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Using satellite images to monitor glacial-lake outburst floods–Lago Cachet Dos drainage

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Full Publication:

Product Type: Government Publication

Year: 2015

Authors: Friesen, B. A., C. J. Cole, D. A. Nimick, E. M. Wilson, M. J. Fahey, D. McGrath, and J. Leidich

Suggested Citation:
Friesen, B. A., C. J. Cole, D. A. Nimick, E. M. Wilson, M. J. Fahey, D. McGrath, and J. Leidich. 2015. Using satellite images to monitor glacial-lake outburst floods–Lago Cachet Dos drainage. USGS Geophysical Investigation Map 3322, scale 1:15,000. doi:10.3133/sim3322


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is monitoring and analyzing glacial-lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the Colonia valley in the Patagonia region of southern Chile. A GLOF is a type of flood that occurs when water impounded by a glacier or a glacial moraine is released catastrophically. In the Colonia valley, GLOFs originating from Lago Cachet Dos, which is dammed by the Colonia Glacier, have recurred periodically since 2008. The water discharged during these GLOFs flows under or through the Colonia Glacier, into Lago Colonia and then the Río Colonia, and finally into the Río Baker—Chile's largest river in terms of volume of water.

This report presents a GeoEye-1 image collected December 1, 2011 and a WorldView-2 image collected September 27, 2013. The 2011 image shows Lago Cachet Dos when the water level was near its maximum extent. The 2013 image shows the drained lake four days after a GLOF event. The images were used to delineate the differences in water surface area prior to, and immediately following, a GLOF event. The imagery shown here highlights the dramatic changes that typically occur during GLOFs from Lago Cachet Dos. The lake area decreased from 4.84 km2 in 2011 (pre-GLOF) to only 0.30 km2 in September 2013 (post-GLOF). The water surface lowered approximately 90 m between the pre- and post-GLOF satellite images, yielding a change in volume of approximately 217,000,000 m3; this value is similar to previous estimates (about 200 million m3) of the volume of flood water that flowed down the Río Colonia during some previous GLOFs.

During 2008–2013, 14 GLOFs were released from Lago Cachet Dos and created environmental and safety concerns for downstream residents and to infrastructure. If GLOFs and the consequent headward erosion continue, the moraine that creates Lago Cachet Uno could be destabilized and breached, and the two lakes could merge. If the two lakes become connected, the volume of future GLOFs likely would be greater and thus cause longer and (or) more extensive flooding downstream. Additional GLOFs from Lago Cachet Dos are expected in the future, and continued environmental monitoring could provide an early warning system as well as scientific information that could increase our understanding of GLOFs and their consequences. GLOFs occur in glaciated areas around the world and remote sensing technologies can allow researchers to better understand—and potentially predict—future GLOF events.

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