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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 05 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 05 Nov 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Glacier runoff variations since 1955 in the Maipo River Basin, semiarid Andes of central Chile

Álvaro Ayala1,2, David Farías-Barahona3, Matthias Huss1,2,4, Francesca Pellicciotti2,5, James McPhee6,7, and Daniel Farinotti1,2 Álvaro Ayala et al.
  • 1Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology (VAW), ETH Zurich, Zurich, 8093, Switzerland
  • 2Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Birmensdorf, 8903, Switzerland
  • 3Institut für Geographie, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, 91058, Germany
  • 4Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, 1700, Switzerland
  • 5Department of Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle, NE1 8ST, UK
  • 6Department of Civil Engineering, University of Chile, Santiago, 8370449, Chile
  • 7Advanced Mining Technology Centre (AMTC), University of Chile, Santiago, 8370451, Chile

Abstract. As glaciers adjust their size in response to climate variations, long-term changes in meltwater production can be expected, affecting the local availability of water resources. We investigate glacier runoff in the period 1955–2016 in the Maipo River Basin (4 843 km2), semiarid Andes of Chile. The basin contains more than 800 glaciers covering 378 km2 (inventoried in 2000). We model the mass balance and runoff contribution of 26 glaciers with the physically-oriented and fully-distributed TOPKAPI-ETH glacio-hydrological model, and extrapolate the results to the entire basin. TOPKAPI-ETH is run using several glaciological and meteorological datasets, and its results are evaluated against streamflow records, remotely-sensed snow cover and geodetic mass balances for the periods 1955–2000 and 2000–2013. Results show that glacier mass balance had a general decreasing trend as a basin average, but with differences between the main sub-catchments. Glacier volume decreased by one fifth (from 18.6 ± 4.5 to 14.9 ± 2.9 km3). Runoff from the initially glacierized areas was 186 ± 27 mm yr−1 (17 ± 7 % of the total contributions to the basin), but it shows a decreasing sequence of maxima, which can be linked to the interplay between a decrease in precipitation since the 1980s and the reduction of ice melt. If glaciers in the basin were in equilibrium with the climate of the last two decades, their volume would be reduced to 81 ± 38 % of the year 2000 volume, and glacier runoff during dry periods would be 61 ± 24 % of its maximum contribution in the period 1955–2016, considerably decreasing the drought mitigation capacity of the basin.

Álvaro Ayala et al.
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Álvaro Ayala et al.
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Short summary
We reconstruct past glacier changes (1955–2016) and estimate the committed ice loss in the Maipo River Basin (semiarid Andes of Chile), with a focus on glacier runoff. We found that glacier volume has decreased by one fifth since 1955, and that glacier runoff shows a sequence of decreasing maxima starting in a severe drought in 1968. As meltwater originating from the Andes plays a key role in this dry region, our results can be useful for developing adaptation or mitigation strategies.
We reconstruct past glacier changes (1955–2016) and estimate the committed ice loss in the Maipo...