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Exploradores Glacier closure: effects and adaptation to climate change

On October 31 2023, CONAF announced the definitive closure of the front sector of the Exploradores Glacier in the Puerto Río Tranquilo area, a tourist destination of great interest for lovers of adventure tourism, both national and international.

The reason behind this closure would be due to a landslide of approximately 16,459 hectares (154,590 m2, which is equivalent to more than 15 times the soccer field of the National Stadium) that occurred on October 7 on the edge of the lateral lagoon of the Exploradores Glacier. in the Laguna San Rafael National Park, generating cracks and endangering the glacier crossing activity offered in the area.

Image from the Sentinel-2 mission (European Space Agency) with 10m spatial resolution dated September 22 (left) and October 22 (right) 2023, obtained by Pablo Paredes Berríos.

As a preventive measure against this landslide, the Regional Director of CONAF, Loreto Pedrasa Manieu, announced the temporary closure of the ice walking route in the Exploradores Glacier until experts from the General Directorate of Water (DGA) and the Ministry of Works Public authorities to carry out an evaluation of the conditions of the glacier. Once this evaluation was carried out, on October 23, it was determined that the usual route to the glacier does not meet the safety standards necessary for the journey, which is why it was definitively closed.

After this, the authorities have met with the community and tourism associations to learn about the situation and look for new alternatives to provide ecotourism services in that sector of the park.

However, on the part of the community of Río Tranquilo and some tour operators who contacted us, there is great concern and annoyance about this closure, since losing this natural attraction permanently represents a very hard economic blow for the inhabitants of the sector, especially now that the high season begins in which the number of visitors increases considerably.

It is important to understand that glaciers are dynamic bodies of ice, advancing, retreating and changing over time and, in particular, the Exploradores Glacier has experienced constant retreat and significant thinning due to climate change. This glacier retreats approximately one meter each year (91 cm) and what was previously ice has become a lagoon, which means an accelerated fragmentation process. Another aspect that demonstrates the magnitude of its retreat is the time the glacier was sighted. Years ago, with only half an hour of walking you could walk on the glacier with white ice, however, today you have to travel a 3-hour journey.

The resolution issued by CONAF on October 31, together with Technical Minute No. 11, gives an account of the current conditions of the glacier, in terms of its temperature, height, surface and cracks, which represent a geographical instability that prevents the continuity of the walking activity. However, there is still no official and clear information regarding the measures that will be implemented to mitigate the economic impact of this closure for service providers and the entire community.

Unfortunately, climate change and its effects on nature are not something that we can stop immediately; there are even cases in which the damage has been irreparable. Therefore, as a society we must adapt to the new geographical scenarios and consider that we have to make changes in terms of our relationship with the environment.

Currently, almost all of Patagonia's glaciers are receding and experiencing thinning and the closure of the ice walking route at the Exploradores Glacier is a clear consequence of these effects, which invites us to reflect on the fragility of ecosystems and what complex that it is for communities that depend completely on tourism to lose their source of work.


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