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The life of a glacier in the Patagonian ice fields

Chile patagonia carretera austral ice calving from leones glacier c pura aventura thomas power

It's a strange life being a glacier. From afar you appear mute, frozen still and as permanant as the mountains down which you tumble or the lagoons over whom you stand watch. You are rather eerie, indestructible and frankly devoid of any life.

On approach things take on a different aspect. A glimmer of blue light reflects in your walls. A small groan escapes your surface. A chunk of ice slides off and drops into the lagoon below.

You come alive.

Look closer and its apparent that, rather than existing independently from the mountains and the lagoon, you are entwined in a delicate yet powerful interplay. The mountain peaks strip the moisture from the Pacific winds and deposit it at the top of your body. At the other end you drop sheets of ice into the water below, causing it to swell and deliver some of its contents to distant fjords, rivers and lakes.

The rate at which this happens leaves you vulnerable. Suddenly scientists from across the globe are fussing over you. They measure your retreats and spread worrying warnings of your impending doom. And apparently its us humans that are beckoning forth your demise.

The jagged tips of the Leones Glacier in the Northern Ice FieldThe jagged tips of the Leones Glacier in the Northern Ice Field

Of course, it never used to be this way. Back in the golden age of glaciers your ancestors dominated the landscapes. The great Patagonian Ice Field covered the whole of Southern Chile, stretching eastwards into Argentina. There we were no borders back then because these countries didn't yet exist; there were no nations, no maps and no people to size you up and worry about your weight loss.

Had today's countries existed 18,000 years ago, your nation would have covered an area tantamount to Spain. Now only 4% remains. It has been melted down, broken up and split in two. Your empire has diminished to less than the size of Slovenia.

No wonder then that you can be surly. You moan and groan constantly. You calve huge chunks of ice from your body and throw them furiously into the water below with a crash to warn visitors against invading your personal space. Sometimes it doesn't work - we strap on our ice boots and crunch our way across your surface. Your feet are numb, entrenched for so long in the icy lagoon. You're frozen stiff from head to toe, cold and lonely with only the birds for company. And you don't even return their calls.

Pura Aventura co-founder Thomas Power inside the Exploradores GlacierPura co-founder Thomas Power inside the Exploradores Glacier

But is that not a chink of life I spy there? Is that shimmering blue light a twinkle in your eye? Are the moans perhaps purrs of delight that your loneliness has been interrupted by these intrepid visitors? Maybe the showers of immense ice blocks are actually you just playing to the gallery. I think you like the attention after all. Who doesn't want to pose for photos for an adoring crowds? I think it's enough to melt even the coldest heart.

Perhaps then you've heard that the humans do care. You know deep down that they're here to admire, to understand and to learn. Sure, some come on comfy 'expedition' ships more full of complimentary alcoholic spirit than their own adventurous spirit. But boy do you make an impression. No one has ever surveyed you up and down and shrugged their shoulders.

More than a victim of climate change, you are a champion of change. A messenger cajoling explorers to find a renewed awareness of its destructive effects. You stand proud and display Mother Nature at her most powerful and most vulnerable.

Inanimate wall of ice? I think not.

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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