Spatial distribution of active and inactive rock glaciers and protalus ramparts in a sector of the Central Andes of Argentina

C.D. Villarroel, A.P. Forte


Rock glaciers and protalus ramparts are two of the main morphological features of the Central Andes in the Province of San Juan, Argentina. This sector of the Andes has one of the highest densities of occurrence of rock glaciers in the world. In this region, which has semiarid climatic characteristics, the presence of these landforms is important due to their solid state water reserves and as water resource regulators. Their occurrence is vital in several basins where, due to the lack of glaciers, debris-covered glaciers and perennial snow patches, rock glaciers are the only solid-state water reserves. However, the topo-climatic factors controlling the development and evolution of rock glaciers and protalus ramparts are not well known, which prevents an integrated management of the basins. This contribution, first, analyzes the spatial distribution of active and inactive rock glaciers and of protalus ramparts with respect to different topographic variables in the upper section of the Santa Cruz River basin. In total, 375 landforms have been inventoried, out of which 83 are active rock glaciers, 81 are inactive and 211 are protalus ramparts, covering an area of 13.09 km2 (3.03 % of the total area). The active periglacial environment belt occurs between 4000 and 4200 m a.s.l. and slopes with a southwesterly aspect have a greater development of active rock glaciers. Secondly, the evolution of such landforms is addressed. While the development of protalus ramparts does not seem to be mainly controlled by the topographic variables analyzed, the evolution of protalus ramparts in rock glaciers would be mainly controlled by elevation and aspect. Besides, there are local topo-climatic factors that contribute to the development of such landforms.


periglacial environment; rock glacier; protalus rampart; Central Andes

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