Articles | Volume 8, issue 5
Research article
03 Sep 2012
Research article |  | 03 Sep 2012

Modelling and climatic interpretation of the length fluctuations of Glaciar Frías (north Patagonian Andes, Argentina) 1639–2009 AD

P. W. Leclercq, P. Pitte, R. H. Giesen, M. H. Masiokas, and J. Oerlemans

Abstract. We explore the climatic information contained in the record of length fluctuations of Glaciar Frías, in the north Patagonian Andes of Argentina. This record is one of the longest and most detailed glacier records in southern South America, starting in 1639. In order to interpret the length variations of Glaciar Frías since the maximum Little Ice Age extent, we use a combination of a simplified surface energy-balance model to calculate the glacier mass balance, and a flowline model to account for the dynamical response of the glacier to changes in the climatic forcing. The overall retreat of the glacier observed over 1639–2009 is best explained by an annual mean temperature increase of 1.2 °C or a decrease in annual precipitation of 34%, most of which would have occurred during the 20th century. The glacier model is also forced with two independent tree-ring and multi-proxy reconstructions of precipitation and temperature. The uncertainties in these reconstructions are rather large, leading to a wide range in the modelled glacier length that includes most of the observations. However, in both reconstructions, the mid-17th century seems to be too cold and the early 19th century too warm to explain the observed glacier lengths with the glacier model forced with the reconstructions. Forcing with reconstructed precipitation and temperature separately shows that the influence of historical variations in precipitation on the glacier fluctuations of Glaciar Frías is smaller than that of the temperature fluctuations. This suggests that the observed 1639–2009 retreat could be best explained by a warming close to 1.2 °C.