A reconstruction of past changes in the North and Central Patagonian Ice-field, which plays a vital role in the hydrology of the region, suggests the field had suddenly contracted around 15,000 years ago after a southerly migration took westerly winds toward the South Pole, they said.
Such a migration has been observed again in modern times and is expected to be ongoing in a warming climate, scientists at Australia's University of New South Wales reported Monday.
Further ice declines in this area would affect seasonal water storage vital to Argentina and Chile, they said.
"Worryingly, this study suggests the region may well be on a trajectory of irreversible change, which will have profound impacts on agriculture and the increasing dependency on hydroelectric power in Chile and Argentina," Chris Fogwill of the UNSW Climate Change Research Center said.
"The ice-field in the Northern and Central region of the Patagonian ice-field are highly sensitive to precipitation and need this to remain healthy," he said.