Glaciers: 10 Thousand Year-old VestigesThey represent 90% of the earth’s fresh water and are currently threatened by the climate change. With an incredible and overwhelming beauty, glaciers, also called ice fields, fill South Patagonia with white territory.
Even though for the untrained eye all icebergs may look similar, they are not the same.
These fresh water reserves are a valuable and sought-after good for tourist businessmen, energy companies, and scientists. It makes sense if you consider their natural beauty, history, and energetic potential, not to mention that they are a good source of income.
But, how are glaciers born? They were slowly formed during the glacial age, ten thousand years ago. They are masses of perennial ice that originate when the accumulation of snow exceeds the melting and evaporation yearly indexes. Because of this, they are usually found in mountains and high latitudes.
A glacier’s formation process occurs when snow crystallizes and becomes a type of ice called ‘neve’. The more snow accumulated, the more compact it gets, releasing the air within it and turning into white ice. When the totality of air is released, the ice turns blue, like you can see in O’Higgins glacier.
While Greenland and Antarctica are the two largest icecaps –with 85% of the earth’s fresh water-, the Patagonian Ice Fields and other areas in Iceland are called “ice sheets” and cover around 50 thousand square kilometers. There are also valley and cirque glaciers, which are smaller but equally interesting to watch.
Glaciers, also known as drift glaciers, are cold masses that create snowdrifts due to local differences in air pressure. These are good indicators of temperature variations, which have had noticeable effects in recent years due to climate change. Whether for the influence of the sun, hot air masses, evaporation of ice, and rain, glaciers “recede”, diminishing their mass in a process called “ablation”.
Finally, when glaciers reach the sea and lakes of enough depth they start floating and form icebergs, which break off with a thunderous roar. Ninety percent of a glacier is under water, and since they are dragged by winds and tides they are dangerous for vessels.
Ice in the Chilean Patagonia
Even though Chile lost a big part of its Patagonian territory during a conflict with Argentina, it still owns the majority of the ice existing in it, with at least 30 glaciers, among which you can find San Rafael, Colonia, O’Higgins, Pío XI, Amalia, Balmaceda, and others.
Several of these glaciers are located in the famous Patagonian Ice Fields. The Northern Field is located in the region of Aysén, featuring the famous San Rafael Lagoon, San Valentín mount, and the glaciers Exploradores and San Quintín. Exploradores has the largest concentration of continental ice after Antarctica and Greenland, with a surface area of 16.800 km², and includes the glaciers Jorge Montt, Pío XI, O’Higgins, Bernardo, and Grey.
Most of these glaciers have routes that allow tourists to get to them by air or land. In GoChile we offer several alternatives to get to Patagonia and visit them.