The rupture process at the Perito Moreno Glacier

The Perito Moreno Glacier, in Patagonia, Argentina

One of the most unique shows of nature is the rupture of Perito Moreno Glacier. This phenomenon does not have a single repetition period. It means,breaks do not have a fixed periodicity. Traditionally it was estimated one every three or four years, but there have been times where they happened in shorter periods and others in which it did not occur for many years, fearing the possibility that the phenomenon would have stopped occurring. Breaks occurred in the years, 1917, 1935, 1940, 1942, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1972, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2004, 2006, 2008,  2012, 2013 (two events, one in January and one in December), 2016 and in March 2018 and 2019

The rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier: reasons

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most famous glaciers in the world, this amzing colossus of ice located in Los Glaciares National Park in the Patagonian region of Argentina is a  must-see when you visit the area of Patagonia. Now, while the Perito Moreno Glacier is known for its stability compared to many other glaciers worldwide, it undergoes a unique phenomenon known as “rupture” or “calving.”

The rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier refers to the periodic event where a large portion of ice breaks off from the glacier’s terminus and crashes into the surrounding water, creating a spectacular natural spectacle. This phenomenon occurs due to the glacier’s movement, which advances at a rate of approximately 2 meters per day.

The reasons of the rupture

The glacier continually moves forward due to gravity and the accumulation of snow and ice in the accumulation zone. As it advances, the glacier’s leading edge extends into the waters of Lake Argentino, forming a dam-like structure. The water from Lake Argentino exerts pressure against the glacier’s front wall. This pressure builds up over time and weakens the ice, contributing to the eventual rupture.

Temperature fluctuations, especially during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months, can accelerate the melting of ice and increase the pressure on the glacier. This melting weakens the structure of the ice, making it more prone to breaking. The rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier is a natural and cyclical process that occurs irregularly every few years. While the exact timing of the rupture cannot be predicted with precision, it typically happens between once every two to four years.

When a rupture occurs, massive chunks of ice, some as large as multi-story buildings, break off from the glacier’s face and crash into the waters below. The resulting spectacle is breathtaking, drawing tourists from around the world to witness the event.

The Perito Moreno Glacier’s rupture is not an indication of irreversible melting or deterioration of the glacier. It is a natural process driven by the glacier’s dynamics and environmental factors. Nonetheless, the Perito Moreno Glacier remains a significant point of interest for scientists studying climate change and glaciology, as it provides valuable insights into the behavior of glaciers in a changing climate.


The rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier, step by step

The Perito Moreno Glacier is a stable glacier that periodically creates a natural ice barrier, blocking the flow of water from the Brazo Rico/South to Lake Argentino through the Canal de los Témpanos.

The process continues as follows. The Rich Arm is endorsed (enclosed) and its level goes up until by the Archimedes buoyancy principle the pushing force exerted by the water on the dike equals its weight. When the ice takes off at some point in the rocky support, the water begins to filter and the breaking process begins, which is irreversible. 
This is not due to mechanical ice fracture but to the development of a sub-glacial canal. At the beginning, the water is filtered through a small subglacial canal, which is enlarged by the melting of the tunnel walls and the floating basal ice. The water pressure continues to erode the tunnel, which is rapidly enlarged by the spectacular falls of huge ice flakes detached from its vault and the water begins to pass like a torrent from Lake Rico to the Canal de Los Témpanos. Although the process has begun and the findings that the dike has been formed does not mean that it is “the Rupture” but the first of the stages and the duration of this will depend on different variables. It can last several months until reaching the final stage of Rupture.

When will be the next rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier?

Predicting the exact timing of the next rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier is challenging. While the glacier’s rupture is a natural and cyclical phenomenon, occurring irregularly every few years, the specific timing cannot be accurately forecasted. Typically, the rupture occurs approximately once every two to four years, but variations in environmental conditions and glacier dynamics can influence the timing.

Local authorities and scientists often monitor the glacier’s behavior and environmental factors to anticipate potential ruptures, but even with these efforts, the exact timing remains uncertain. Therefore, it’s difficult to determine precisely when the next rupture of the Perito Moreno Glacier will occur.


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Picture of Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez

25 years working in travel market, as Sales & Marketing Manager in RipioTurismo, Marketing Manager in Nuevas Ideas Travel Consulting Group. Writer and travel lover.

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