The prevalence and increased frequency of high-magnitude Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in the Chilean and Argentinean Andes suggests this region will be prone to similar events in the future as glaciers continue to retreat and thin under a warming climate. Despite this situation, monitoring of glacial lake development in this region has been limited, with past investigations only covering relatively small regions of Patagonia. This study presents new glacial lake inventories for 1986, 2000 and 2016, covering the Central Andes, Northern Patagonia and Southern Patagonia. Our aim was to characterise the physical attributes, spatial distribution and temporal development of glacial lakes in these three sub-regions using Landsat satellite imagery and image datasets available in Google Earth and Bing Maps. Glacial lake water volume was also estimated using an empirical area-volume scaling approach. Results reveal that glacial lakes across the study area have increased in number (43%) and areal extent (7%) between 1986 and 2016. Such changes equate to a glacial lake water volume increase of 65 km3 during the 30-year observation period. However, glacial lake growth and emergence was shown to vary sub-regionally according to localised topography, meteorology, climate change, rate of glacier change and the availability of low gradient ice areas. These and other factors are likely to influence the occurrence of GLOFs in the future. This analysis represents the first large-scale census of glacial lakes in Chile and Argentina and will allow for a better understanding of lake development in this region, as well as, providing a basis for future GLOF risk assessments.
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- Department of Biological and Geographical Sciences - Senior Lecturer
- School of Applied Sciences
- Centre for Human and Physical Geography - Member