Rapid retreat of Chile glacier captured in images

December 7, 2011 - 4:41 PM
Chile Shrinking Glaciers

This photo grab taken form a video released by the private organization 'Centro de Estudios Cientificos', CECs, shows the retreat of the Jorge Montt glacier in Chile's Patagonia in Feb. 2010 when this photo was taken. According to Chilean scientist Andres Rivera, Chief of the Glaciology Lab at CECs, the images show that the snout of Jorge Montt Glacier retreated 1 kilometer (more than half a mile) between Feb. 2010 and Jan. 2011. (AP Photo/Centro de Estudios Cientificos)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Researchers in Chile released a series of time-lapse photos on Wednesday showing the dramatic retreat of a glacier in Patagonia.

The Jorge Montt Glacier is shrinking faster than any other in Chile, glaciologist Andres Rivera said, with its snout retreating 1 kilometer (more than half a mile) between February 2010 and January 2011.

Rivera said that global warming is a factor and that the glacier also is melting especially quickly because it partly rests in the waters of a growing fjord.

Researchers presented a video showing the glacier's yearlong retreat through a total of 1,445 time-lapse photos.

The glacier is about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) south of Santiago in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which blankets a wide swath of the Andes between Chile and Argentina.

"Patagonia has experienced climate changes at levels much more moderate than those observed in the rest of the world," Rivera said at a news conference. "However, almost all the glaciers of the region have lost area, and Jorge Montt is the one that has the record retreat."

The retreat rate of the Jorge Montt glacier "is quite exceptional," said Michel Barer, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal who has studied the melting of Peruvian glaciers.

Barer and other glacier experts at a conference of geophysical scientists in San Francisco said the fastest-retreating mountain glaciers are probably somewhere in South America or maybe the Himalayas.

"We see steady but accelerating retreat of glaciers" in the tropical Andes, Barer said. His calculations show that those glaciers are losing 1 percent of their water a year. The problem of glacial retreat "is really hot in South America," he said.

According to a recent study by British and Swedish scientists who analyzed about 350 glaciers in Patagonia, all but two of the glaciers have receded significantly since the late 1800s, and have been shrinking at a faster rate during the past three decades. The study was published in April in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Patagonia's mountain glaciers are so colossal, and fed by so much snowfall each winter, that scientists believe they aren't in immediate danger of vanishing in the coming centuries.

But elsewhere, scientists expect glaciers to dwindle. Western Canada, for instance, is losing its mountain glaciers with many of them likely to disappear in the next century, said Garry Clarke, a professor of Earth Sciences at the University of British Columbia.

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Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington and Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.