Glacier in Chile’s Patagonia collapses amid high temperatures

Aerial view of the San Rafael Glacier in the region of Aysen, southern Chile, on Feb 13, 2022. (PABLO COZZAGLIO / AFP)

SANTIAGO – Higher temperatures and rainfall that weaken ice walls caused part of a hanging glacier to break off at a national park in Chile's Patagonia region in an event captured on video by tourists.

Scientists say sharp spikes in warming is linked to human-caused climate change and greenhouse emissions

In a video that went viral Monday, a glacier that sits atop a mountain about 200 meters high rumbled and broke off at Queulat National Park, located more than 1,200 kilometers south of Chile's capital.

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Detachments between masses of ice are normal, says University of Santiago climate scientist Raul Cordero, but he noted that the frequency of these events is troubling.

"Because this type of event is triggered by heat waves or by intense liquid precipitation events and both things are also happening more and more frequently throughout the planet, not only in Chile," Cordero said.

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According to Cordero, there was a heat wave with "very abnormal" temperatures in that area of Patagonia before the collapse.

Cordero added that an "atmospheric river" consisting of relatively warm air laden with moisture was also recorded. When this "river meets with Andean and Patagonian topography, it forms large clouds and discharges precipitation.

"One of the consequences of global warming is that it is destabilizing several glaciers and in particular some unstable glacier walls," said Cordero. "That is the case of what happened in the last few days in Patagonia in a similar way to what happened a couple of months ago in both the Himalayas and the Alps."

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Scientists say sharp spikes in warming is linked to human-caused climate change and greenhouse emissions. The UN climate science panel earlier this year said governments and industries should drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions to contain warming and limit climate impacts.