A crack gets bigger in the San Rafael Glacier in the far south of Chile, and a ten-story iceberg crashes into the lake of the same name – a dramatic reminder of the effects of global warming.
About 100 icebergs float in Lake San Rafael today, pieces broken off from the glacier that stretched over two-thirds of the water now clear of ice cover 150 years ago.
The San Rafael Glacier is one of 39 in the Northern Patagonian Ice Field (3,500 square kilometers or 1,350 square miles), which, along with the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (11,000 km²) in Chile’s Aysen Region, forms one of the world’s largest ice masses.
According to satellite imagery from the European Space Agency, San Rafael is one of the world’s most actively calving glaciers and the fastest moving in Patagonia, “flowing” at a rate of about 7.6 kilometers (4.7 miles) per year – “dramatically retreating.” under the influence of global warming.”
Glaciers are bodies of slow-moving ice on land that can be several hundred or several thousand years old.
Seasonal glacier melt is a natural phenomenon that has been “significantly accelerated” by global warming, Jorge O’Kuinghttons, regional chief of glaciology at Chile’s water directorate, told AFP.
– Glaciers ‘excellent indicator’ –
Right now, Patagonia’s glaciers are retreating faster than anywhere else in the world.
“Glaciers are an excellent indicator of climate change,” said Alexis Segovia, another government glaciologist who works in the remote region of southern Chile.
All of Chile’s 26,000 glaciers are shrinking, he said, due to rising temperatures caused by human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s a vicious circle.
Ice-covered surfaces of the Earth reflect excess heat back into space, and if it is reduced by melting, temperatures rise even more.
Melting glaciers also contribute to sea level rise, increasing coastal erosion and increased storm surges.
And water dammed by glaciers can be released by a sudden collapse.
“There are areas being flooded today that have never been flooded before,” O’Kuinghttons says.
To learn more about what to expect in the future, glaciologists study the evolution of Chile’s glaciers, which contain a frozen record of how the climate has changed over time.
According to the WWF, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before 2100, even if humanity succeeds in curbing emissions from burning fossil fuels.
– The heat is ‘strong’ –
East of San Rafael, on Lake General Carrera shared by Chile and Argentina, small-scale sheep and cattle farmer Santos Catalan has lived at the forefront of change.
To supplement his income, he criss-crosses the lake in a wooden boat with tourists watching glaciers.
Over the past 15 to 20 years, he told AFP, the landscape has become a lot less white as the ice has melted and the snow has decreased.
“A lot has changed,” he said. “The heat is very strong.”