Development of snow and ice penitents in relation to their impact on surface meltwater production from snow and ice in the semi-arid Andes

In dry mountain areas such as the semi-arid Andes of Chile, meltwater from snow and ice is an important component of dry season regional water supply. In this, and other low-latitude regions, ablation processes on snow and ice fields commonly produce surface spires known as penitents. These grow over the course of a season from a few centimetres to >1m in height. As yet there are no measurements of:

  1. the timescales over which penitents develop,
  2. the processes that form them, and
  3. their net impact on the mass loss from snow and ice fields and their consequent impact on regional water resources. 

This research will fill these gaps by providing detailed measurements of the processes and geometrical changes of a developing penitent field over the course of one summer season. Penitents will be measured using a novel application of the Xbox Kinect sensor, to provide affordable, high-resolution 3D imagery, in conjunction with thermal images to reveal the distribution of melt within the penitent field. 

Project Leader: 
Funding Agencies: 

National Geographic Waitt Grant (W260-12)

Project Duration: 
11/01/2013 to 12/01/2014