The Southern Patagonian Ice Field
of Chile and Argentina hosts a spectacular array of glaciers and
associated glacial features within the southern Andes Mountains.
Glaciers flowing downhill on the eastern side of the mountains have
outlets into several large freshwater lakes. On the western side of the
mountains, glaciers release ice into the Pacific Ocean via an intricate
network of fjords. Fjords are steep
valleys originally cut by glaciers during periods of lower sea level
that are now inundated. As glaciers flow into the fjord, ice at the
front of the glacier begins to break off and form icebergs that can
float out to sea—a process known as calving.
This detailed astronaut photograph shows the merged outlet of
Penguin Glacier and HPS 19 into a fjord carved into the snow-covered
mountains of the southern Andes. The designation HPS stands for Hielo
Patagónico Sur (Southern Patagonian Icefield) and is used to identify
glaciers that have no other geographic name. Ice flowing into the fjord
begins to break up at image center, forming numerous icebergs. The
largest visible in this image is approximately 2 kilometers in width.
The large ice masses visible at image center have a coarse granular
appearance due to variable snow cover, and mixing and refreezing of ice
fragments prior to floating free.
Astronaut photograph ISS020-E-39083
was acquired on September 6, 2009, with a Nikon D3 digital camera
fitted with an 800 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth
Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 20 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program
supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that
will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public and to make
those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken
by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.