The Cryosphere (May 2024)

Hydrological response of Andean catchments to recent glacier mass loss

  • A. Caro,
  • T. Condom,
  • A. Rabatel,
  • N. Champollion,
  • N. García,
  • F. Saavedra

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 18
pp. 2487 – 2507


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The impacts of the accelerated glacier retreat in recent decades on glacier runoff changes are still unknown in most Andean catchments, increasing uncertainties in estimating water availability. This particularly affects the outer tropics and Dry Andes, heavily impacted by prolonged droughts. Current global estimates overlook climatic and morphometric disparities, which significantly influence model parameters, among Andean glaciers. Meanwhile, local studies have used different approaches to estimate glacier runoff in a few catchments. Improving 21st-century glacier runoff projections relies on calibrating and validating models using corrected historical climate inputs and calibrated parameters across diverse glaciological zones. Here, we simulate glacier evolution and related runoff changes between the periods 2000–2009 and 2010–2019 across 786 Andean catchments (11 282 km2 of glacierized area, 11° N to 55° S) using the Open Global Glacier Model (OGGM). TerraClimate atmospheric variables were corrected using in situ data, getting a mean temperature bias by up to 2.1 °C and enhanced monthly precipitation. Glacier mass balance and volume were calibrated, where melt factor and the Glen A parameter exhibited significant alignment with varying environmental conditions. Simulation outcomes were validated against in situ data in three documented catchments (with a glacierized area > 8 %) and monitored glaciers. Our results at the Andes scale reveal an average reduction of 8.3 % in glacier volume and a decrease of 2.2 % in surface area between the periods 2000–2009 and 2010–2019. Comparing these two periods, glacier and climate variations have led to a 12 % increase in mean annual glacier melt (86.5 m3 s−1) and a decrease in rainfall on glaciers of −2 % (−7.6 m3 s−1) across the Andes, with both variables comprising the glacier runoff. We confirmed the utility of our corrected regional simulations of glacier runoff contribution at the catchment scale, where our estimations align with previous studies (e.g., Maipo 34° S, Chile) as well as provide new insights on the seasonal glaciers' largest contribution (e.g., La Paz 16° S, Bolivia) and new estimates of glacier runoff contribution (e.g., Baker 47° S, Chile).