Fluctuations of glaciers in the tropical Andes over the last millennium and palaeoclimatic implications : A review - INSU - Institut national des sciences de l'Univers Access content directly
Journal Articles Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology Year : 2009

Fluctuations of glaciers in the tropical Andes over the last millennium and palaeoclimatic implications : A review


The aim of this paper is to document the evolution of glaciers in the tropical Andes (between 10°N and 16°S) for the last millennium, based on moraines dated by lichenometry and radiocarbon, lake sediment records and historical documents. Viewed collectively, several glacial advances occurred synchronously. The first advance is dated around AD 1200–1350. The maximum glacial extent (MGE), defined as the furthest down-valley extent recorded synchronously by the majority of glaciers, occurred around 1630–1680 in Bolivia and Peru (the outer tropics) and around AD 1730 in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela (the inner tropics). Subsequently, during the 18th and 19th centuries, glaciers retreated continuously with only minor synchronous readvances. In the outer tropics, minor glacial advances occurred around 1730, 1760, 1800, 1850, and 1870. In the inner tropics, synchronous minor advances occurred around 1760, 1820 and 1880. Between the MGE and the early 20th century, glaciers lost about 30% of their total length. The retreat was slow between the 17th and 18th centuries but then became more marked. Use of the accumulation area ratio (AAR) method or historical observations in the different cordilleras revealed an increase in the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of about 300 m from the MGE onward. Palaeoclimatic hypotheses, based on glaciological models run in different countries, suggest a cool and humid period in the 16–18th centuries followed by a colder and drier period in the 19th century. The reduction of glaciers observed from the middle of the 19th century is due to increasingly warmer conditions than before. Here, quantitative estimates are proposed to explain the evolution of the glaciers. In Venezuela, results indicate for the period 1250–1820 that mean air temperatures were 3.2 ± 1.4 °C cooler and precipitation was about 22% higher than at present. In Ecuador, temperatures of between 0.8° and 1.1 °C lower than today, and between 25% and 35% higher accumulation than today, appear to have occurred in the 18th century, followed by a short drier but colder period at the beginning of the 19th century. In Bolivia, the MGE could be a consequence of a decrease in temperature of 1.1 to 1.2 °C, and a 20 to 30% increase in accumulation or an increase in cloudiness of about 1–2/10. We discuss not only external climatic forcing but also the coincidence between glacier expansion and a decrease in solar irradiance. Dating uncertainties, however, have made the role of volcanism in glacier fluctuations impossible to determine. Finally, we discuss the relationships between ENSO and glacier fluctuations in recent centuries, which do not match directly with current knowledge of modern teleconnections between tropical Pacific SSTs and variations in glacier mass balance.

Dates and versions

insu-00420860 , version 1 (29-09-2009)



Vincent Jomelli, Vincent Favier, Antoine Rabatel, Daniel Brunstein, Georg Hoffmann, et al.. Fluctuations of glaciers in the tropical Andes over the last millennium and palaeoclimatic implications : A review. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 2009, 281 (3-4), pp.269-282. ⟨10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.10.033⟩. ⟨insu-00420860⟩
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