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Melting glaciers, fast-disappering gauge of climate change

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Map of Chile showing the Patagonian ice fields, the third biggest glacial ice reserve in the world

A crack widens in the San Rafael glacier in Chile’s extreme south, and a ten-storey iceberg crashes into the lake by the same name — a dramatic reminder of the impacts of global warming.

In the lake San Rafael, about 100 icebergs float today, pieces broken off from the glacier that 150 years ago stretched out over two-thirds of the body of water now free of ice cover.

According to the European Space Agency satellite images show San Rafael to be one of the world’s most actively calving glaciers and the fastest-moving in Patagonia, “flowing” at a speed of about 7.6 kilometers (4.7 miles) per year — “receding dramatically under the influence of global warming.”

Seasonal glacier melt is a natural phenomenon that with global warming has accelerated “significantly,” Jorge O’Kuinghttons, a regional head of glaciology at Chile’s water directorate, told AFP.

At the moment, Patagonia’s glaciers are retreating faster than anywhere else in the world.

All but two of Chile’s 26,000 glaciers are shrinking, he said, due to rising temperatures caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

Ice-covered surfaces of Earth reflect excess heat back into space, and if these are reduced through melting, temperatures rise even more.

And water dammed by glaciers can be released by a sudden collapse.

To learn more about what to expect in the future, glaciologists study the evolution of Chile’s glaciers, which contain a frozen record of how the climate has changed over time.

– The heat is ‘strong’ –

To augment his income, he criss-crosses the lake in a wooden boat with glacier-watching tourists.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said. “The heat is very strong.”



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