Fastest Thinning Glacier

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Hielo Patagónico Sur 12 (HPS-12) in Patagonia is believed to be the fastest thinning glacier in the world.  Located a remote  part of the Chilean Andes, the glacier is thinning in parts at a rate of as much as 44 meters per year. Etienne Berthier, a glaciologist at the University of Toulouse, believes this makes HPS-12 the fastest thinning glacier in the world.  

Ice Loss in the Andes

Berthier was part of a team of researchers that looked at ice loss in the Andes, a region that is among the areas of the world experiencing the rate of glacier shrinkage in the world.  Subsequently, these glaciers are also one of the largest contributors to sea level rise.  

The study looked at Andean glacier mass changes between 2008 and 2018 using digital elevation models derived from ASTER stereo images.

For HPS-12 during that study period, a 4-kilometer-section near the glacier’s tongue experienced ice thinning ing at a rate of more than 30 meters per year.  The loss of ice can be seen in these false-color Landsat images taken in 1985 and 2019.  

In the images, snow and ice are light blue, water is dark blue, rocks are brown, and vegetation is green.  Use the slider to compare the two Landsat images.  In the center of the image, the underlying rock of the fjord is exposed due to ice loss by 2019.

The Study

Dussaillant, I., Berthier, E., Brun, F., Masiokas, M., Hugonnet, R., Favier, V., … & Ruiz, L. (2019). Two decades of glacier mass loss along the Andes. Nature Geoscience, 1-7. doi:10.1038/s41561-019-0432-5

Is HPS-12 the Fastest Thinning Glacier? NASA Earth Observatory

Data availability from this study (from the paper):



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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.