Outside of Antarctica, the largest contiguous ice field in the
Southern Hemisphere is the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in the Andes
Mountains of Chile and Argentina. It has an area of about 13,000 square kilometers,
a length of approximately 360 kilometers (over three degrees of latitude), and an average width of about 40 kilometers.
To the west of the ice field, nearly
fifty significant outlet glaciers reach sea level in rugged fiords on
the Pacific coast. The largest of these, Brüggen, was featured in a previous image on Earth Observatory. East of the ice field, several of the larger glaciers on the eastern
flank form large piedmont lakes (such as Lago Argentina).
Whether taken on the ground or by remote sensing satellites, scientific measurements of the ice field and its glaciers are difficult to obtain due to the rugged
terrain and harsh, stormy climate of the region. The estimated loss of
ice mass of this large system is an important indicator of climate
variability on both a local and global scale. Additional information on
this and other Patagonian glaciers may be found at the following link:
USGS ? Historic Fluctuations of Outlet Glaciers from the Patagonian Ice
The Northern Patagonian Ice Field (NPIF), centered near 47°S, 73.5°W, is the smaller of two remnant ice masses crowning the Andes Mountains of lower South America. The NPIF is a vestige of an extensive ice sheet that covered much of Patagonia just over a million years ago. Today, with its glaciers largely in retreat and only an area of 4,200 sq km, it is still the largest continuous mass of ice outside of the polar regions.