March 24, 2011

Colonia Glacier Retreat and Glacier Lake Outburst Floods

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Colonia Glacier drains east from the Northern Patagonia Icefield feeding the Baker River, Chile. The recent substantial retreat of Colonia Glacier like Glacier Nef just to its north is posing new hazards. The glacier is unusual in the number of lakes that are adjacent to or feed into the adjacent glacier damed or proglacial lakes. In the image below Lake A=Arco Lake, Lake B=East Terminal Lake, Lake C=Cachet 1 , Lake D= West terminal Lake, Lake E=Colonia Lake and Lake F=Cachet 2. The glaciers recent retreat and glacier lake outburst floods have been closely monitored by the Laboratorio de GlaciologĂ­a in Valdivia, Chile.Aniya and others (1999)observed that Colonia Glacier began a rapid retreat after 1985
Superimposition of a RADARSAT image from 1997 and a Landsat 1987 image indicated a retreat of
400 m, from 1997-2005 the retreat has further accelerated, with a general frontal retreat of 2.5 km. Rivera and others (2007) observed that the Colonia Glacier had lost 9.1 square kilometers of area from 1979-2001, which is 3% of the total glacier area. The Laboratorio de Glaciologia’s
In the spring of 2008 Baker River suddenly tripled in size, in less than 48 hours, roads, bridges, and farms were severely damaged. Lake Cachet 2 had vanished the 5 square kilometer glacial lake had emptied 200 million cubic meters of water in just a matter of hours. This lake drained beneath the glacier after sufficient water had filled the lake to buoy part of the glacier and subglacial conduits had begun to develop. Since Cachet 2 emptied in April 2008, the lake has emptied five more times October,
December 2008, March and September 2009 and March 2010, with peak flows released of 3000 cubic meters per second. Below are images of Cachet 2 half- full in Google Earth Imagery from Sept 2008 (note trimline above lake), and full after the flood on 5/28/2008 and empty on 4/8/2008, and lastly the image of the Colonia River’s wide fresh braided stream channel flowing into the Baker River. The newly deposited material from the flood is what makes the wide braided valley such a fresh sediment brown color. The two lakes at the terminus of the glacier did not exist in 1979, the western most terminus lake (B) drained into the easternmost terminus lake (D) via a sub-glacial tunnel after formation in the late 1980’s until 2005 when a channel was cut right through the glacier terminus. This is evident in the image below, there is still glacier ice on both sides of this drainage channel. The development and demise of glacier dammed lakes and the resultant problem of glacier lake outburst floods is not rare today, Imja Glacier, and Tulsequah Glacier are other examples. In the case of Baker River the outburst floods are a threat to the planned hydropower developments as documented by Dusaillant and others (2009). The Colonia Glacier retreat mirrors that of Glacier Nef the next major glacier to the north. Hidroaysen Project is proposing 5 dams on the Baker and Pascua River generating 2750 MW of power. Glacier Nef retreated 3400 m from 1945-2000, 2400 m retreat of the retreat occurred in the 1994 collapse of the terminus tongue into the proglacial lake, which is now 3.5 km long. This retreat includes that of , Gualas GlacierReichert Glacier, Steffen Glacier, and Nef Glacier.