Los Glaciares National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) is home to one of Patagonia’s greatest marvels: Glacier Perito Moreno. Located in El Calafate, Argentina, the glacier is considered by many to be the 8th natural wonder of the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, the park draws nearly one hundred thousand visitors each year, making it one of the region’s most popular attractions.
Here are ten amazing facts about Glacier Perito Moreno!
About every four or five years the glacier advances enough to reach the shore of Argentino Lake, damming the southern portion arm of the lake, as known as ‘Brazo Rico’, against the huge wall of ice. The water level on the ‘Brazo Rico’ side can rise as much as 60 meters (almost 200 feet) above the surface of Argentino Lake. The tremendous pressure created by the dammed water eventually breaks the wall of ice, causing a massive rupture and sending huge shards of glacier into the lake. The first recorded rupture occurred in 1917, while the latest rupture occurred on January 19, 2013.
2. Growing glacier
Glacier Perito Moreno is one of only three glaciers in the world that grows rather than retreat. For reasons yet to be fully understood by glaciologists, the glacier not only grows at an average rate of two meters (almost 7 feet) per day, but also loses a proportional amount of mass each day, ensuring that the equilibrium of the glacier’s mass and size remains consistent year round.
3. Impressive scale
At over 3 miles (5 km) in width, the glacier boasts not only an impressive height of 240 feet (about 74 meters) above the surface of Lago Argentino (Argentino Lake), but also reaches a total depth of 170 meters (558 feet) below the water’s surface.. The glacier covers an area of 97 square miles (250 sq. km) across a 19-mile stretch (30 km) of vast expanse, with the greatest depth measured at 2,297 feet (700 meters).
4. Fresh water
Glacier Perito Moreno is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.
Situated in Los Glaciares National Park (Parque National Los Glaciares), Glacier Perito Moreno is one of Patagonia’s most visited sites. Besides a visit to the national park, popular excursions include ‘mini-trekking’ (hour and a half) and ‘big ice’ (five hours) tours, where guides can take you trekking onto the glacier!
6. Francisco Moreno
The glacier is named after Francisco Moreno, a 19th century explorer who played an important role in protecting and defending Argentina’s territory in the border conflict with Chile.
7. UNESCO World Heritage site
In 1981, UNESCO declared Los Glaciares National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) a World Heritage Site. Along with Glacier Perito Moreno, the park boasts many other popular trekking and hiking destinations, including Mount Fitzoy (El Chaltén).
The glacier may be a beautiful sight, but you wouldn’t want to venture too close to it. Since 1968 and 1988, 32 people have been killed after being hit by large shards of ice, jettisoned dozens of meters away following the rupture of the glacier.
The best time to view the rupture is in the afternoon when the sun warms the glacier enough to cause large shards of ice to fall seemingly almost every half hour or so.
10. Southern Patagonian Ice Field
Glacier Perito Moreno is one of 48 glaciers that comprise the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. With an area of 16,800 km² (6,800 mi²) it is the second largest contiguous ice field in the world, stretching across the southern Andes, measuring almost 220 miles (355 km) long and 30 miles (48 km) wide. Along with the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, these present day ice fields are remnants of the last Ice Age (18,000-17,500 years ago), when all of southern Chile and Argentina was covered in a thick sheet of ice (an area estimated to be about 480,000 km² or just under 300,000 mi²).