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Understanding the role of rock and debris-covered glaciers in the hydrological system of the Chilean Andes



The Andean cryosphere is an important water resource for downstream populations and is in steep decline as a result of recent climatic change. Rock and debris-covered glaciers are particularly common in the region, yet their role in the hydrologic system is poorly understood. This project uses a wide variety of field and remote sensing data to model the contributions of rock and debris-covered glaciers to long-term past and future streamflows from multiple high-elevation Chilean Andean river catchments. It aims to improve our understanding of the quantity and seasonality of such contributions, and to improve the way in which rock and debris-covered glaciers are represented in glacio-hydrological models. Crucially, it will improve our understanding of how streamflows, and consequently water availability, will change at local scales towards the end of the century.


Study area(s)

Two key study areas for this project are the Coquimbo region, in dry northern Chile, and the Rio Yeso river catchment, east of Santiago. Within the Coquimbo region is the Tapado glacier complex (see photo above), which comprises a clean-ice glacier, a debris-covered glacier and several rock glaciers. Within the Rio Yeso river catchment are the clean-ice Bello and Yeso glaciers, and the debris-covered Piramide glacier.

Coquimbo region

  • Tapado: -30.154998°, -69.922050°
  • Llano de las Liebres: -30.248309°, -69.949374°

Rio Yeso catchment

  • Piramide: -33.576869°, -69.890084°
  • Bello: -33.528795°, -69.943148°
  • Yeso: -33.531131°, -69.918909°