmental organizations saw the risks of mining development in the Andes. They started to press the Argentine government for a law to protect glaciers. As the paper in Peace Review recounts, “The first bill was approved by Congress in 2008, but was subsequently vetoed by President Cristina Fernandez on the basis of economic development arguments.”
Later, in September 2010, a new version of the glacier protection law, the National Glacier Act, was ratified by the Argentine senate. The role of this law is to act as an inspector to identify areas that require protection. This law faced significant resistance from mining companies. The companies allocated funds to lobby legislators to oppose the bill. They also paid for nationwide advertising campaigns which opposed this bill and its enforcement. Jorge Daniel Taillant, an Argentine researcher, has documented these efforts in his book Glaciers: The Politics of Ice.
As a result of the pressure from powerful mining companies, a federal court judge suspended the implementation of the 2010 glacier protection law within the province of San Juan, where many mining projects are located. It was not until 2012 that Argentina’s Supreme Court overruled this decision and restored the application of the law to this province.
The tension between mining interests and environmentalists has become more severe as the mining projects continue. Mining brings negative impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity, water quality, and human health. Khadim describes how Barrick Gold Corporation has hired private security and pressured local provincial police to repress the environmental organizations. Violence and riots have resulted.
It remains a question whether the 2010 law will protect glaciers and water resources. “While constitutional entrenchment alone may not be sufficient to achieve the protection of environmental rights, it appears to be a core foundational step upon which an effective regulatory system may be built,” Khadim states. The outcome of this conflict will have consequences not only in Argentina, but in other areas of the world, such as Central Asia, where mining companies seek to expand into environmentally sensitive mountain areas with glaciers.
An ice bridge collapsed at Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina earlier this month. Hundreds of tourists and locals gathered to witness the dramatic event.
Huge glacier collapses in Argentina:
On March 9, huge masses of ice broke up into pieces and fell intoArgentino Lake, the largest lake in the country. This is a periodic process that happens every three to four years; the last one happened in 2012.
“The Perito Moreno Glacier began its breakup process. We’re waiting! (We) came to experience it firsthand!” the Tourism Secretariat of El Califate said, according to Fox News Latino.
There is no precise calculation as to when the breakups happen, but based on the history it starts when the glacial outflow begins to occur, during which water constantly flows out through an opening at the bottom of a glacier.
The Perito Moreno ice field generates pressure and forces the glacier to grow toward the southern arm of Lake Argentino, forming a dam. As the amount of water increases within the dam, the flow of water creates a tunnel through the glacier. Gradually the water flow washes out the exterior of the ice wall and creates the famous ice bridge. When the ice bridge can no longer hold the weight of ice above it, the spectacular collapse happens. The bridge structure is believed to have consisted of several thousands tonnes of ice.
In 2008, the ice fell apart in winter in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, according to Reuters. There were concerns as to whether global warming had an impact on the collapse. However,experts said the collapse only happened because of natural physical processes and no climate change factor was involved.
In fact, Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier is one of a few glaciers that are growing in spite of global warming, according to NBC News.
“We’re not sure why this happens,” a glaciologist, Andres Rivera, with theCenter for Scientific Studies, in Valdivia, Chile said according to NBC News. ”But not all glaciers respond equally to climate change.”
The Perito Moreno Glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park, is one of the most important tourist sites in Argentina and is the world’s third largest freshwater reservoir as well.
A spokesman for Los Glaciares National Park Matilde Oviedo told The Daily Mail there was a “tremendous noise” when the bridge fell, according to areport.
“There were a lot of people but we were expecting it to happen a little later.”
Upsala Glacier, a stunning glacier within Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina, has been retreating rapidly due to climate change. NASA has found, through satellite imaging, that Upsala’s ice front has moved back approximately 2 miles since 2001, following a similar trend seen in the rest of Patagonia (the vast area at the southern extent of Chile and Argentina).
Also featured in the photos below is the Estancia Cristina–a popular ranch that many visitors use as an outpost on their journey through the glacial park, especially to see Upsala. The ranch offers unique views of the glaciers and its own beautiful scenery.
Upsala gets its namesake from the Swedish University (Uppsala University) that first sponsored glacier research in this area. The area has been extensively studied since, and Upsala is often used as an example of glacial retreat in Argentina. Upsala’s retreat is significant because of the size of the glacier; once the largest glacier in South America, it is now the third largest.
Argentinian glaciers, and Upsala in general, will aid in our further understanding of glacier dynamics.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is a glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. It is one of the most important tourist attractions in the Argentinian Patagonia. The tourists can view the glacier from a small boat. Lucky visitors also could witness huge chunks of ice breaking from the glacier, falling into Lake Argentino. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is growing while most of the glaciers around the world are retreating, but the mysterious reason still puzzles climatologists.
On both sides of the Andes, glaciers form the Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest area of land ice in the world, after Antartica and Greenland. The tremendous ice sheet extends from Chile to Argentina, home to over 300 glaciers. Some of its glaciers are located within the Glacier National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares), a world heritage site acknowledged by UNESCO. The glaciers Perito Moreno, Mayo, Spegazzini, Upsala, Agassiz, Onelli, Ameghino are the major glaciers in the Park, and Glacier Upsala is the largest glacier in South America.
The pictures of these Argentinian glaciers were retrieved from Glacier Photograph Collection provided by National Snow & Ice Data Center. This specific collection called Astronaut Glacier Photographs presents pictures taken by astronauts on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Endeavor. They may provide you with a fresh and unique view of Argentine glaciers.
“Glacial Balance,” A New Documentary by Ethan Steinman on Climate Change
“Water and its sources have historically been the key factor in the establishment of cities, of civilizations. But we are at a critical point in the environment and mankind’s existence. . . GLACIAL BALANCE takes us to Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador, getting to know those who are the first to be affected by the melting glacial reserve.”
“Requiem of Ice” Amazing Timelapse Video Shows Melting of the Largest Glacier Cave in the Country
“The cave systems have been mapped and surveyed since 2011 by Brent McGregor and Eddy Cartaya of the Oregon High Desert Grotto and in that time they have discovered more than a mile of caves and passages beneath the Sandy Glacier.”
A team from Uncage the Soul Productions shot “Requiem of Ice” in two caves named Pure Imagination and Snow Dragon, demonstrating the effect of the changing landscape.