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Keywords:

  • Patagonia;
  • ice sheet;
  • North Patagonian Icefield;
  • deglaciation;
  • ice-dammed lakes;
  • river diversion

ABSTRACT. We examine the deglaciation of the eastern flank of the North Patagonian Icefield between latitudes 46° and 48°S in an attempt to link the chronology of the Last Glacial Maximum moraines and those close to present-day outlet glaciers. The main features of the area are three shorelines created by ice-dammed lakes that drained eastwards to the Atlantic. On the basis of 16 14C and exposure age dates we conclude that there was rapid glacier retreat at 15–16 ka (calendar ages) that saw glaciers retreat 90–125 km to within 20 km of their present margins. There followed a phase of glacier and lake stability at 13.6–12.8 ka. The final stage of deglaciation occurred at c. 12.8 ka, a time when the lake suddenly drained, discharging nearly 2000 km3 to the Pacific Ocean. This latter event marks the final separation of the North and South Patagonian Icefields. The timing of the onset of deglaciation and its stepped nature are similar to elsewhere in Patagonia and the northern hemisphere. However, the phase of lake stability, coinciding with the Antarctic Cold Reversal and ending during the Younger Dryas interval, mirrors climatic trends as recorded in Antarctic ice cores. The implication is that late-glacial changes in southern Patagonia were under the influence of the Antarctic realm and out of phase with those of the northern hemisphere.