Ancient Ice Islands in Salt Lakes of the Central Andes

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Science  20 Apr 1984:
Vol. 224, Issue 4646, pp. 299-302
DOI: 10.1126/science.224.4646.299


Massive blocks of freshwater ice and frozen sediments protrude from shallow, saline lakes in the Andes of southwestern Bolivia and northeastern Chile. These ice islands range up to 1.5 kilometers long, stand up to 7 meters above the water surface, and may extend out tens of meters and more beneath the unfrozen lake sediments. The upper surfaces of the islands are covered with dry white sediments, mostly aragonite or calcite. The ice blocks may have formed by freezing of the fresh pore water of lake sediments during the "little ice age." The largest blocks are melting rapidly because of possibly recent increases in geothermal heat flux through the lake bottom and undercutting by warm saline lake water during the summer.