Articles | Volume 10, issue 2
Research article
26 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 26 Apr 2016

Reconstructing the annual mass balance of the Echaurren Norte glacier (Central Andes, 33.5° S) using local and regional hydroclimatic data

Mariano H. Masiokas, Duncan A. Christie, Carlos Le Quesne, Pierre Pitte, Lucas Ruiz, Ricardo Villalba, Brian H. Luckman, Etienne Berthier, Samuel U. Nussbaumer, Álvaro González-Reyes, James McPhee, and Gonzalo Barcaza

Abstract. Despite the great number and variety of glaciers in southern South America, in situ glacier mass-balance records are extremely scarce and glacier–climate relationships are still poorly understood in this region. Here we use the longest (>  35 years) and most complete in situ mass-balance record, available for the Echaurren Norte glacier (ECH) in the Andes at  ∼  33.5° S, to develop a minimal glacier surface mass-balance model that relies on nearby monthly precipitation and air temperature data as forcing. This basic model is able to explain 78 % of the variance in the annual glacier mass-balance record over the 1978–2013 calibration period. An attribution assessment identified precipitation variability as the dominant forcing modulating annual mass balances at ECH, with temperature variations likely playing a secondary role. A regionally averaged series of mean annual streamflow records from both sides of the Andes between  ∼  30 and 37° S is then used to estimate, through simple linear regression, this glacier's annual mass-balance variations since 1909. The reconstruction model captures 68 % of the observed glacier mass-balance variability and shows three periods of sustained positive mass balances embedded in an overall negative trend over the past 105 years. The three periods of sustained positive mass balances (centered in the 1920s–1930s, in the 1980s and in the first decade of the 21st century) coincide with several documented glacier advances in this region. Similar trends observed in other shorter glacier mass-balance series suggest that the Echaurren Norte glacier reconstruction is representative of larger-scale conditions and could be useful for more detailed glaciological, hydrological and climatological assessments in this portion of the Andes.

Short summary
Glacier Echaurren Norte (ECH, 34° S) has the longest (> 35 yrs) mass-balance record in South America. A minimal model that explains 78 % of the variance in the ECH annual record identifies precipitation as the most important forcing. A regional streamflow series allows for extending the ECH annual record back to 1909 and shows a clear cumulative ice-mass loss. Similarities with documented glacier advances and other shorter mass-balance series suggest the ECH reconstruction is regionally representative.