Recent fluctuations of the Alerce glacier (1953-2020), North Patagonian Andes

Juan Cruz Ghilardi Truffa, Lucas Ruiz, Pierre Pitte, Lautaro Clavero


In recent decades, glacier retreat has been observed in all the world’s mountain ranges. Over the last 20 years, glaciers in the Andes have lost mass at one of the highest rates on record. Particularly, glaciers in the northern Patagonian Andes show the highest rate of loss of all the Andean regions for the last decade. Detailed records of long-term variations in glacier extent are crucial to put current climate change into context and quantify its impact on mountain areas. In the present study, a reconstruction of the extension (length and area) of the Alerce glacier (41.15° S-71.81° W) for the last 70 years was carried out. By means of historical documents and satellite images (Landsat and Pléiades), detailed maps of glacier fluctuations were generated for the period 1953-2020. Four methodologies were evaluated to measure the front position: i) central flow line; ii) curvilinear box; iii) multiline; and iv) variable box. The magnitude of the front position variations depends on the methodology applied. The method that best addresses glacier front variations over the period analyzed is the variable box method. Between 1953 and 2020, the Alerce glacier lost 35% of its area (1.1±0.1 km2) and 67% of its total length (1.49±0.04 km). It is possible to distinguish periods with different rates of retreat. A stage of slight retreat (-11.3±0.5 ma-1) between 1953 and 1976, followed by a period of stability (-6.7±0.5 ma-1) between 1977 and 1983, then a strong retreat (-58.7±0.5 ma-1) between 1984 and 1999, followed by another period of stability (-5.4±0.5 ma-1) between 2000 and 2009 and, finally, another retreat (-8.7±0.5 ma-1) between 2010 and 2020. The retreat rates for the Alerce glacier mimic those observed in other glaciers in the region, possibly representing a regional climatic signal.


Climate change; North Patagonian Andes; Glacier fluctuations; Alerce glacier

How to cite this article Ghilardi Truffa, J.; Ruiz, L.; Pitte, P.; Clavero, L. 2024, Recent fluctuations of the Alerce glacier (1953-2020), North Patagonian Andes. Andean Geology 51 (1) : 247-267. .