Amalia Glacier, Chile
After leaving Punta Arenas the ship headed south and then west in the straits of Magellan towards the Pacific Ocean. Once there we turned north and continued until we reached the the Nelson Straits which we entered and begun going east. Still under the guidance of a Chilean Fjord Pilot the ship navigated inland through the various channels towards the Amalia Glacier. The glacier came into sight in the Sarmiento Channel and the Captain positioned the ship in the bay in front of it on the starboard side. A tender was lowered to send the photographers out to photograph the ship with the passengers waving from our balconies in front of the Glacier. The Captain then swung the ship around to afford passengers on the port side a close view of the glacier. We spent a couple of hours in the channel facing the glacier and witnessing phenomenal scenery in cloudy but perfect weather conditions.
Amalia is located in the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park south of the Parque National Torres del Payne, along the Sarmiento Channel. Also known as Skua Glacier, it is a tide water glacier forming part of the Southern Patagonian Ice fields. Tide water glacier means it calves into the ocean or large lakes (break into smaller icebergs) but these are in retrocession as the glacier is retreating and losing ice.
Why is the ice blue?
The glacier colour is blue because glacier ice is more dense than normal ice and snow. Normal ice is full of air bubbles that disperse lightwaves. Light that enters it is reflected back. Glacial ice does not have such air pockets as the weight of the glacial ice compacts the air bubbles within it making it much more dense. When light penetrates glaciers it can go deeper. The longer (red) lightwaves get absorbed and “lost” in the depth of the ice and only the shorter blue light that does not go as deep is emitted back. Older ice is more blue than new ice that is not yet compacted by the weight of ice on top of it.
The Amalia glacier is retreating at the rate of about 7 km in the past 70 some years. Retreating means that ice melts or calving occurs and ice is lost at a faster rate than the glacier can replenish it and form new glacial ice. Henry Pollock, a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize says on the cover of his book A World without Ice:
“Nature’s best thermometer, perhaps its most sensitive and unambiguous indicator of climate change, is ice. When ice gets sufficiently warm, it melts. Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.”
The pristine wilderness invokes awe and wonderment. The silent, quiet beauty, the formidable Andes, the blue of the ice competing with sea and sky and the timelessness of it all invited contemplation of our place in the universe. Like humanity, glaciers are powerful yet fragile, affected by the passage of time. Our past and future intertwine. These slumbering giants are stirring, cracking their joints, shifting, warning. We need to listen.