Perito Moreno, a glacier off the Argentine coast, is one of three glaciers in the world that is growing instead of shrinking.
Santa Cruz, Argentina
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
From within the Perito Moreno glacier’s varying shades of icy-blues and whites come loud groans and creaks that signal movement and growth as the glacier slowly reaches toward land. Unlike most of the 47 glaciers here in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field of Argentina and Chile, Perito Moreno is one of three glaciers that isn’t retreating, it’s advancing. Every day it moves several feet as it calves off the same amount. Glaciologists call this equilibrium.
Perito Moreno’s massive 19-mile-long-by-3-mile-wide ice field’s walls shoot up 200 feet from the surrounding gray-blue waters of Lake Argentino. Half a million visitors flock to see the natural spectacle each year. This UNESCO World Heritage park has 2-1/2 miles of walkways offering tourists up-close views of both the north and south glacial faces. Intrepid visitors can take boat or ice-walking trips.
Scientists aren’t sure why this particular glacier is stable while most of the other glaciers in the region are melting and retreating. The Upsala and Viedma glaciers, two larger glaciers north of Perito Moreno, have retreated dramatically. A constant climate is needed to keep glaciers stable, says Dr. Samuel Nussbaumer of World Glacier Monitoring Service. Climate change is blamed for the worldwide meltdown of most glaciers.
Glaciers account for the majority of the world’s freshwater resources, an important fact to this relatively dry South American country. In an effort to stem further glacial degradation Argentina recently enacted a law to protect glacial areas from mining.