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Glacial Retreat in Chilean Patagonia
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science.
October 10, 1994 - March 7, 2002
The San Quintín Glacier is the largest outflow glacier of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field in southern Chile. Its terminus is a piedmont lobe just short of the Golfo de Penas on the Pacific Ocean and just north of 47°S. Like many glaciers worldwide during the twentieth century, San Quintín appears to be losing mass and possibly retreating. Such a change is evident in these two photographs taken by astronauts only seven years apart. The first was taken by the crew of STS-068 in October 1994 and the second by the Increment 4 crew of the International Space Station in February 2002.
Even with the reversal of season and different lighting conditions of these two acquisitions, a loss of mass and change of structure, particularly in the lobe, are strikingly evident in these comparative photos. Glaciers are one of the special topics identified as scientific objectives for monitoring with photography from the International Space Station. Astronaut photography is a complimentary source of remote sensing data available for use with other sensor systems being used to monitor and study glaciers (see an ASTER image of the San Quintín Glacier). They also provide strong, visual context information on glacier environments and processes using a familiar medium, the camera.
The San Quintín Glacier is the largest outflow glacier of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field in southern Chile. Like many glaciers worldwide during the twentieth century, San Quintín appears to be losing mass and possibly retreating.
For the crew onboard the International Space Station daylight views of the Earth’s Southern Hemisphere offer fewer opportunities to observe and document land features with onboard cameras. However, South America’s Patagonian Ice Fields and glaciers in the far southern Andes mountains offer beautiful, dynamic features with frequent passes whenever weather conditions permit. On the afternoon of January 3, 2004, the crew took this view of the Upsala Glacier in Argentina. A worldwide retreat of glaciers was observed during the twentieth century and most of the Patagonia’s glaciers, including Upsala, were no exception.