Late Quaternary glaciation in the Cordillera Occidental, Central Andes (16 to 22°S)
Glacial geomorphology contains information about former climate which is required for modelling global climate change. Most peaks over 5500 m in the Cordillera Occidental show signs of former glaciation although few at present support perennial ice. Cirque headwalls, large sub-parallel lateral moraines, terminal moraines and minor re-advance moraines were measured at six representative study sites, as were active and inactive rock glaciers. The largest sets of lateral moraines are assumed to have formed when glaciers were in equilibrium at the peak of the last glaciation, and a succession of minor re-advance moraines was probably deposited during retreat of the ice. The radiometric age determinations corroborate existing opinion that this retreat began in the central Andes around 14 000-11 500 years BP. Reconstructed former equilibrium lines on fourteen selected palaeo-glaciers range in altitude from 4625 m at 16°S to 4775 m at 22°S. Five methods of former ELA reconstruction were tested based on geomorphological evidence collected in the field. The results imply lowering of the ELA caused by lower temperatures and increased precipitation compared to the present. The maximum extent of glaciation in the Cordillera Occidental appears to have been reached late in the last glacier cycle because of a shortage of available moisture which inhibited glacier growth when temperatures were colder. Active rock glaciers appear to respond to the thermal rather than the hydric regime and terminate close to the 0°C isotherm which was 300 m lower during deglaciation than at present.