Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
Research article
29 Sep 2011
Research article |  | 29 Sep 2011

Deriving mass balance and calving variations from reanalysis data and sparse observations, Glaciar San Rafael, northern Patagonia, 1950–2005

M. Koppes, H. Conway, L. A. Rasmussen, and M. Chernos

Abstract. Mass balance variations of Glaciar San Rafael, the northernmost tidewater glacier in the Southern Hemisphere, are reconstructed over the period 1950–2005 using NCEP-NCAR reanalysis climate data together with sparse, local historical observations of air temperature, precipitation, accumulation, ablation, thinning, calving, and glacier retreat. The combined observations over the past 50 yr indicate that Glaciar San Rafael has thinned and retreated since 1959, with a total mass loss of ~22 km3 of ice eq. Over that period, except for a short period of cooling from 1998–2003, the climate has become progressively warmer and drier, which has resulted primarily in pervasive thinning of the glacier surface and a decrease in calving rates, with only minor acceleration in retreat of the terminus. A comparison of calving fluxes derived from the mass balance variations and from theoretical calving and sliding laws suggests that calving rates are inversely correlated with retreat rates, and that terminus geometry is more important than balance fluxes to the terminus in driving calving dynamics. For Glaciar San Rafael, regional climate warming has not yet resulted in the significant changes in glacier length seen in other calving glaciers in the region, emphasizing the complex dynamics between climate inputs, topographic constraints and glacier response in calving glacier systems.