Grinding glaciers and granite peaks mingle in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this summertime image of the park on January 21, 2013. This image shows just a portion of the park, including Grey Glacier and the mountain range of Cordillera del Paine. (The large-image download link provides a wider view.)
The rivers of glacial ice in Torres del Paine National Park grind over bedrock, turning some of that rock to dust. Many of the glaciers terminate in freshwater lakes, which are rich with glacial flour that colors them brown to turquoise. Skinny rivers connect some of the lakes to each other (image upper and lower right).
Cordillera del Paine rises between some of the wide glacial valleys. The compact mountain range is a combination of soaring peaks and small glaciers, most notably the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine), three closely spaced peaks emblematic of the mountain range and the larger park.
By human standards, the mountains of Cordillera del Paine are quite old. But compared to the Rocky Mountains (up to 70 million years old), and the Appalachians (480 million years), the Cordillera del Paine are very young—only about 12 million years old. study published in 2008 described how scientists used zircon crystals to estimate the age of Cordillera del Paine. The authors concluded that the rock was formed in three pulses, creating a granite laccolith, or dome-shaped feature, more than 2,000 meters (7,000 feet) thick. Later uplift, combined with glacial erosion, created the current mountain range.
- Michel, J., Baumgartner, L., Putlitz, B., Schaltegger, U., Ovtcharova, M. (2008) Incremental growth of the Patagonian Torres del Paine laccolith over 90 k.y. Geology, 36(6), 459–462.
- Rivera, A., Casassa, G. (2004) Ice elevation, areal, and frontal changes of glaciers from national park Torres Del Paine, Southern Patagonia Icefield. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 36(4), 379–389.
- Torres del Paine. Accessed January 24, 2013.
- U.S. Geological Survey. (2003, May 20) America’s Volcanic Past: Appalachians Mountains. Accessed January 24, 2013.
- U.S. Geological Survey. (2004, January 13) Geologic Provinces of the United States: Rocky Mountains. Accessed January 24, 2013.