Photo Friday: The Changing World of South Patagonia

This Photo Friday, explore the massive South Patagonian Icefield. Along with its northern counterpart, this icefield makes up the largest expanse of ice in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antartica, thanks to the regions favorable climate. When westerly winds traveling across the Pacific reach Patagonia they are lifted upwards by the Andes Mountains which cools and condenses the air, forming clouds and heavy precipitation.

Just how heavy? The western side of the Patagonia Icefields receive an astonishing 160 inches of rain and snow a year. While the eastern side receives less, as the moisture content of the air masses that rose on the western side is depleted, the area still receives a substantial 40 inches. When this precipitation falls as snow and freezes on the glaciers, it adds mass; however, in recent times, the glaciers in South Patagonia have retreated due to climate change. The Jorge Montt, for example, has retreated 13 kilometers between 1984 and 2014 and at the peak of its melting was thinning by 100 feet a year. Check out the images below of four expansive glaciers in Southern Patagonia from NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Aerial photo of the Jorge Montt glacier
The Jorge Montt Glacier, one of the fastest melting glaciers in the ice-field (Source: NASA Earth Observatory).


Aerial photo of the Upsala Glacier
The Upsala Glacier, one of the longest and largest in the ice-field (Source: NASA Earth Observatory).


Aerial photo of the Occidental glacier
The Occidental, Greve, and Tempano Glaciers. The Occidental glacier is an anomaly in that it has only retreated about a kilometer since 1980s (Source: NASA Earth Observatory).


Overview of photo of the southern Patagonia ice-field
The section of the Patagonia ice-field containing the three glaciers above. The boxes outline the respective glaciers (Source: NASA Earth Observatory).