Reconstructing Glacier Change Between 33°S and 35°S in the Chilean Andes since the Last Glacial Maximum

Grantham Scholar Charlotte Curry is researching glaciers in the Andes and the long-term impact of mining on glacier evolution.

The project

Anthropogenic activity is causing glaciers to change rapidly across the Andes. Firstly, as global temperatures rise, mountain glaciers are generally shrinking in response to warmer atmospheric conditions and reduced snowfall. Secondly, the extraction and use of natural resources drives increased atmospheric pollution through the production of dust and vehicle emissions, resulting in enhanced melting where glaciers are in close proximity to active mines (such as in the Olivares Basin, Chile). Despite the obvious importance of glaciers as drought-resistant water resources in this arid region, the impact of mining on glacier behaviour is poorly understood.

My project investigates the glaciers of the Central Chilean Andes on two spatio-temporal scales. To understand long-term glacier evolution, I combine geomorphological mapping with cosmogenic nuclide exposure-age dating to create a moraine geochronology, which is then used in conjunction with an ice flow model (iSOSIA) to simulate glacial change since the Last Glacial Maximum between 33°S and 35°S.

On shorter time scales, I investigate the evolution of the Olivares Glaciers (33°S) since the late 20th century, to assess the impact of supraglacial mining dust deposition from the neighbouring copper mines. I combine spectral reflectance data with coupled ice flow and surface mass balance models (iSOSIA and COSIPY), to explore the feedbacks between dust transport and glacier mass balance, to ultimately understand the impact of mining dust on glacier evolution.

The overarching aim of this work is to understand the impact of mining on glacier evolution, in the context of long-term glacier change in the Central Chilean Andes.

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Dr Ann Rowan

Department of Geography