Higher temperatures and rainfall that weaken ice walls caused part of a hanging glacier to break off at a national park in Chile’s Patagonia region in an event captured on video by tourists.
In a video that went viral Monday, a glacier that sits atop a mountain about 200 meters (656 feet) high rumbled and broke off at Queulat National Park, located more than 1,200 kilometres (746 miles) south of Chile’s capital.
Detachments between masses of ice are usual, says University of Santiago climate scientist Raul Cordero, but he noted that the frequency of these events is troubling.
“Because this type of event is triggered by heat waves or by intense liquid precipitation events and both things are also happening more and more frequently throughout the planet, not only in Chile,” Cordero said.
According to Cordero, there was a heat wave with “very abnormal” temperatures in that area of Patagonia before the collapse.
Cordero also recorded an “atmospheric river” consisting of relatively warm air laden with moisture. When this “river meets with Andean and Patagonian topography, it forms large clouds and discharges precipitation.
“One of the consequences of global warming is destabilizing several glaciers and in particular some unstable glacier walls,” said Cordero. “That is the case of what happened in the last few days in Patagonia in a similar way to what happened a couple of months ago in both the Himalayas and the Alps.”
Scientists say sharp spikes in warming are linked to human-caused climate change and greenhouse emissions. The U.N. climate science panel earlier this year said governments and industries should drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions to contain warming and limit climate impacts.