Ice melting fast in southern Andes

Glaciers in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, in the Chilean and Argentine Andes, are disappearing at much faster rates than scientists had anticipated, the Santiago Times reported. The ice sheets are melting in larger proportions and in much higher alpine zones than in any other part of the world, including the Himalayas and Alaska, say scientists from the United States and Chile.


A preliminary analysis of data from an October 2008 expedition to the ice field – by a team of scientists from the US space agency NASA and Chile’s Centre of Scientific Studies (CECS) — sheds light on the alarming speed at which the glaciers are vanishing. After Antarctica and Greenland, the Southern Patagonia field ranks third in the concentration of continental ice.


“The loss of ice mass in the higher zones is the really new phenomenon,” said Gino Casassa, a CECS glaciologist. “At least this is what we are seeing with the preliminary results which we have just received.”


Until recently, it was believed that glacial loss occurred from lower areas, and that snowfall on the higher sections of glaciers would compensate for loss of ice at lower altitudes. “One hypothesis we put forward was that there could be a positive balance of ice in the high zones because of higher rates of snowfall in these areas,” Casassa said.


But with ice thinning in both high and low regions, loss of glacial mass in Patagonia is likely to be much greater than had been calculated. The new findings contradict some former studies.


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