Chilean Glacier Recedes Half-Mile in Just One Year

Chile's Center for Scientific Studies/via

While the powerful impacts of global warming can be seen in various forms throughout the world, few places have experienced observable changes as dramatic as in Chile's Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Over the course of just one year, the region's Jorge Montt Glacier receded an alarming 1 kilometer, evidenced by time-lapse video composed of 1,445 images taken by research scientists -- and they're as surprised as anyone to see the glacier disappearing so quickly.

Stretching out over 5 thousand square miles of the Chilean Andes, the Patagonian Ice Field is the world's third largest mass of ice after Antartica and Greenland, worrying experts that the rapid rate of melting there may be a bellwether for similar loss elsewhere. To make matters worse, the period from February 2010 and January 2011 in which the Jorge Montt Glacier receded over half-a-mile is troublingly higher than previous trends. Researchers from Chile's Center of Scientific Studies (CEC) say that, based on historical photos of the site, this glacier previously receded at a rate of about 12 miles per century.

"Since 1898, the glacier had initially held fast until, during the 90's, when it collapsed and lost seven miles in less than seven years. Today, it has become accelerated in its withdrawal, producing a large number of icebergs," says CEC glaciologist Andres Rivera.

According to the CEC, the loss is being attributed at least in part to climate change, spurred by the release of greenhouse gas emissions. But despite the Jorge Montt Glacier's increasing rate of ice loss, researchers say that this region isn't even the worst hit -- and that's even more concerning.

"Patagonia climate has changed much more moderate rates than those in the rest of the world, however, almost all glaciers the region have experienced losses of areas. And Jorge Montt is the one with the record retreat," says Rivera.

The dramatic ice loss might otherwise be difficult to comprehend if it were not for time-lapse footage collected over the previous year. Unlike severe weather or other anomalies in climate patterns which can often seem like one-off events, these images of a receding glacier offer evidence that detrimental changes to our planet's health do not just lie before us, but are well underway.

Tags: Chile | Glaciers | Global Warming Effects