Assessing the impact of climate change on the frequency of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in Patagonia
Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) constitute a major threat in glacierized regions. They cause considerable damage to infrastructure and frequently result in the loss of livestock and human lives. Although the frequency and magnitude of GLOFs seem to have increased worldwide in the last decades, there is currently no reliable scientific evidence supporting this claim, largely due to a lack of flood records on timescales that extend beyond gauged river-flow datasets. This issue is particularly pronounced in Patagonia, where 15 GLOFs were documented between 2008 and 2014. During these events, the discharge of Baker river, which drains most of the eastern side of the Northern Patagonian Icefield, increases from 500-1000 m3/sec to >3000 m3/sec, and river water level rises by 4-6 m.
This project investigates changes in GLOF frequency during the late Holocene (the last ~3000 years) by studying flood deposits recorded in the sediments of Baker fjord, and in elevated lakes and peatbogs along Baker river. In addition, sediment traps are used to study how modern GLOFs are recorded in fjords sediments, in combination with river and fjord monitoring data. The project combines the expertise of scientists active in sedimentology, glaciology, hydrology, oceanography, geochemistry, paleoclimatology, and environmental history. Ultimately, our results will be used to assess the possible relationships between GLOF frequency and climate variability.
PhD student (2016-2021): Elke Vandekerkhove
Vandekerkove et al. (2020). Modern sedimentary processes at the heads of Martínez Channel and Steffen Fjord, Chilean Patagonia. Marine Geology, 106076.
Vandekerkove et al. (2020). Neoglacial increase in high-magnitude glacial lake outburst flood frequency, upper Baker River, Chilean Patagonia (47°S). Quaternary Science Reviews, 106572.
Vandekerkhove et al (forthcoming). Signature of modern Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in fjord sediments (Baker River, Chile). Sedimentology