Evolution of ice-dammed proglacial lakes in ultima Esperanza, Chile: implications from the late-glacial R1 eruption of Reclus volcano, Andean Austral Volcanic Zone

Charles R. Stern, Patricio I. Moreno, Rodrigo Villa-Martinez, Esteban A. Sagredo, Alfredo Prieto, Rafael Labarca


Newly described outcrops, excavations and sediment cores from the region of Última Esperanza, Magallanes, contain tephra derived from the large late-glacial explosive R1 eruption of the Reclús volcano in the Andean Austral Volcanic Zone. New radiocarbon dates associated to these deposits refine previous estimates of the age, to 14.9 cal kyrs BP (12,670±240 14C yrs BP), and volume, to >5 km3, of this tephra. The geographic and stratigraphic distribution of R1 also place constraints on the evolution of the ice-dammed proglacial lake that existed east of the cordillera in this area between the termination of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and the Holocene. This proglacial lake generated wavecut terraces, and also caves, such as the Cueva de Milodón, along the highest prominent terrace. The current elevation of these terraces depends on the total amount of post-glacial isostatic rebound, which is unknown. Due to differential rebound, the highest prominent lake terraces decrease in height from west-to-east, from ~170 m a.s.l. on Península Antonio Varas west of Seno Última Esperanza, to ~150 m a.s.l. around Lago Sofía, and down to ~125 m a.s.l. along their easternmost margin. The presence of thick deposits of R1 tephra in some of the caves around Lago Sofía implies that the proglacial lake had already dropped below its highest level prior to the time of this eruption, and, in fact, even earlier, prior to 16.1 cal kyrs BP (13,560±180 14C yrs BP), when land mammals first occupied these caves. The depositional environment of R1 in a core from Dumestre bog suggests that the lake level was in fact <80 m a.s.l. at the time of this eruption. The original lake may have drained to this level across the low elevation pass between Fiordo Obstrucción and Seno Skyring, and subsequently into Seno Otway and the Pacific Ocean, when Canal Jerónimo opened up prior to the R1 eruption. Another suite of cores, from the Eberhard site, indicate that the lake persisted at >70 m a.s.l. until 12.8 cal kyrs BP (10,695±40 14C yrs BP). However, a 14.2 cal kyrs BP (12,125±85 14C yrs BP) Mylodon pelvis from a nearby site, located at only ~7 m a.s.l., suggests that the lake could have emptied, for at least a brief period, to this low level at this time. This latter datum, combined with the lack of any prominent terraces between the highest ones (170-125 m a.s.l.) and much lower ones (at only 30 m a.s.l. on Península Antonio Varas and 20 m a.s.l. along the coast north and south of Puerto Natales), suggests abrupt changes in the lake level after the R1 eruption. The likely mechanism for producing these changes in Última Esperanza was the catastrophic failure and subsequent re-sealing of an ice dam in Paso Kirke, the only below sea-level pathway west to the Pacific north of Fjordo Obstrucción. The final stage of lake drainage, from the lower terrace level (20-30 m a.s.l.) occurred at 10.3 cal kyrs BP.

How to cite this article Stern, C., Moreno, P., Villa-Martinez, R., Sagredo, E., Prieto, A., and Labarca, R., 2011, Evolution of ice-dammed proglacial lakes in ultima Esperanza, Chile: implications from the late-glacial R1 eruption of Reclus volcano, Andean Austral Volcanic Zone: Andean Geology, v. 38, no. 1, p. 82-97., doi: