Did you know there are glaciers in South America?

There are, and they're beautiful! The Patagonian ice fields, located in the southern Patagonia Andes of Chile and Argentina, are the largest ice mass in the Southern Hemisphere with the exception of Antarctica, and the third largest freshwater reserve in the world.

While ice, snow, and glaciers might not be what comes to mind when you think of South America, near the southernmost part of the continent, that's exactly what you'll find.


All photos by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photojournalist Mario Tama recently visited the ice field, capturing the beauty of the ice formations alongside the signs of the toll climate change has taken on the area.

The southern ice field is roughly five times the size of Rhode Island.

The southern ice field is made up of roughly 50 glaciers and runs across parts of Argentina and Chile.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

In 1937, Argentina established Los Glaciares National Park to preserve a vast region of Patagonia.

It's unique ecosystem combines things like waterfalls, rivers, forests, and, yes, glaciers.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

People walking across the Perito Moreno Glacier in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

UNESCO inscribed Los Glaciares National Park as a "World Heritage" in 1981.

UNESCO describes the park as "an area of exceptional natural beauty, with rugged, towering mountains and numerous glacial lakes."

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Glaciers sometimes look bluish in color because of light refraction.

Part of a glacier breaks off as the result of melting. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

The U.S. National Parks Service explains this phenomenon (and how you can experience it for yourself):

"Because the red (long wavelengths) part of white light is absorbed by ice and the blue (short wavelengths) light is transmitted and scattered. The longer the path light travels in ice, the more blue it appears. So... why is snow white? Light does not penetrate into snow very far before being scattered back to the viewer. However, the next time you are in an igloo, notice that it is blue inside. You can also poke a stick into some snow, shade the area around the hole, and look deep into the snow pack. The light that has traveled some distance through the snow will be enhanced in blue."

Between 2000 and 2012, these glaciers melted at a rate roughly 1.5 times faster than ever previously recorded.

Melting occurs throughout the glacier, and while it may not be completely uniform in pattern, recent studies suggest it's becoming more normalized throughout. Which means the whole glacier is starting to melt at roughly the same rate.

Melted glacial ice floats in Los Glaciares National Park. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

The rapidly melting glaciers are leading to rising sea levels.

Melting of glaciers and ice caps are the biggest contributors to rising sea levels around the world. As glaciers melt, the freshwater stored within gets dumped into surrounding bodies of water. If unchecked, this could pose disastrous consequences for people around the world.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

As is the case for other glaciers around the world, it's climate change that's driving the melt-off.

Glaciers and other ice structures are some of the most impressive natural storers of climate information. As glaciers have been around for a very long time, they've existed through warming and cooling periods. Recent data extracted from glaciers, however, shows that the modern melt-off is different from naturally occurring fluctuations.

This is Lake Argentino, which holds runoff water from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Horses run outside Los Glaciares National Park. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Some say it's too late to stop the melting, but that doesn't mean we should give up.

Dr. Ian Joughin of the University of Washington explained to the New York Times that climate change has destabilized glacier-covered areas, and without a stabilization mechanism, we'll continue to see glaciers melting.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Climate change is very real, and in addition to wiping glaciers from the earth, there are other dire consequences.

Rising sea levels may make some currently populated places totally uninhabitable. Additionally, due to climate change, the world can expect to see an increase in unseasonable and unpredictable storms, more droughts, and more heat waves.

But there are things we can (and should) do to help stop it. Like urging politicians to take action.

Over the next two weeks, 150 world leaders are meeting in Paris to discuss what we, as human beings, can do to preserve our planet and fight climate change. Some individuals don't believe we should take action, and some even doubt the reality of climate change (although 97% of the world's climate scientists assure humanity that yes, it is very real).

But meaningful change starts with letting our elected officials know that yes, this is an issue worth prioritizing for the sake of our world and generations to come.

So before the glaciers say their final "goodbye," let's do something about it!