Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2021-200
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2021-200

  12 Jul 2021

12 Jul 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Glacier and Rock Glacier changes since the 1950s in the La Laguna catchment, Chile

Benjamin Aubrey Robson1,2, Shelley MacDonell3, Álvaro Ayala3, Tobias Bolch4, Pål Ringkjøb Nielsen5, and Sebastián Vivero6 Benjamin Aubrey Robson et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Science, University of Bergen, Norway
  • 2Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway
  • 3Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), La Serena, Chile
  • 4School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St. Andrews, UK
  • 5Department of Geography, University of Bergen, Norway
  • 6Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Abstract. Glaciers and rock glaciers play an important role in the hydrology of the semi-arid Northern Chile. Several studies show that glaciers have strongly lost mass in response to climate change during the last decades. The response to rock glaciers in this region is, however, much less investigated. In this study we use a combination of historical aerial photography, stereo satellite imagery, airborne LiDAR, and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) DEM to report glacier changes for the Tapado Glacier-Rock Glacier complex from the 1950s to 2020 and to report mass balances for the glacier component of the complex, Tapado Glacier. Furthermore, we examine high-resolution elevation changes and surface velocities between 2012 and 2020 for 40 rock glaciers in La Laguna catchment. Our results show how the glacier has lost 25.2 ± 4.6 % of its ice covered area between 1956 and 2020, while the mass balance of Tapado Glacier has become steadily more negative, from being approximately in balance between 1956 and 1978 (−0.04 ± 0.08 m w.e. a−1) to showing strong losses between 2015 and 2020 (−0.32 ± 0.08 m w.e. a−1). Climatological (re)-analyses reveal a general increase in air temperature, decrease in humidity, and variable precipitation since the 1980s in the region. In particular the severe droughts in the region starting in 2010 resulted in a particular negative mass balance of −0.54 ± 0.10 m w.e. a−1 between 2012 and 2015. The rock glaciers within La Laguna catchment show heterogenous changes with some sections of landforms exhibiting pronounced elevation changes and surface velocities exceeding that of Tapado Glacier. This could be indicative of high ice contents within the landforms and also highlights the importance of considering how landforms can transition from more glacial landforms to more periglacial features under permafrost conditions. As such, we believe high-resolution (sub-metre) elevation changes and surface velocities are a useful first step for identifying ice-rich landforms.

Benjamin Aubrey Robson et al.

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Benjamin Aubrey Robson et al.

Benjamin Aubrey Robson et al.

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Short summary
This work uses satellite and aerial data to study glaciers and rock glacier changes in La Laguna catchment, within the Semi-Arid Andes of Chile; where ice melt is an important factor in river flow. The results show the rate of ice loss of Tapado glacier has been increasing since the 1950s which possibly relates to a dryer, warmer climate over the previous decades. Several rock glaciers show high surface velocities and elevation changes between 2012 and 2020, indicating they may be ice-rich.