Extreme Losses of Patagonia’s Glaciers May Slow With Lower Emissions

Scientific Reports, August 19

The glaciers of the Southern Andes, in Patagonia are extremely sensitive to surface melting, and have thinned rapidly over the past century of global warming. Patagonia contains two massive icefields, filled with interconnected glaciers that extend for hundreds of kilometers. They are the second largest continental icefields outside of the polar regions. With continued high emissions, surface melt will accelerate ice loss across Patagonia’s icefields. Following a low emissions pathway however could potentially stabilize Patagonia’s southern icefield, preventing further retreat. In the northern icefield, these glaciers would not stabilize under even low emissions; but thinning would slow measurably, from 1.9 meters of thinning annually to 1.5 meters. Meltwater from these glaciers serves as the largest non-polar source of sea-level rise in the world. Unless emissions are reduced, snow and ice accumulation will no longer be able to overcome these accelerating melt rates, jeopardizing communities that rely on the stability of these glaciers for their water supplies and agriculture.