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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 22, issue 10 | Copyright

Special issue: Assessing impacts and adaptation to global change in water...

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 5445-5461, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 23 Oct 2018

Research article | 23 Oct 2018

Recent evolution and associated hydrological dynamics of a vanishing tropical Andean glacier: Glaciar de Conejeras, Colombia

Enrique Morán-Tejeda1, Jorge Luis Ceballos2, Katherine Peña2, Jorge Lorenzo-Lacruz1, and Juan Ignacio López-Moreno3 Enrique Morán-Tejeda et al.
  • 1Department of Geography. University of the Balearic Islands. Palma, Spain
  • 2Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales (IDEAM), Bogotá, Colombia
  • 3Pyrenean Institute of Ecology. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Zaragoza, Spain

Abstract. Glaciers in the inner tropics are rapidly retreating due to atmospheric warming. In Colombia, this retreat is accelerated by volcanic activity, and most glaciers are in their last stages of existence. There is general concern about the hydrological implications of receding glaciers, as they constitute important freshwater reservoirs and, after an initial increase in melting flows due to glacier retreat, a decrease in water resources is expected in the long term as glaciers become smaller. In this paper, we perform a comprehensive study of the evolution of a small Colombian glacier, Conejeras (Parque Nacional Natural de los Nevados) that has been monitored since 2006, with a special focus on the hydrological response of the glacierized catchment. The glacier shows great sensitivity to changes in temperature and especially to the evolution of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, with great loss of mass and area during El Niño warm events. Since 2006, it has suffered a 37% reduction, from 22.45ha in 2006 to 12ha in 2017, with an especially abrupt reduction since 2014. During the period of hydrological monitoring (June 2013 to December 2017), streamflow at the outlet of the catchment experienced a noticeable cycle of increasing flows up to mid-2016 and decreasing flows afterwards. The same cycle was observed for other hydrological indicators, including the slope of the rising flow limb and the monthly variability of flows. We observed an evident change in the daily hydrograph, from a predominance of days with a purely melt-driven hydrograph up to mid-2016, to an increase in the frequency of days with flows less influenced by melt after 2016. Such a hydrological cycle is not directly related to fluctuations of temperature or precipitation; therefore, it is reasonable to consider that it is the response of the glacierized catchment to retreat of the glacier. Results confirm the necessity for small-scale studies at a high temporal resolution, in order to understand the hydrological response of glacier-covered catchments to glacier retreat and imminent glacier extinction.

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Short summary
We studied the recent evolution of a small glacier in the Colombian Andes that is close to extinction, focusing on the water release from the glacier. For this we used hydro-climatological data collected at the the glacier surroundings at an hourly resolution. Our results indicate that water from glacier melt increased as a consequence of accelerated glacier retreat, but up to a certain point (mid-2016) it started to decrease, with glacier melt becoming decreasingly important.
We studied the recent evolution of a small glacier in the Colombian Andes that is close to...