Two decades of glacier mass loss along the Andes

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Abstract

Andean glaciers are among the fastest shrinking and largest contributors to sea level rise on Earth. They also represent crucial water resources in many tropical and semi-arid mountain catchments. Yet the magnitude of the recent ice loss is still debated. Here we present Andean glacier mass changes (from 10° N to 56° S) between 2000 and 2018 using time series of digital elevation models derived from ASTER stereo images. The total mass change over this period was −22.9 ± 5.9 Gt yr−1 (−0.72 ± 0.22 m w.e. yr−1 (m w.e., metres of water equivalent)), with the most negative mass balances in the Patagonian Andes (−0.78 ± 0.25 m w.e. yr−1) and the Tropical Andes (−0.42 ± 0.24 m w.e. yr−1), compared to relatively moderate losses (−0.28 ± 0.18 m w.e. yr−1) in the Dry Andes. Subperiod analysis (2000–2009 versus 2009–2018) revealed a steady mass loss in the tropics and south of 45° S. Conversely, a shift from a slightly positive to a strongly negative mass balance was measured between 26 and 45° S. In the latter region, the drastic glacier loss in recent years coincides with the extremely dry conditions since 2010 and partially helped to mitigate the negative hydrological impacts of this severe and sustained drought. These results provide a comprehensive, high-resolution and multidecadal data set of recent Andes-wide glacier mass changes that constitutes a relevant basis for the calibration and validation of hydrological and glaciological models intended to project future glacier changes and their hydrological impacts.

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Fig. 1: Andes-wide glacier mass balance rates averaged by 1° latitude and 1° longitude tiles.
Fig. 2: Delimitation of seven subregions and altitudinal distribution of glacier elevation change.
Fig. 3: Glacier mass change rate estimates from multiple methodologies.
Fig. 4: The seven main river basins used in the hydrological analyses.

Data availability

Rate of elevation change maps are distributed through PANGAEA platform (https://doi.pangaea.de/10.1594/PANGAEA.903618). Individual glacier mass balances will be provided through the World Glacier Monitoring Service database (https://wgms.ch/data_exploration/). The code used to generate ASTER DEMs from the freely available 1A images can be downloaded at https://github.com/FannyBrun/ASTER_DEM_from_L1A. Individual ASTER DEMs are also available upon request to the corresponding author (I.D.).

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Région Occitanie for PhD fellowship to I.D. E.B. also acknowledges the support from the CNES and the French Programme National de Télédétection Spatiale grant PNTS-2016-01. L.R., P.P. and M.M. acknowledge the support from Agencia de Promoción Científica (projects PICT 2010-1438 and PICT 2014-1794) and CONICET. ASTER images are courtesy of NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space systems and the US/Japan ASTER Science Team. This work was only possible thanks to the GLIMS project (www.glims.org/) which allowed the population of a vast archive of freely available ASTER stereo images over the glaciers. We thank the Ames Stereo Pipeline support and developer teams for their help. Most of the computation was performed using the Froggy platform of the CIMENT infrastructure (http://ciment.ujf-grenoble.fr), supported by the Rhone-Alpes region (grant CPER07_13 CIRA), the OSUG@2020 labex (reference ANR10 LABX56) and the Equip@Meso project (reference ANR-10-EQPX-29-01) of the Programme Investissements d’Avenir supervised by the French Agence National pour la Recherche. We are grateful to K. Moxham for reviewing the English.

Author information

I.D. and E.B. designed the study. I.D. performed the ASTER DEM analysis with inputs from F.B., R.H. and E.B. M.M. made the streamflow analysis. All the authors contributed to the interpretation of the results. I.D. led the writing of the paper and all the other co-authors contributed to it.

Correspondence to I. Dussaillant.

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