Glaciers in Patagonia
Patagonia is an amazing place and one of the highgliths are the glaciers. But, what´s a glacier? Let´s start for the beginning:
Patagonia Glaciers: What is a glacier?
A glacier is a compressed mass of ice -formed over thousands of years when snow falls continuously and remains stable throughout the year-, which has a rigorous balance and an important function for living beings.
The snow accumulates year after year in layers. These layers are compressed by their own weight and the action of gravity. Although they are one of the largest objects on the planet, glaciers move. They are able to flow slowly like rivers and pass between mountains. Therefore, there are some mountain forms that are created from the movement of glaciers.
With global warming, the existence of glaciers is drastically decreasing. They are a great source of fresh water on the planet, along with rivers and lakes. A glacier is considered a vestige of the last Ice Age. This is because, even though the temperatures have risen, they have not melted. They have been able to maintain themselves for thousands of years and fulfill their natural function.
When the Ice Age ended, higher temperatures in the lower areas caused it to melt. After their disappearance, they have left spectacular landforms such as U-shaped valleys.
Glaciers in Patagonia: El Calafate, the gate to visit Los Glaciares National Park
When you think to visit the glaciers area in Patagonia, you have to reach El Calafate, located in Santa Cruz Province. It´s a small village with hotels, restaurants and all the tourist infraestructure for the visitors. From there, you can visit the incredible Perito Moreno Glacier and many other glacieres in Los Glaciares National Park.
Glaciers in Patagonia: Los Glaciares National Park
One of the must-see in Patagonia is the Perito Moreno Glacier and Los Glaciares National Park. Some general facts first:
Location: Province of Santa Cruz
Ecoregion: Patagonian Forests and Patagonian Steppe
Surface: 726,927 hectares
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981
Los Glaciares National Park preserves an extensive area of continental and glacial ice, the southern Andean-Patagonian forest and sectors of the Patagonian steppe. It is the most extensive of the Argentine national parks. In the forests the lenga, the ñire and the sour cherry stand out. As you descend from the mountain ranges, you will find the calafate and the notro, whose striking red flowers are visited by the ruby hummingbird and a multitude of insects. Finally, to the east is the Patagonian steppe with its characteristic grasslands and stunted and thorny shrubs such as the coirón, the neneo and the guanaco bush.
Among the birds you can find the Andean condor, the black eagle, the giant woodpecker, the pythio and the torrent duck. In addition, you can see the emblematic huemul, whose southernmost population finds refuge in this park, while other mammals present in the area are the red fox and the puma.
The Moreno glacier acquires tourist relevance due to its easy access, its imposing beauty and a unique natural event: the periodic process of breaking its front. The landscape is completed with the presence of lagoons and melt rivers, lakes and imposing hills such as El Chaltén or Fitz Roy and Torre.
The Perito Moreno glacier and the Chaltén hill are two symbolic elements of the protected area with worldwide recognition. The first has a length of about 30 km and a front of 4 to 5 km on the southern arm of Lake Argentino. Cerro Chaltén measures 3,405 meters above sea level. and it is a destination sought after by climbers from all over the world.
Patagonia Glaciers: Main glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park
The glaciers we can see in Los Glaciares National Parks are part of the Continental Southern Ice Field. Of course the Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier, but let´s start for the less famous first:
Patagonia Glaciers: Ameghino Glacier
Baptized by Father De Agostini to remember the great Argentine sage Carlos Ameghino, who made important trips to the Patagonian region in search of fossils.
In February 2011 its length was 16.3 km and it covered an area of 54.9 km²
It rises at about 2,200 meters, moves south to north and ends on the Ameghino lagoon where it forms a front 720 meters wide and between 30 and 35 meters high.
Like most Patagonian glaciers, it is in retreat. Between 1970 and 2009 the front retreated 4.8 km and lost an area of 5.7 km².
Patagonia Glaciers: Mayo Glacier
Baptized by the Perito Francisco Pascasion Moreno, the Mayo glacier is located in the steepest and narrowest part of the Southern Patagonian Ice. It has a total area of 40.1 km² and is 14.5 km long. Its distinctive feature are the warheads: alternately light and dark bands originating in the cracked areas of the ice, where it has a steep slope and little thickness. There the dust penetrates the crevices during the summers, and in the winters the layers of snow act as protection. Also interesting are the bands of debris produced by rock avalanches.
Patagonia Glaciers: Viedma Glacier
The Viedma Glacier is the largest in Argentina and the longest in South America. Some interesting general facts about Viedma Glacier:
Ice area: 972 km² (total, with rocky outcrops: 1022 km²)
Length: 70 km
Status: retreat, but less than other large glaciers in the Southern Ice Field
In 1782 the sailor Antonio de Viedma was the first European to discover the lake and the glacier. Its 977 km² area, (1022 km², with rocky outcrops) make it the largest glacier in Argentina, and the 2nd largest in South America. It has 70 km measured from its sources in the Lautaro Volcano to the front, making it the longest in the South Patagonian Ice and in all of South America.
Compared to the other large glaciers, it experienced much less retreat. Very distinctive features of this glacier are also the Viedma nunatak, mistaken in the past as remains of a volcanic cone and the three bands of volcanic ash, unmistakable vestiges of important past eruptions of the nearby Lautaro Volcano.
Patagonia Glaciers: Spegazzini Glacier
With an ice area of 134 km², a total length of 17 km, and a stable state, the Spegazzini Glacier is one of the visited glaciers in the park. Another of the glaciers named by Father de Agostini, bears the name of the Italian-Argentine botanist and mycologist. In 2010 it was 1.3 km wide, 17 km long, and an ice area of ~ 137km². It is another exception to the general retreat of the Patagonian glaciers: from 1968 to 2010 the front receded only 150 m, with a loss of only 0.07 km². In 1986 it was almost 1.4 km wide, 17 km long, and a surface area of 137 km². The dimensions remain almost the same, since it constitutes an exception to the general retreat of the glaciers, from 1968 to 2008 their area decreased only 0.03 km². The Spegazzini Glacier is characterized by having a high slope wall that gives rise to icebergs of very varied shapes and colors. The glacier is well supported on the bottom of the lake whose depth in that area is about 150 meters.
Patagonia Glaciers: the Upsala Glacier
The Upsala Glacier is the third in size in South America and the largest that discharges into Lago Argentino. It´s an amazing glacier, very famous in Los Glaciares National Park. With an ice area of 750 km2, a total lengh of 54 km and drastic decline in the ice mass, the Upsala Glacier was discovered in 1901 by H. Prichard who calls it "Giant's Glacier". In 1908 he was baptized by the geologist P.D. Quensel with the name of the Swedish city Uppsala. It is the third largest glacier in the HPS and in South America. It is very visited and known for the strong setback and weight loss it suffers from. According to the latest studies, in 1986 its area was 896 km², including rocky outcrops, and in 2011 it was 840 km², that is, it lost 56 km² of ice in 25 years.
From time to time large landslides occur, for example in September 2009 icebergs up to 1.4 km long, true "floating islands", were detached.
Patagonia Glaciers: The Perito Moreno Glacier
The most famous glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, and in Patagonia. A must-see for the international visitors to Patagonia. With an ice area of 250 km2, a total lengh of 35 km and a balance in the ice mass, the Perito Moreno Glacier is located in the Lago Argentino department of the Santa Cruz province, in the southwest of Argentina, in the Patagonia region.
This glacier originates from the South Patagonian ice field. On its descent, it reaches the southern arm of Lake Argentino, with a front of 5 km in length, emerging over the water with a height of about 60 m.
Thanks to its constant advance, it dams the waters of the Rico arm of said lake, which generates a difference in level with respect to the rest of the lake of up to 30 m. Due to the pressure of this liquid mass, leaks in the ice are produced which create a tunnel with a vault of more than 50 m which finally collapses, in an unusual natural spectacle, easily witnessed by tourists, making it the maximum attraction from Los Glaciares National Park, which it integrates.
Its name honors Francisco Moreno, director of the museum of the Argentine Scientific Society and active explorer of the southern part of that country.
Pataagonia Glaciers: What to do?
There are many and different activities you can enjoy in the glaciers area. Of course, one of the most usual and traditional is the excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier in a full day tour from El Calafate, located 80 km from our colossus of ice. The Safari Nautico is a boat navigation to see the Perito Moreno Glacier from the lake. But, you can enjoy some great adventure activities too, like the Minitrekking to walk over the ice of the glacier, or if you´re looking for something more, the Big Ice Trekking. Of, if you are a kayak lover, a good idea is to enjoy the Perito Moreno Kayaking Experience.
But of course, you can visit other glaciers and for that, a good boat navigation is perfect. We have different options, from the most traditional ones like the Rios de Hielo, to the Glaciers Gourmet Cruise or the Boat Navigations to Estancia Cristina.
Tours to visit Patagonia Glaciers
We have many, because the glaciers area is a must-see when you visit Argentina and Chile. One of my favorite tours is the Visiting Patagonia, a great itinerary from Buenos Aires and including Peninsula Valdes, Ushuaia and of course El Calafate and glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park.
Another great tours to visit the glaciers in Patagonia are:
More tours to visit Patagonia?
We have a complete list of tours including Patagonia. Take a look to our complete list of tours to visit Argentina and Chile and enjoy the incredible region of Patagonia!