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Glacier protection laws: Potential conflicts in managing glacial hazards and adapting to climate change


The environmental, socioeconomic and cultural significance of glaciers has motivated several countries to regulate activities on glaciers and glacierized surroundings. However, laws written to specifically protect mountain glaciers have only recently been considered within national political agendas. Glacier Protection Laws (GPLs) originate in countries where mining has damaged glaciers and have been adopted with the aim of protecting the cryosphere from harmful activities. Here, we analyze GPLs in Argentina (approved) and Chile (under discussion) to identify potential environmental conflicts arising from law restrictions and omissions. We conclude that GPLs overlook the dynamics of glaciers and could prevent or delay actions needed to mitigate glacial hazards (e.g. artificial drainage of glacial lakes) thus placing populations at risk. Furthermore, GPL restrictions could hinder strategies (e.g. use of glacial lakes as reservoirs) to mitigate adverse impacts of climate change. Arguably, more flexible GPLs are needed to protect us from the changing cryosphere.

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This research was supported by the RCUK-CONICYT project MR-N026462-1 “Glacial Hazards in Chile: Processes, Assessment, Mitigation, and Risk Management Strategies” and a VRIEA-PUCV project. This study was kindly supported with TanDEM-X data under DLR AO XTI_GLAC0264. David Farías acknowledge the support of Becas Chile, CONICYT. We thank Mark Carey and Alejandra Mancilla for commenting on an early draft of this work. We also thank two reviewers whose comments helped to strengthen our text.

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Correspondence to Pablo Iribarren Anacona.

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Anacona, P.I., Kinney, J., Schaefer, M. et al. Glacier protection laws: Potential conflicts in managing glacial hazards and adapting to climate change. Ambio 47, 835–845 (2018).

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  • Andes
  • Glacial hazards
  • Glacier protection laws
  • GLOF
  • Mining