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Glacier hydrology of Nef River, Patagonia Chile

Congress: 2008

Keyword(s): Climate change, Patagonia, glacier, glacier hydrology
AbstractGlaciers of Southern Patagonia Icefield (SPI) and Northern Patagonia Icefield (NPI) are the largest temperate ice bodies in the Southern Hemisphere and as such are critical in evaluating the impact of climate change in southern latitudes. They provide an important source of freshwater and therefore their evolution strongly determines the availability of water resources in the region, particularly important for the hydroelectric power station development. Those glaciers have shown an enhanced wasting and an increased melting in recent decades, mainly in reaction to regional warming. In consequence, water resources originating from those glaciers are also affected by their negative mass balance. The mass changes suffered by the glaciers and their future consequences for the water resources are still not well estimated and constitute a major challenge within climate change studies. A main limitation in the understanding of the NPI and SPI glacier evolution is the difficulty in performing field observations, largely because of unfavorable meteorological conditions as well as the limitations due to the large size of the icefields, namely 4,197 km≤ for NPI and 13,000 km≤ for SPI. There is thus a need for carrying out detailed analyses of individual representative glaciers in Patagonia. The Nef Glacier (138 km≤ in February 2005), is one of the largest and most representative glaciers of the eastern side of the NPI. During the last century it has been retreating and losing mass, and its evolution has been similar to other large glaciers of the NPI. Moreover, the Nef River is one of the most important tributaries of the Baker River, the largest drainage basin in the region. The water resources originating from Nef Glacier are determined by the mass changes of the glacier. One way to assess their availability and to estimate the glacier melting is to study the water discharge of the Nef River. With that purpose a limnimetric station was installed at 10 Km of distance of Nef glacierís front and a gauging campaign was carried out (at the same place) in order to evaluate the river discharge. In addition long time series (1975-2007) of precipitation and discharge data from Lago Bertrand and Angostura Chacabuco stations were used to estimate the discharge of Nef River in the confluence with Baker River (at around 30 Km to the east of the limnimetric station). These historical time series were related to the discharge calculated at the limnimetric station. The obtained discharge was related to the evolution of the snow and ice surface estimated using satellite images and to the temperature records of the same period.
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