Morphometry and spatial distribution of glacial cirques in the Western Fuegian Andes of Argentina, southernmost South America

Lucas Oliva, Marcela A. Cioccale, Jorge O. Rabassa


Glacial cirques comprise a distinctive element of relief in alpine landscapes, and their morphometry, distribution and spatial arrangement are generally linked to morphoclimatic factors. This study provides an analysis of morphometric characteristics, floor altitude, aspect and distribution of 251 first-order and 99 "inner" cirques with regard to environmental agents in a selected alpine-type area of the southwestern Fuegian Andes, in Southern Argentina. Parametric variables were extracted and quantified from satellite images and a Digital Elevation Model, and integrated to a Geographical Information System for their systematization and processing. Significant associations were identified between the different geometric and spatial parameters evaluated. Variability in cirque morphometry along the study area suggests that their evolution was regulated to a large degree by glacial dynamics related to Beagle palaeoglacier activity, and by the W-E topographic gradient of the mountain section. The record indicates that most cirques in the Fuegian Andes have undergone allometric enlargement in the three dimensions (i.e., lesser vertical erosion compared to walls' horizontal expansion), with local variations in size and shape controlled by ice residence time, aspect and altitude, whereas geological structure is supposed to have affected cirque formation along the entire mountain chain. Cirque azimuth potentially responds to the combined influence of climate (solar radiation and westerly winds), structure (pervasive faulting and rock bedding) and topography in their development. In particular, dominance of southeasterly aspects is interpreted as a consequence of a relatively cloud-free atmosphere and aridity during past glacial periods in the region, consistently with published evidence. The absence of aspect-related variation in cirque floor altitude is considered to indicate incidence of extensive glaciations in the area (i.e., mostly ice-sheet conditions, with mountain peaks far above the regional equilibrium line altitude or ELA), as well as formation of younger, lower cirques during successive cold periods of different intensity. Occurrence of "inner" cirques inside larger (preexisting) cirques is thought to reflect a temporary positioning of the ELA just above the floor of the container cirque, permitting short-lived, small cirque-type glaciers to develop along structural bedrock weaknesses.


Glacial cirques; Allometry; Cirque distribution; Fuegian Andes; Tierra del Fuego

How to cite this article Oliva, L.; Cioccale, M.; Rabassa, J. 2020, Morphometry and spatial distribution of glacial cirques in the Western Fuegian Andes of Argentina, southernmost South America. Andean Geology 47 (2): 316-350. [doi:]